Stories are essential tools for verbal development, social-emotional learning, and character education. Intentional parents can use family movies as a basis for storytelling.

Repeat the story of the movie at bedtime, on a rainy day, or at any quiet time. Let your child correct you if you make a mistake and, better yet, encourage your child to tell you the story. Both of you can invent new adventures for Manny, Ellie, and all their friends. Your child's imaginative and verbal capacities will be enhanced if you invent new characters and create situations that are not in the movie. To learn more about enhancing growth and development through stories told to children, go to How to Tell Bedtime Stories . . . Any Time.

Here is a story to read to your child. If you read it at bedtime and your child falls asleep before you are finished, complete the story some other time.

It was his seventh birthday and there it stood in the living room. The electric blue handlebars glistened in the early morning light. There was a large yellow bow taped on the smooth black seat. The chrome rims of the wheels gleamed against the deep black of the new tires. And . . . there was something missing; the bike had no training wheels. Jeremy couldn't believe it. He'd finally gotten his very own "big" bicycle. His dad placed a hand on Jeremy's shoulder. "Happy birthday, son," he said.

Jeremy's family had always been into bike riding. His older sister Melanie got her first "big" bike when she turned 7, just like Jeremy. Her red bicycle had been used almost every day since then, the seat and handlebars moving up every year as she grew taller. She was a "natural," as her mom called it, since Melanie had learned to ride without training wheels after only a day of practice. Jeremy and Melanie's parents always liked to bring this up with pride, talking about how they knew just how talented little Melanie was when she potty trained herself as a toddler. Both Jeremy and Melanie hated these stories and always rolled their eyes. Melanie didn't like these stories because they made her feel embarrassed; Jeremy didn't like them because they made him feel jealous . . . especially since he still occasionally wet the bed.

But today wasn't a day for jealousy, no, Jeremy was thrilled. He couldn't believe his luck that his birthday had fallen on a bright and sunny Saturday; no school, no chores, not anything to do but to ride his new bike. He had practiced on the family's "training" bike, the one with giant wobbly training wheels. Jeremy was doing fine with the training wheels, and believed he could pick up the big bike as fast as Melanie had.

Jeremy's mom handed him a wrapped present, with a wink. Jeremy wasn't surprised; in fact, he already knew what was inside. It was "the most important thing in bike riding - even more than the bike," his dad had said. It was a helmet. Jeremy got to pick his out a few weeks ago when they were at the store. He'd picked a bright blue one with gray robots. He tore through the wrapping paper, let his mom fit the straps, and as soon as he heard the "click" of the clasp, he grabbed his bike, threw the bow to the floor and pushed it out the front door with a giant grin spread across his face. "Start in the yard, so you'll fall on the grass," his mom said as the family gathered on the porch to watch Jeremy's attempt.

"Ha! I won't fall!" Jeremy yelled back as he pushed the bike down the driveway all the way to the sidewalk. He climbed on, and remembered what it felt like to ride his old training bike. He counted down. One... two... three! He pushed off from the sidewalk, his knuckles white as he gripped the rubbery handlebars. He held his breath and the tires rolled forward. Jeremy swung his feet up onto the pedals and got one... two... three rounds of pushing the pedals when CRASH! The bike swung hard to the right, and toppled onto the rough sidewalk, with Jeremy still clutching the handlebars.

He blinked. He wasn't sure if he should laugh or cry. But when he saw the trickles of bright red blood running down his knees and shins, he knew the answer. "Moooooommm!!!" he sobbed as he stood up from the ground. Tears poured down his cheeks and he ran into his mom and dad's arms, leaving his new bike on the sidewalk.

Jeremy spent the rest of the day in his bedroom pouting. He only came down to have birthday dinner and cake. Melanie had put the bike back in the living room, but when Jeremy saw it, he started crying again. His dad moved it to the garage . . . and it stayed there. . . . for days. Days became weeks. Weeks became months. And still, Jeremy refused to ride his bike, or any bike, again.

Whenever a nice family bike ride was suggested, Jeremy would howl with fear, or cry in anger, or throw a big tantrum on the couch. Once the tears and yelling would stop, he'd rub the big white scars that had been left on his knees after his birthday fall. "No way!" he'd say, pointing at his knees. He wouldn't even ride the training bike, or sit in the kid's seat on the tandem bike his parents owned. No, Jeremy wanted nothing to do with bikes.

Melanie would watch her brother protest, and would try to gently talk him into trying again, but he would not listen. She tried to explain that it takes time ("but it only took you one day!" he yelled back). She talked about how much fun bike riding can be; how it gives you freedom to explore new places and lots of fun exercise outside. She said that now that she could ride a bike on her own, she was even allowed to ride to the corner store to get popsicles, sometimes. And wouldn't Jeremy want to do that with her?

Jeremy continued to resist the idea of riding a bike. It was like a big black hole that he would avoid every time he thought of it. His parents worried. They wanted him to be able to ride a bike, but more importantly they didn't want him to fail at doing something he thought he should be able to do. But they realized that Jeremy was so upset and felt so ashamed by the fact that he couldn't ride a bike, that he would have to reach the point when he could try again on his own. So, his parents didn't say anything about bike riding.

