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Wild Blue: On Falling, Failing, Flying, and Freedom

I vividly remember the day my father took the training wheels off my bicycle. I got on my bike, wobbled three feet down the driveway, and promptly toppled over, skinning both my knees in the process. In my memory, the Flaxington girls who lived next door watched the whole thing with derisive smiles. One was my age, the other was older, but they both already rode bikes without training wheels, which was one reason I was eager to shed mine. I’d watched the older kids pedal by our house on their bicycles and I’d marveled at their grace and effortlessness, the tiny swivels their tires made as they sped past our house. I would do that too! Except, when I tried, I ended up splat on the pavement with bloody knees.

The memory of that failure — and my lifelong love of cycling — inspired Wild Blue, my new picture book from Candlewick Press, which releases on February 14. Kayla, the main character, has to learn to tame her new bicycle despite a very rocky start.

As I remember it, weeks passed before I tried my bike again, although my parents have assured me that we were back at it the next day. All I know is that I somehow did learn to ride a bike without training wheels, emulating my mother who made cycling look incredibly cool.

Kayla gets back on the horse too, after watching the other bike riders at the park with the same fascination I remember feeling as a child. How free they looked!

Cycling has always embodied freedom for me. The wild rush of movement, the sensation of the wind blowing past, the flow of the landscape around me. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a city street, a coastal trail, or a country backroad — I rarely ride without grinning wildly (except when struggling uphill).

I’d never ridden more than thirty miles in 2012 when I signed up for Ride for A Reason, a 100+ mile ride from Oakland to Sacramento to raise money for the Oakland schools. That first year I did the 68-mile version on Violeta, my old steel-framed Bianchi. Now I do long rides on Scarlett, my sleek carbon-frame Roubaix. I’m not very fast no matter which bike I ride, and I’m not getting any faster as the years go by. But the feeling of freedom never fades.

All those moments of failure, falling, and freedom went into Wild Blue a book about the wild possibilities that open up when you push past your fears and embrace adventure. It is truly a book of my heart, particularly as it is dedicated to my dear friend and cycling partner Rebekah, who died just before the book went to press.

It would mean the world to me if you took the time to pre-order it now, as pre-orders have an outsized impact on how a book fares once it's released.

Here’s what the critics are saying:

This picture book, in which a girl trades in her training wheels for a daunting two-wheeler, is a subtle but effective demonstration of how exposure therapy can conquer fear. . . . The acrylic-ink illustrations and sunset hues brilliantly enhance the Old West metaphor, as the landscape shifts incrementally from urban to rural. The ending, in which Kayla walks with, pats, sings songs to, and murmurs encouragement to Wild Blue, is a great example of step-by-step learning. — Booklist

Slater does an excellent job inhabiting that space between imagination and real life that allows two things to be true: Wild Blue can be simultaneously a horse and a bicycle. . . . Readers will appreciate Kayla’s commitment to her imaginative life, along with Slater’s twist on the familiar learning-to-ride-a-bike story: in the end Kayla denies that she’s tamed her new bicycle, instead insisting, “She’s still wild…but so am I.”—Horn Book

Viewers taking on a daunting new skill may relate to and benefit from Kayla’s imaginative methods. — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

A new tale with a classic feel that will buoy many young riders. — Kirkus

It's been a long time since I first got on a bike, but the thrill hasn't worn off. The thrill of inhabiting Kayla, a determined little girl with a vivid imagination, hasn't worn off either. You'll get to see her tackle new challenges in the upcoming sequel, Deep Blue.

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