September 2020

Girl on a Motorcycle

September 2020 Big Picture

Girl on a Motorcycle

by Amy Novesky; illustrated by Julie Morstad

For one young Parisienne in 1973, a view of the Eiffel Tower isn’t enough, and she takes off on her motorcycle, bound for Elsewhere with just the substantial clothes on her back and “her life in a hand-sewn clutch and two saddlebags” stashed with bike repair, shelter, and first aid supplies, and possibly as important, a bikini, sandals, and a perfect white dress.

This isn’t a Phileas Fogg–styled challenge and she’s not committed to keeping wheels on the pavement, so an airplane isn’t cheating as she heads westward to travel by bike in Canada, then rolling on through Japan, India, Afghanistan, and Turkey before meandering back through Eastern Europe and home to Paris. She camps in Canada: “One night in the Yukon she floats in a warm pool that glows like a mirror. She can feel the earth turn.” Little girls in Bombay decorate her hands with henna and then guard her bike. There are bike repairs generously assisted by locals, segments of train travel, encounters with curious kids, possibly some loneliness, certainly welcome aloneness and freedom. In one particularly sensitive extended episode, she visits the giant carvings of Buddha in Bamiyan, Afghanistan: “The guide leaves her alone. I wish you all the happiness in the world.
. . . It just might be the most beautiful moment in the girl’s life.” She is approaching the close of her adventure and has no way of knowing that the Buddhas (destroyed by the Taliban in 2001) are also approaching the end of their existence. Novesky sidesteps their destruction but sends readers a fleeting reminder that the world moves on and no world heritage site can guarantee it will be around for travelers to tick it off a bucket list: “Fall is in the air. She will need to leave soon. She will never return. Early in the next century, these Buddhas will be gone.”

Morstad’s sophisticated, retro-chic artwork lovingly evokes the time frame dictated by the real life adventures of French writer Anne-France Dautheville, first woman to go around the world by motorcycle, chronicled in this picture book. Sketches and line drawings are overlaid with broad washes of color that shift as swiftly as the scenery through which the young woman zooms. The purpling sky of a Canadian dusk yields to the deep browns and greens of the girl’s campsite in the adjoining spread; sunbaked golds outside Kabul contrast with the rosy interior of a tea shop where she is the only female, surrounded by men and a boy variously peeking at or studiously ignoring her. The compositions, still moments on a reel of constantly shifting scenes, match the pacing of Novesky’s text to create a cinema vérité vibe, tantalizingly suggestive of clips that author and illustrator have left on the editing room floor. The result is part documentary, part dreamscape with strong crossover appeal for fans of history and of romantic adventure, all of whom will find their curiosity assuaged in an endnote that explores Dautheville’s experience (complete with photographic confirmation) and Novesky’s own dream-chasing research and interview.

Kids tightly tethered to their homes by pandemic, and even in better times by protective parents, may well ask: Seriously? Young people could do this? Gimlet-eyed readers will realize that it certainly took some bougie means to fuel boho dreams, but the short answer is yes. Young people could and did travel, sans cell, sans GPS, sans parents—avec postage stamps, avec paper maps, avec optimistic faith in the kindness of strangers. As families chafe under pressure of togetherness, this eminently sharable title arrives as soothing balm, stirring reminders of the world beyond household walls and offering images onto which each can attach a personal dream: Where is my “Elsewhere”? Whom would I meet? What would I see? (See p. 40 for publication information.)

Elizabeth Bush, Reviewer

Cover illustration by Julie Morstad from Girl on a Motorcycle copyright © 2020 and reproduced by permission of Viking Children’s Books.

September Stars

Starred titles are books of special distinction. See the archives for selections from previous months.

Andrews, Christiane M.Spindlefish and Stars. Little, 2020 [400p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780316496018 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780316496025 $9.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 5-8

Cameron, JosephineA Dog-Friendly Town. Farrar, 2020 [384p] illus.
Trade ed. ISBN 9780374306441 $16.99
Paper ed. ISBN 9781250791788 $7.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780374306458 $9.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 4-7

Frost, HelenAll He Knew. Farrar, 2020 [272p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780374312992 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780374313005 $9.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 5-9

Gilliland, Raquel VasquezSia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything.
Simon Pulse, 2020 [432p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781534448636 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781534448650 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 9-12

Hudson, Wade, ed. The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth; ed. by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson; illus. by Natacha Bustos, Cozbi A. Cabrera, Raul Colón et al. Crown, 2020 [160p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780593121610 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780593121634 $9.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 5-10

Medina, MegEvelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away; illus. by Sonia Sánchez. Candlewick, 2020 [32p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781536207040 $17.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* 5-8 yrs

Montgomery, Heather L.Who Gives a Poop?: Surprising Science from One End to the Other; illus. by Iris Gottlieb. Bloomsbury, 2020 [176p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781547603473 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781547603480 $12.59
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 5-9

Moss, KittyWhere Bone?; written and illus. by Kitty Moss. Page Street, 2020 [32p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781645670612 $17.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* 3-6 yrs

Novesky, AmyGirl on a Motorcycle; illus. by Julie Morstad. Viking, 2020 [48p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780593116296 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780593116302 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 3-8

See this month’s Big Picture for review.

Philippe, BenCharming as a Verb. Balzer + Bray, 2020 [336p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780062824141 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780062824271 $9.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 7-12

Probert, TimLightfall: The Girl and the Galdurian; written and illus. by Tim Probert. HarperAlley, 2020 [256p] (Lightfall)
Trade ed. ISBN 9780062990471 $22.99
Paper ed. ISBN 9780062990464 $12.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780062990495 $9.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 5-9

Savit, GavrielThe Way Back. Knopf, 2020 [368p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781984894625 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781984894649 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 7-10

Tonatiuh, DuncanFeathered Serpent and the Five Suns: A Mesoamerican Creation Myth; ad. and illus. by Duncan Tonatiuh.Abrams, 2020 [40p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781419746772 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781647001544 $15.29
Reviewed from digital galleys R* 6-9 yrs

Yee, ReimenaSéance Tea Party; written and illus. by Reimena Yee. Random House Graphic, 2020 [272p]
Library ed. ISBN 9781984894168 $23.99
Trade ed. ISBN 9780593125328 $20.99
Paper ed. ISBN 9781984894151 $12.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781984894175 $8.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 4-7