Bicycle, Airships and Things that GO! A sustainability primer


Do the ankle biters know what that means? No.

Do they know the watershed from which the water filling their evening personal pool originates? Certainly not.

Do they know that 90% of the things they own are preloved? Maybe the younger one, but he’d never say.

Do they know that their veg is a little less than perfect or their fruits a bit wonky? No way.

But ask them about their favourite way to get to school and from both you’ll get an enthusiastic ‘BIKE.’ Or jogger pram. Sometimes bus. And before they could speak, trams. Do they know that these forms of transport are better for the environment? No. They just know what they like. And they like the freedom and the speed and seriously the wind on their face. “I like the fresh air, mum.” To inculcate sustainability, or preservation for the future, such a concept needs to be incorporated into their daily lives. They know no other and that they have fun doing it, so much the better.

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Thus, this week’s book is a special one. Bicycles, Airships and Things that GO! weaves a sneaky spy tale set against a futuristic sustainability backdrop. Written by Bernie McAllister, this book follows a family of four bears on an excursion from their eco-village to deliver an LED light suit created by Momma Bear to the Sunnyside Science Museum. Along the way they embark upon various forms of transport: bicycles, air ships, bike buses, high speed trains and ferries. A mischievous pair, Monkey and Toucan, are out to steal Momma Bear’s invention. Will they succeed? Think of it as a triple scoop delight of Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that GO!, Thomas Friedman’s Hot Flat and Crowded and Hanna & Barbera’s the Jetsons. It certainly gives a nod to Scarry’s animal anthropomorphism, explanatory captions as well as the loveable Goldbug (here represented by solar hornet). With its display of wind turbines, solar power plants and electrical vehicle charging stations, it resonates with Friedman’s clean technological breakthroughs. And the Jetsons? Well, the future awaits and we have the inspiration and technology now. The story isn’t overtly about sustainability but it’s easy to convey as much or as little as necessary if you are reading to ankle biters as I do.

Source: Press Kit | Kids Future Press

Ankle biter 1 sat intently through an online viewing* of this book. His favourite page features balloon cars. I think it’s because, other than the bikes, it was one of the few tangible things he recognises. “How do they move?” Silence and then “Do the balloons move the cars?” A nascent STEAM wonder on our hands.  He also asked about the wave energy machines. “What is THAT?” I thought they were large ocean snakes. (Are they? *ACK* I had to look it up. Perhaps during later readings, I could talk about biomimicry???  Floating snakes could feasibly inspire wave energy collection, hey?) Given the digital nature of this experience, finding solar hornet was a buzzkill- all pun intended. Rather than the glowing solar entity it should be, solar hornet is a difficult shadow to uncover. As for the story in of itself, it’s agreeable akin to this book about public transport or this book about cross-town adventures. Although when Momma Bear recognises the precariousness of Toucan’s and Monkey’s situation, I expected a tiny act of kindness.

I do adore this book because it provides an opportunity for the ankle biters to envision something different. We can’t expect change- sustainable, resilient, healthy, stimulating, whatever buzzword we want- if we can’t envision alternatives. This book helps depict an urban that I can imagine. I delight in the overflowing bike parking garages, vertical gardens, rooftop gardens, indoor urban farm and most especially the interactive public art installation inspired by this. Building an ankle biter’s budding vocabulary with ‘bus-top garden’ and ‘interactive tiles’? Yes, please. This book is gracious enough to include real world inspirations for each page. As such, there is much that can spark the urban imagination.

Whew. Will you read it? We will, again and again.

*For this review, I was generously given a digital, watermarked copy to review. The opinions here, as always, are my own.


The scent of spring

is temporarily stifled beneath snow.

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Um, yes snow. We are nearing the end of April and I am watching snow flurries drift across the window. The ankle biters are besides themselves. “Snowmen. Snowballs. Dig Dig Dig!” That’s West Yorkshire for you. And I take a moment to remind myself why I love my husband and the choices we make. My toes are cold but I do have a warm cuppa cocoa.


