The jacket cover of ‘Ride, Ricardo, Ride!’ suggests an ominous story. The setting is a European village possibly during World War 1. Ricardo, a young boy, grasps his bicycle handlebars while shadows of armed soldiers march in the foreground. The text warns, ‘Engines roared and the thunderous rhythm of marching feet pounded the streets’. Cummings’ strong word imagery and use of alliteration provide a rich read aloud experience.
Ricardo’s father says that they must hide his bike or the ‘shadows’ will take it and it will be lost forever. They dismantle and hide the bike. On one dark night, Richardo’s father goes out and is ‘lost to the shadows’. At the page turn, wartime building rubble appears. The ‘shadows’ are never identified as soldiers or the enemy. There is even an opposing portrayal of the ‘shadows’: they too are frightened, like Ricardo. On the night when the last shadow ‘fades’, there is dancing and laughter. That night Ricardo reassembles his bicycle and once again rides, hearing his father’s voice, ‘Ride, Ricardo, ride!’
The bike may be viewed as symbolic of freedom, while dismantling the bike could be interpreted as losing freedom. When the bicycle is reassembled, freedom resumes. Such analogies are both simple and complex, depending on a reader’s level of understanding. Given this is a picture book with a serious subject—war and its impact on people—depicting soldiers as ‘shadows’ serves to distance the reader while avoiding vivid images of war’s impact. Younger readers can thus experience this story about war on a simple level, with more complex understanding available for more mature readers.
Shane Devries’ digital paintings feature a limited palette of browns, tans and wines and a range of perspectives that control the viewer’s experience. More ominous wartime scenes show only shadows of soldiers and planes thus limiting the reader’s involvement in war’s harsher aspects. ‘Ride, Ricardo, Ride’s’ multi-levels are its particular strength, making it a reading and viewing experiences for a wide range of readers.