Italy, 1944: Florence is occupied by Nazi forces. The Italian resistance movement has not given up hope, though -- and neither have thirteen-year- old Paolo and his sister, Costanza. Read more...
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Italy, 1944: Florence is occupied by Nazi forces. The Italian resistance movement has not given up hope, though -- and neither have thirteen-year- old Paolo and his sister, Costanza. As their mother is pressured into harboring escaping POWs, Paolo and Costanza each find a part to play in opposing the German forces. Both are desperate to fight the occupation, but what can two siblings -- with only a bicycle to help them -- do against a whole army? Middle-grade fans of history and adventure will be riveted by the action and the vividly evoked tension of World War II.
- ISBN-13: 9780763660376
- ISBN-10: 076366037X
- Publisher: Candlewick Press (MA)
- Publish Date: April 2013
- Page Count: 213
- Reading Level: Ages 10-UP
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-03-04
- Reviewer: Staff
After more than 50 years of writing and illustrating children’s books, two-time Greenaway Medal–winner Hughes delivers her first novel, a tense and emotional thriller set during the German occupation of Florence in 1944, near the end of WWII. With an absent father and a British mother, 13-year-old Paolo Crivelli and his 16-year-old sister, Constanza, suffer isolation and scrutiny under the tight security of the Nazis and their neighbors’ suspicion (their father is believed to be a Partisan, part of the pro-Allied resistance). Paolo secretly violates the city’s curfew each night to ride his bicycle across town, and Partisans approach him one evening, setting in motion their plan to have Paolo’s mother harbor escaped Allied prisoners of war. The third-person narration shifts smoothly among Paolo, Constanza, and their mother, giving readers profound insight and perspective on their individual worries and pressures, as their situation becomes all the more perilous. The Italian setting is vibrantly presented, and Hughes creates both a memorable cast and a palpable sense of danger at a critical juncture of the war. Ages 10–14. (Apr.)
The bravest rider on two wheels
Every night, 13-year-old Paolo Crivelli sneaks out of his villa in Florence to ride his bicycle. This stealthy act is even riskier because it’s the summer of 1944 and Nazi troops occupy his beloved city. Fully aware of Paolo’s clandestine adventures are his British-born mother (an enemy in the eyes of the Germans) and his sister Constanza, a typical 16-year-old who’s grown restless reading her outdated Vogue magazines and listening to Edith Piaf. His father, on the other hand, has disappeared, presumably with the Partisans, the anti-Fascist band of rebels that hides in the hills and carries out subversive missions.
Paolo’s evening rides become fraught with danger when his mother reluctantly agrees to help hide escaped Allied prisoners. Suddenly, no one can be trusted completely with the family’s secret, not the nosy neighbors, their live-in housekeeper, or the German lieutenant who shows a fondness for Constanza when the Gestapo starts searching the house. The boy’s chance encounters with the Partisans and their leader, Il Volpe (“The Fox”), heighten the suspense as they battle to liberate Florence.
Inspired by a courageous family she met in Florence just after World War II, Shirley Hughes, the author of more than 50 picture books and illustrator of more than 200, had longed to tell this story for years. Amazingly, Hero on a Bicycle is her debut novel. With a style that recalls children’s classics, Hughes writes with a keen appreciation for children’s sensibilities, but never insults them by avoiding the harsh realities of war. Her captivating historical fiction reveals a few of the many unsung heroes of World War II, some with guns and bombs as ammunition, and others with only a bike.