Children’s Book Author Beth Handman

Bike Commuter Profile

What do you do?

I’m the assistant principal at P.S. 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

But that’s not all…

I am also a children’s author. In collaboration with my husband and my daughter, I wrote the first in a series called Josie Goes Green. The first book is Josie and the Fourth Grade Bike Brigade. Both my husband and my daughter are organizers, and I’m an educator in elementary school, so the collaboration worked really nicely.

When did you start riding your bike to work?

It’s funny. I grew up in Brooklyn and always biked around the neighborhood but I was scared to bike around the city. Then, when my daughter was in high school, she started to ride from where we live in South Slope to LaGuardia High School. This was a pretty big commute and I was worried about her. She said, “No mom, it’s fine now. The city is different. Everybody is biking.” So she took me to the city, with me following her over the bridge. She showed me how to avoid Chambers Street and get over to the West Side. It was so much better than how it was when I was a kid that I just started biking everywhere.

What do your students think of their bicycling assistant principal?

It’s actually a lot of us. A few years ago so many teachers wanted to bike to work that we installed a cage for our bikes. We also installed bike racks on the side of the school so that the kids can bike as well.

So your students ride to school?

Oh yeah. It’s a neighborhood school so most of the kids live within a few blocks. Some of them bike to school just so that they can bike around after school.

Did they inspire Josie and the Fourth Grade Bike Brigade?

They did, and not only because they were biking. Our students are so inspiring in their socially conscious way of living in the world. In the neighborhood, when there were too many plastic bags flying all over they went and asked shop owners not to give out plastic bags. The kids are real organizers, so they were the inspiration. In fact, the dedication of the book is to the kids of P.S. 321.

In the book, Josie starts biking, but everything doesn’t go as planned. What happens?

It’s a book about teaching kids to organize, really. Josie and her friends take action against climate change by forming a bike brigade and convincing their families to ride rather than use cars to get to school. There’s a conflict, of course, because some people feel that the kids shouldn’t be riding. At the end of the book, the problem is solved by the community deciding to paint bike lanes so the kids can ride to school.

This is the first in a series. What’s next for Josie and her friends?

Josie is going to take on a couple of things in the next couple of books. The working title for book two is Josie Meets a Jaguar. She always in the summer spends time with her grandmother in Ecuador, who is a mentor for her and helps her plot her ideas out. We’re hoping that she’s going to have some effect on logging in the rainforest in the next book. In the third book, she’s going to take on the story of stuff and how we deal with plastic bottles and other unnecessary junk in our lives.