Early one Saturday morning, only a few weeks before his next birthday would roll around again, Jeremy woke up and lay in bed thinking about the fact that he couldn't ride a bike. The covers were warm, the day was bright and clear, and the sunlight streamed into the room. He lay in bed and thought about his inability to ride bikes on many mornings. Today he thought about the fact that almost a year had passed since his last birthday, and here he was, still not able to ride his bike. He thought and thought about it. He had given up bike riding after one try, after one bad fall. He thought about the other things he loved to do: reading, soccer, playing card games. Did he give up on reading after not being able to figure out a word? No, he sounded it out and tried again. Did he give up on soccer after he'd gotten kicked hard in the leg during a game? No, he pulled up his socks and kept playing. He tried again. Did he give up on playing card games when he lost? No, he got a new hand and tried again. Then Jeremy decided. He wasn't going to lie in bed and worry about not being able to ride a bike. He was going to try again.

Jeremy pushed the covers off and stood up. He found a marker on his desk and drew smiley faces onto the scars on his knees. He got dressed, strapped knee and elbow pads onto himself, and brushed off the dust that had collected on his helmet.

Then Jeremy went quietly into Melanie's room. He didn't want to wake his parents. Melanie was still asleep and Jeremy giggled at her light little snores. He quietly walked over to her bed. "Melllllllanie? Meeeeellllllaaanniiieeee..." he whispered in her ear. Her eyes slowly opened and she looked confused.

"Huh? What do you want?" she said, wiping drool from her cheek.

Jeremy held out his helmet. "I want to try again" he whispered. "Let's not tell Mom and Dad until I can ride really well."

Melanie grinned and sat up in bed. She popped the helmet onto her brother's head and quietly snapped the clasp. "Meet you downstairs in five minutes," she quietly said.

Jeremy wheeled his bike out of the garage. Melanie offered suggestions while Jeremy practiced riding. They started in the grass, and sure enough, even though Jeremy was a year bigger and the bike was easier for him to handle, he fell right away. But instead of crying, he just sighed, stood up and got back on the bike. He tried again.

Jeremy didn't learn how to ride a bike that day. Or the next day. He wasn't able to practice every day, because he didn't want his parents to find out until he could ride really well. But he had made up his mind. He practiced every day that he could, with Melanie helping. And he was getting better, little by little. First he made it out of the grass. Then he peddled the length of his driveway without falling. Then he got to the neighbor's driveway without falling. Then to the end of the block. The black hole was getting further and further away and smaller and smaller. Melanie eventually had to use her own bike to keep up with Jeremy. And sure, he fell. But it was less and less . . . and he didn't mind, because he was learning, getting a little better each time.

Melanie and Jeremy would practice in the early mornings when his parents were asleep or when their parents went to the store and were not around. Jeremy didn't want to be embarrased by falling in front of them again. And while Jeremy thought his parents had no idea what was going on, he was wrong. Melanie secretly reported his progress to their parents and his father would get up early and peek at them through the blinds. Jeremy's parents said nothing. They knew that Jeremy was sensitive about his trouble learning to ride and that when he was ready, he would tell them.

The day before his birthday, Jeremy broke through. He felt at home on the bike; he could ride like the wind and he didn't fall at all. He and Melanie were practicing while their parents were at the store. They had to stop before their parents came home. Jeremy wanted to make the announcement on his birthday.

The next day Jeremy unwrapped his birthday presents after he and Melanie got home from school. He got a couple new books he'd wanted to read and a brand new soccer ball from his parents, and some reflective robot stickers from Melanie. "For your bike," she said. He smiled.

Jeremy's mother said, "We'll have birthday cake after dinner for desert but I think we're out of ice cream. I'm really sorry, honey."

Melanie looked at Jeremy and winked. "Oh, it's okay, Mom," Jeremy said with a grin. "Actually, . . . is it o.k. with you and Dad if Melanie and I ride down to the corner store and pick some up?"

"What do you mean?" his dad asked, pretending not to understand, but a smile spread across his face.

Melanie said, "Come on! We'll show you!" They each grabbed a parent's arm and dragged them to the front yard. They opened the garage door and wheeled out their bikes. Melanie snapped on her helmet, and helped Jeremy put on his.

"Wait!" he said, and ran back into the house. He grabbed Melanie's robot stickers and ran back out. He peeled off a few and stuck them on different places on his bike, and stuck one right on his helmet. "There!" he said with a grin.

Melanie counted off. "One! Two! Three!" and they both pushed off and started pedaling.

They rode in circles in the driveway, and their parents clapped. "I couldn't do it before," Jeremy said as he circled around his mom and dad, "but I tried again. And again! And again! And now I can!"

"Way to go, Jeremy!" they cheered.

"And now, we're going to go get ice cream!" yelled Melanie.

Jeremy did one last lap around his parents, and they held out their hands so he could give them a high five as he rode past. He took the turn around the driveway as if bike riding came naturally to him. As he peddled away, Jeremy hollered "Happy birthday to me!" His mom and dad held hands as they watched both their children ride their bikes to the store.

The end.