Tuesday 24 July 2012

Review: The Boy Who Biked The World (Part One: On the Road to Africa) by Alastair Humphreys

Tom really wants to be an explorer.

His favourite book is an atlas and he follows adventurers not footballers. His schooldays are spent daydreaming about travelling from Tibet to Timbuktu. A private wish blurted out loud started his freewheeling adventure:

“I’m going to cycle round the world.”
His classmates laughed. No one believed him, least of all his teacher.
“The mountains will be too high!” “The desert is too hot!”
Everyone shouted their reasons why his dream was impossible.
But it was a funny thing, the more that people told him he couldn’t do it, the more Tom found himself wanting to prove them wrong.

Ride along with Tom as he abandons his fears and pedals onwards, in hope that the goodness of the people he meets will guide his journey and reveal the wonders the world has to offer.

I think I need to start this review by saying that this is one of those books where you need to completely suspend your disbelief from the get-go. If you can do this, as children can far more easily than most adults, then you will be rewarded with an enjoyable adventure story that is also packed full of facts (and as I keep on reminding you - kids love facts).

So why the need for disbelief suspension? The book tells the story of Tom, a boy of about 10 or 11 years of age, who dreams of adventure. One day he blurts out in class that he is going to cycle around the world. Naturally he is ridiculed by his peers and his teachers, but the ridicule just spurs him on even more and when he gets home he makes the same announcement to his parents. Whereas most parents would nod sagely and then explain the impracticalities of such a venture for a ten year-old, Tom's mum and dad make him some sandwiches, dig out the family tent and before we know it they are waving him off as he starts his epic journey. Tom then goes on to cycle through Europe, the Middle East and the whole length of Africa. Unbelievable, yes, but also a great deal of fun.

Alastair Humphreys has himself cycled around the world, and he has drawn on his own experiences whilst writing this book. As such, it is full of really interesting facts about the countries, cultures and people that Tom encounters on his journey. Some of these are built into the narrative, whereas others are presented in the form of Tom's handwritten journal. As well as the facts there are also the underlying themes throughout the story of facing your fears and aspiring to achieve your dreams. These various elements to the story would make great discussion points for primary school kids if used as a class reader, and it is also cross-curricular, covering subjects such as geography, religion, languages and a number of other subjects.

My thanks go to Alastair Humphreys for sending me a copy. To find out more about the author visit his website at