Miffy and A Dutch wordless book about bikes

posted in: Charlotte Dematons | 11
Special Tour de France Miffys are available!
Special Tour de France Miffys are available!

Tomorrow sees the start of the world’s greatest cycling event, Le Tour de France. This year it’s actually starting in the Dutch city of Utrecht, the hometown of Dick Bruna creator of Miffy (or Nijntje, to give her her original Dutch name), but I’m using today’s Grand Départ as an excuse to bring you some wonderful images from the marvellous, multi-award winning French-Dutch illustrator, Charlotte Dematons.

Dematons specialises in wordless picture books including The Yellow Balloon and Holland which have been published natively for English speaking readers. One of my personal favourites, however, is her celebration of bicycles and the many forms they can take, especially in the Netherlands. Fiets, or for English speakers ‘Bicycle’ (only available second hand, even in the Netherlands), follows a boy who, having been at a fancy dress party, goes looking for his stolen bike.




In this illustration you see something which is ten-a-penny in the Netherlands – folk giving others a lift home on the back of their bike.


In this spread I love the enoooooormous ‘bakfiets’ which is being used to transport eight children.


This spread shows a scene outside a school during “Children’s Book Week”. Can you spot the special tandem, with the child at the front? What about the unicycle? Or the child in a bread basket on the front of his Dad’s bike? I also like the twins, with the same hairstyle as their dad.


You can transport just about anything by bicycle, especially if you have a friend to help! Look out for the laden panniers, the tag-along car, and even the windshield for small children riding up front on a bike. These houses also make me smile – very typical modern Dutch suburban architecture!


This scene I love because of the very Dutch sight – a florist, and also the nod to how multicultural the Netherlands is.


Another classic Dutch sight – fishing out old bicycles from the canals. The book must be set in the South of the Netherlands because you don’t see hills anything like this anywhere else.


In the Netherlands lots of moving house is done by bicycle, especially if you’re a student. Can you see just how much this family has loaded up on their bike? What about the recumbent bike?

All these types of bike really are every day sights in the Netherlands. If they’ve piqued your interest, there is a specialist UK supplier who can help you find the bike of your dreams – http://practicalcycles.com/. I’ve never used them, but I love what they have to offer. I’m hoping one day to get a bike like this to use as a mobile pop-up bookshop or library, having been inspired by this bike which belongs to the Belgian bookshop Letters & Co.


You’ve seen the illustrations, now see the bikes in real life!

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11 Responses

    • Zoe

      🙂 Yes, Catherine, bike culture in the Netherlands is something very special. Go to any main train station and you’ll see parking for thousands of bikes, often a sort of double-decker style parking affair. Hurrah for bikes!

  1. Chantal

    How wonderful! Thank you for sharing this with us. It is so good to see Dutch books out here.
    I recently came upon a English Jip & Janneke book called Jip and Janneke, two kids from Holland. It’s lovely and wonderfully illustrated by Fiep Westendorp.

    • Zoe

      Ah yes, Jip and Janneke are great, though I’ve not seen the English translation. Fiep Westendorp is amazing – very stylish illustrations.

  2. Suzy Leopold

    This post is amazing and intriguing to me for many reasons. Since I enjoy reading, writing and creating everyday as I share the love of literacy with students, this wordless book is delightful. Additionally, my husband and I cycle the many rails to trails and country roads in the state of Illinois and prefer to travel by bike whenever possible. Thank you for sharing this picture book.

  3. Julia Lee

    Such a wonderful book – I love wordless books too! But sad it’s only available ‘pre-loved’ now. Thank you for pointing me towards this illustrator. And I’m looking forward to your bicycle bookshop becoming a reality.

    • Zoe

      Hi Julia, Some of her work is available from English language publishers – she’s got an utterly amazing book called “Holland” – scenes throughout the Netherlands (but yes, when “translated” into US English, it just got called Holland, not The Netherlands). Again wordless and brilliant. The Yellow Balloon is also by her and definitely worth seeking out.
      Zoe recently posted..Miffy and A Dutch wordless book about bikes

  4. Katherine

    I’ve just interrupted Jon watching the Tour highlights to tell him to read this post! What a gorgeous book, and love Miffy. We have very fond memories of seeing the Grand Départ in Yorkshire last year, going to have to investigate this book!
    Katherine recently posted..Yawn

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