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Saturday, June 11, 2016

That Squeak, written by Carolyn Beck and illustrated by Francois Thisdale. Ftizhenry & Whiteside, 2015. $18.95 ages 10 and up

"It's real late. All the other kids have grabbed their bikes and scooted home. Clouds are bunching dark and low. I should just take my bike and try to beat the rain. But instead I reach for the handlebar of your bike. Dull metal like the sky. Not like you. You are shiny. I press my hand against the seat. There's that squeak."

Joe and Jay love to ride their bikes out on country roads. They explore the natural world that surrounds them and spend time together just talking. Jay rides his Monster Man; Joe rides his Red Devil, which has a distinctive squeak. Their summer is filled with glorious adventure.

School begins again. The boys ride their bikes every day and chain them up to keep them safe until the final bell sounds. The two adventurers are off for more exploration. October 4 is a day etched in Joe's memory as it is the day his best friend dies. Following Jay's funeral, his bike remains chained to the school bike rack. Joe cannot bear to take it home. As he deals with the grief of losing his friend, he can finally make the decision to ride Jay's bike. Unfortunately, after a lack of use and some weathering, he cannot get it unlocked. The new boy Carlos steps in to help.

Joe wants nothing to do with Carlos, making a sweeping judgement about Carlos' reason for providing aid. He thinks Carlos is a thief and wants the bike only for himself. He could not be further from the truth.

Carlos helps return the bike to its shiny self, while Joe harbors some resentment. Eventually, he realizes that Carlos is just being a good friend, exactly what Joe needs now.

Carolyn Beck does a remarkable job of penning a worthy book about loss and friendship. Her words are quiet and emotional, never overpowering. Older readers will find much to ponder as the sensitive story is shared.

Francois Thisdale's impressive art is striking in its unwavering look at the friendship and the overwhelming sadness felt when Joe loses his best friend. The warmth of the countryside, the joy felt in time spent together, the growing friendship between Carlos and Joe add much context to a beautifully told tale. It is worthy of our attention.

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