It’s been a bit quiet round these parts not because I haven’t been reviewing books to stimulate my budding urbanists. Every day we read  intriguing ones (like this one or this one) and really awful ones (honestly, I save you from the turmoil and don’t post on such books). Suffice to say, visiting family have been  welcomed distractions. But it’s now back to some semblance of routine (insert happy dance).

To get back into the groove of things, I’d like to introduce you to Red Ted and the Lost Things by Michael Rosen illustrated by Joel Stewart. Like the tried and true Courduroy, Red Ted starts without a caretaker. Unlike Courduroy, Red Ted is mistakenly abandoned at a train station and initiates his gumption to find his way home to his beloved Stevie. He befriends pessimistic Crocodile. Together, they navigate their way from the vaults of the lost and found, through the tunnels of the train station and onto the business of the streets. Here they befriend Cat who upon sniffing Red Ted and detecting a distinct cheese smell guides them to an identical diffusing cheese shop. Alas, the very cheese shop where Red Ted’s beloved Stevie lives. A great introduction to graphic novels, Stewart provides  monochromatic panels punctuated by the vibrancy of the main characters, Red Ted, Crocodille and Cat.

Ankle biter 1 is at the stage where he has firm attachments to his own furry inanimates. During each reading though, Ankle biter 1 clutches Brownie and George with a bit more fervour. I think he likes the fact that his furry inanimates can have fantastic adventures in the great yonder but still find their way home. Oh and he liked the bit about the cheese. Me? C’mon- public transport! And the myriad of stories attached to THINGS LEFT BEHIND. Everyone has stories. We have stories. We wish our beloved beanies would find their way home. In addition to that, the scent of the city that lingers in the story. It could be could have been bread, coffee, sewers, exhaust.. But cheese, lovely delectable cheese. The delight of a local cheese shop. The captivation that citites, neighbourhoods, homes have their own unique aroma. The confirmation that scents embed memories and connect us to place. Even if it is buried beneath the snow.

Transport as an adventure

Once upon a time, I sat on top of a jeepney roaring along the roads with the wind in my hair. The top is the best place to be- away from the adhesive humidity, the elders chewing betel nut, the sticky children selling balut (bird embryo), the toothless women sucking said balut, the act of balancing one cheek on a seat sliver (we’ve all been there). I sat atop spare tires, sacks of rice, duct taped Islanders (the slipper of all thongs); shared space with chooks in cages and locals who thought me ‘cowboy’ but not in a good way. Some how, the soundtrack of Wedding Singer diffused the air, as the jeepney swerved with its elephantine carriage and motored incrementally up the mountainside. I was also comically hoisted through the window right when I thought I had the perfect place to sit.

the freedom of public transport

So trust me when I say transport is about the journey and the destination. Which is why I am pleased to bring you this week’s book Off to Market by Elizabeth Dale and Erika Pal. Inspired by Dale’s adventures riding a matatu (minibus) in Uganda, it is about families hopping into a bus to journey to the local market. More and more passengers (animal, vegetable and mineral) are squeezed in alongside young Keb.

Young Keb, who is sitting on top

of a goat and two sheep who all wriggle non-stop.

The weight of the carriage, however, forces the bus to a standstill until young Keb volunteers a solution which engages the entire bus to get to market on time. The double-paged spread evokes the real life how many can we squeeze in and let’s squeeze even more scenarios of transport in provincial areas. The illustrations also delightfully render a communal bond among neighbours and within the market.

Ankle biter mildly enjoyed this book. Although he couldn’t comprehend that goats and ducks ride in buses (“Why are the goats riding on buses? They belong on farms”); he liked the fact that one day, there may be an opportunity for him to ride on goats IN A BUS. (Sorry Charlie, probably not here.) The message of a small person making a difference was also a bit lost in him. Perhaps we’ll revisit this later. I liked it for the aforementioned remembrance of good times past and the mindful realisation that we are fortunate to have a network of public transport as well as destinations within walkable and cycling distances. Although nothing beats good stories emanating from frigid encapsulation on red-eye foreign forms of public transport. Share some favourites below, I’d love to hear!

