"A Better Bicycle" is #30 in The American Adventure Series. This book is set in Minneapolis, MN in 1896. The historical events covered in this book include the increasing popularity of the bicycle, the rise of alcoholism (and unemployment) and the work of the WCTU (Women's Christian Temperance Union). Moral issues brought up in this book include working to earn money for an item rather than having it given to you, compassion for others, the effects of alcoholism on a family, prioritizing how you spend your money and choosing friendships wisely.
This was yet another book that blew me away with how much wholesome content could be packed into one chapter book, while remaining interesting and not "preachy" in tone. The author has a way of communicating the judgments, doubts, worries, and selfish thoughts that run through all of our minds, allowing us to ride along with the character as they weigh their options in given situations and reason out the best course of action.
Once he discovers the new kid not only goes hungry, but sometimes is beaten by an alcoholic father, Peter starts to view the whole situation differently. He wants to stick up for the new kid, but is worried about causing ripples with his best friends. There are a few thought-provoking moments in this story that led to great conversations with my boys. My sensitive 7-year-old was shocked to hear a father could actually beat their own child, but the book did not go into any gruesome or extreme details. It provided just enough information for us to have a solid conversation without sending my son's imagination into overdrive and paralyzing him with fear (which can happen pretty easily with a sensitive child).
I cannot stress enough how I appreciate that the characters in these books don't just see two options and always choose the "better" instantly and with ease. The characters wrestle with their inner feelings and it is a great age-appropriate way for kids to learn to put themselves into other people's shoes and ponder what their own responses in difficult situations might be. My 4-year-old listens along, but the great conversations happen with the older 2 kids. We've thoroughly enjoyed using this series to pique my children's curiosity about events in American History and I've learned a fair amount by reading them. We've read books 1-30 so far and only a few had plots or content that were a bit intense for our sensitive child and I'm usually able to read that ahead and paraphrase or omit as needed for his sake. I would highly recommend these historical fiction books for ages 6-12.