Hero on a Bicycle

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Hero on a Bicycle
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Release Date
May 03, 2013
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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.

Editor reviews

2 reviews
Great MG Historical Fiction
Overall rating
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
HERO ON A BICYCLE by Shirley Hughes is a middle grades novel set in 1944 in Florence, Italy and its surrounding area. The title character, Paolo Crivelli, is a thirteen-year-old boy who sneaks out at night to ride his bike into the city in an effort to escape the boredom of wartime. On one of those nighttime rides, Paolo is stopped by members of the Italian resistance, called the Partisans, and asked to deliver a message to his mother, and suddenly things aren't quite as dull at home anymore.

HERO ON A BICYCLE is a tightly written third person tale that allows readers to get into the heads of Paolo, his sixteen-year-old sister, Constanza, and his mother, Rosemary. Paolo and Constanza's father, Franco, is suspected of being a Partisan, and Franco has left home and gone into hiding to protect his wife and children. Despite his absence, his character plays an important role as many of the decisions made by the remaining Crivellis are based on what they think he would want them to do, and Paolo, of course, wants to be like his dad and fight against the Nazis who are occupying Florence.

Hughes does a great job showing the many sides of war. The book is packed with action, but it also shows the deprivation and tedium that comes with war. She has also written sympathetic characters on both sides of the conflict, and she has portrayed the wide-ranging motivations of people during war.

HERO ON A BICYCLE would be a great addition to the classroom, particularly if the class will be doing a unit on World War II. It's a book about war, so there is some violence and death, of course, but none of it is gratuitous, and this story of heroic actions by ordinary people will appeal to its intended age group. The illustrations at the beginning of each chapter add charm as well.

My thanks to the publisher and YA Books Central for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Good Points
Would be a great addition to the classroom
A story of heroic actions by ordinary people
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The Italian Resistance to the Nazis
(Updated: May 06, 2013)
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Plot/Characters/Writing Style
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I can't think of any other WWII books set in Italy except for Napoli's Stones in Water, so this is an excellent addition to books set in this time period. There is lots of good detail about what everyday life was like-- the food privations, living under the rule of invaders, and the dangers that ordinary citizens faced. There was a particularly good interchange between Costanza and a German guard posted in the area, Helmut. She rather liked him, and the two realized that if there were no war going on, they might have a chance; Helmut was a good person, but he was on the other side of a war. Paolo's contributions, as well as his bicycle, play a large part in the activities of his village. The only scary parts (because we do a unit on the Holocause and WWII, and there are always students who can't handle scary) are the Nazis rounding up villagers and threatening to execute some of there. I especially liked the chapter decorations and the cover of this-- very true to the time period.
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