Train, plane, digger, car

Train! by Judi Abbot landed into our laps at the right place at the right time. Ankle biter 1 is in constant forward motion and naturally he likes things that reflect such pace. He loves his digger (although his first love was front end loader until the loader was superglued due to a misfortunate dismount off the slide. He still adores it but it’s the first of the vehicles to be shared with ankle biter 2). and his trains. Both play the antagonist and protagonist in this story. For you see this story is about Little Elephant who eats, drinks, breathes trains. His parents take him on a train journey when he meets other young animals who are as equally enamoured with their mobility treasures. Train! Plane! Digger! Car! A rumble in the tunnel has each animal in a toy kerfuffle where slowly but surely, they learn to respect each other and each other’s toys.

The message of sharing and friendship flew over Ankle biter 1’s head. Honestly, I didn’t touch on it during the story either. I reckon this could be a good picture book to introduce concepts of sharing.The boldness of colours and simplicity of the animals make it a charming read.  I, however, focused on the things that happen whilst travelling on public transport. I adore books that feature little ones out and about on forms of transport alternative to the car.  I think it’s important that children grow up with a mobility experience untethered to the car.

He liked the fact that there were ‘other kids’ on the train playing. For awhile, he would pack away digger and dump truck (See? sorry front end loader) into the pram. I think secretly in the hopes that should he find another kindred spirit on the bus, they’d be playmates. He finds those kindred spirits in the playground or park or pub. We have yet to find them on the bus. It’s been ages since he’s packed away his toys in the pram. But that’s okay. He pays attention to what’s passing by outside the window. He analyses the billboards. Most of all, he watches people and if they’re friendly, he’ll play hide and seek. No trains, planes, car, diggers or tunnel required.

(Photo by Vivian Romero from the book Train!, Judi Abbot)

How not to ride the bus

Today ankle biter 1 licked the hand rail in the bus. Of course, when admonished, he licked it again. Let’s not get started about the unknown caressing the very spot. Then there was the pleading at a bit more than audible decibel “Let’s go the library. I want to buy bananas. I want to go to the library. I want to push the button. I want to push the button. NOW.” The fidgeting in the pram to the point of its collapse. At that point, ankle biter 2 decides to jettison his rattle clear cross the aisle and then cackle in disbelief that said item is no longer in possession. So yes, how not to ride the bus.

Any parent riding public transport has been there. It sucks. We don’t want to be the ones to disrupt the peace. But the ankle biters, they’re coming into their own with the life force bursting out of them. Why would they want to sit quietly when there are many a things and people within spitting distance?

Despite all of this, fellow bus riders have been pretty accommodating. They extend lines of community just by acknowledging our existence as boisterous as it may be. The jettison rattle, thanks- i’m rather envious that your waistline is the width of my thigh but I love your burgundy trousers- male hipster for handing it back to me and not ankle biter 2. Lady with the jaunty cap and orange jumper, thank you for having a conversation with ankle biter 1. Sure, asking his age was beyond his comprehension but he did like talking about books. Thank you endless people who always offer assistance to carry the pram up or down the bus not knowing that ankle biter 1 and the mini keg hiding in the basket weigh heaps more than you think this lil ol asian can carry.

For all of its grievances, public transport is more than just moving from point A to point B. Never mind we are not the ones who have to navigate the congestion or pay for petrol, insurance, parking, car payments or scavenge a coveted parking space. Through buses, trains, ferries and trams, the ankle biters and me all learn incrementally how to be a wee more patient. We acquaint ourselves with the public and they of us.  In this way, I think the ankle biters become a bit more society savvy. Yes, I agree with you, “world’s worse mum” Lenore Skenazy, children need to develop their autonomy. And as parents, we need to allow children the opportunities to interact with the world around them, to have fun, to build their competencies (yep, I researched it).

A true adventure as each day, each ride differs. That’s the way to ride the bus.

A video and five links to start your weekend

Christopher Herwig photographed ‘wayward roadside punctuation marks’ aka Soviet bus stops.

The ‘Travel by Book’ initiative proves that literature can get you where you want to go.

Noise from vehicular traffic is killing birds.

Kiss knitting goodbye, hello graffiti grandma.

The result of mowing, digging and planting by Stan Herd.