The second story about Chris-Naylor Ballesteros's endearing duo is just as hilarious and heartwarming as the first.
Nosy Crow kindly sent us an advance copy of Frank and Bert: The One Where Bert Leans to Ride a Bike and it arrived a few days before Christmas. I put it aside, intending to read it in the new year, as the kids had been favouring festive stories in December. As we loved Frank and Bert, which had released in January 2022, I knew this new story would make a lovely surprise and be the perfect post-Christmas cheerer-upper.
The night before Christmas Eve we went to a pantomime and arrived home quite late. Excited, exhausted and full of sugar, my five-year-old was experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions which culminated in a massive meltdown of Richter-scale proportions. She protested about every story we attempted to read, getting more and more worked up with each new suggestion. Nothing could calm her down until I remembered the new Frank and Bert book.
When I took out Frank and Bert: The One Where Bert Learns to Ride a Bike, she was delighted upon seeing the cover but as we started to turn the pages she began to resist it. This was partially out of stubbornness and partially because she claimed it was "too sad" after seeing the animals impacted by Frank's wobbly cycling on spread two (above).
We kept going and by the time we reached spread three (above), she had collapsed into a fit of giggles, even against her own will. She found the expression on the animal raking leaves absolutely hilarious. And as we continued, Bert's efforts and the facial expressions of both him and Frank had us all in hysterics for the rest of the story — and still do every time we read it.
As the title suggests, this story introduces Bert's attempts to learn a new skill, aided by his best friend, Frank. We experience all the ups and downs (quite literally) that can be involved with a challenge and learn how with a little practice and self-belief, anything is possible. There are so many reasons to love Frank and Bert: The One Where Bert Leans to Ride a Bike but here are our top five:
1. All the comedy As already mentioned, it is irresistibly funny, even mid-tantrum. It's so comical to see the contrast between Bert's confident opinion of his own cycling skills compared to how they are in reality. The consequences of Bert's clumsy cycling to how oblivious he is, Bert's determined and enthusiastic expressions, Frank's despair, discomfort, scepticism and relief at different points, and the palpable delight on both their faces as they speed downhill are just some of the incredibly amusing aspects of this story, with even more humour packed into the twist of the final scene (which my kids saw coming before I did!).
2. The illustrations The artwork is as gorgeous as we have come to expect from this author-illustrator, whose sparse but masterful use of line and colour creates convincing little fictional worlds that are extremely animated. Once again, the palette is both cheerful and comforting and the images have plenty of clever details without ever feeling crowded. After seeing the Frank and Bert stories as well as those with more serious tones such as Out of Nowhere and The Suitcase, I am convinced that Chris Naylor-Ballasteros is a genius; he is capable of evoking an enormous range of emotions with (what looks like) just a few brushstrokes.
3. How encouraging and reassuring it is Bert's initial struggles and subsequent success show that it's not that we can't do certain things, only that we can't do them 'yet', and will encourage children to keep going when faced with similar challenges. This story also teaches little readers to believe in their abilities even when those around them (like Frank) might not. As learning to ride a bike can sometimes be a fraught experience, this picture book will help reassure budding cyclists when the time comes.
4. Frank and Bert's relationship Frank might not always consider Bert the best cyclist but he is always there for him no matter what, and the same is true of Bert. I love how real their interactions are, especially when they get cross with one another. We see that relationships can survive small disagreements once all parties have affection and consideration for each other. Frank and Bert are a wonderful double act whose friendship is certain to endure through all their escapades and for generations of readers.
5. It's part of a series Children love becoming familiar with characters and meeting ones that they can join on more than one adventure. There are already two stories about Frank and Bert to collect with more to come! It's brilliant how there is a great big hug at the end of each book so far. We can't wait to see what these characters get up to next, and look forward to all of their future cuddles too.