Ride, Ricardo, Ride!

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Phil Cummings (text), Shane Devries (illus.),   Ride, Ricardo, Ride!,   Omnibus/Scholastic,  1 March 2015,  $24.99 (hbk),  32pp.,  ISBN 9781742990736

Ride, Ricardo, Ride! is set in a European village during war time.  Ricardo is the hero of the story and the heart of the narrative explores the impact war has on his hometown and family.

Ricardo is first introduced to the reader riding around his village on his bike, free to do all of the things children love doing, without any concerns or worries. Ricardo’s world is safe and he receives encouragement and protection from his Father.

The situation changes as the soldiers start coming into the village and Ricardo’s Father tells him that they have to dismantle his bike and hide it. The bike is symbolic throughout the story; it represents Ricardo’s initial freedom and carefree life. The bike then shows the instability of his new situation as it is taken to pieces. The dismantling also represents a bigger change for Ricardo; his view of the world is shifting and his childhood sense of security and innocence is lost along with the bike. The future of the bike and Ricardo both become uncertain.

When war is past, Ricardo can assemble his bike again, but this time he does the task on his own without the help of his Father. Ricardo is not just rebuilding a bike but he is also rebuilding his life. The reader gets the sense that Ricardo’s freedom has been restored however, the reunion with his bike is bittersweet as it also represents what he has lost.

Phil Cummings is the creator of another war focused picture book Anzac Biscuits. It is not outlined in Ride, Ricardo Ride! the specific war that is being represented or the parties involved. Cummings instead brings the human story to the forefront. The invading soldiers are alluded to as ‘shadows’ throughout the text and when they begin to retreat Ricardo realises that the shadows ‘were frightened, like him’. This shows Cumming’s unbiased approach and his investment in exploring the human aspect of war.

He is a true craftsman of words and the text throughout is carefully chosen and effective, providing the reader with a clear sense of the themes being conveyed. He opens the story with the imagery of ‘open skies, quiet and clear’ and then conveys the change in atmosphere with descriptive phrases such as ‘roaring engines’ and ‘the thunderous rhythm of marching feet pounded the streets’, revealing the chaos and turmoil the war has brought to the village.

Cummings effectively captures the devastation of war and the sense of loss it brings but he also manages to inject a sense of hope and survival into his stories. A phrase repeated at the beginning and the end of Ride, Ricardo Ride! Captures this sentiment and gives the notion of new life and hope. ‘His silver handlebars sparkled like fresh snow in sunshine.

Devrie’s illustrations are very effective and add another layer of meaning to the story. He creates atmosphere through the use of shades and colour. The soldiers are depicted as shadows and these shadows intrude on the character’s lives and loom over them.  Ricardo’s world starts off bright and vibrant and this changes as the story unfolds.  The colours become darker, shifting the mood and where once there was peace and beauty, we can now see rubble and devastation throughout the village.  The colours shift again towards the end of the book when the threat of war has left the village and brightness starts to creep in again.

This is a multi layered and well structured book by a talented creative team.  War is always a difficult subject matter to convey in children’s books but I found Cummings and Devrie’s gentle approach to be very effective. Ride, Ricardo, Ride! is a book that can be explored and enjoyed on many levels. Teacher’s notes are available on the Scholastic website.

reviewed by Maria H Alessandrino

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