Hero on a Bicycle
by Shirley Hughes
Candlewick, 2013. 213 pgs. Historical Fiction
Shirley Hughes is well known, and well-beloved, for her picture books for children. Hero on a Bicycle is her first novel, and it's a corker. Inspired by her own post-WWII visit to Florence, Italy, and an English/Italian family she met there, Hughes' story considers the Crivelli family, especially Paolo, whose father has left home to join the Partisans who as a resistance movement are fighting the Nazis as they occupy Italy. Everyone in Italy has to be careful not to rile or defy their occupiers, but the Crivelli's especially, since there mother is English, from a land openly at war with the Germans. Still, Paolo sneaks out most every night to ride his beloved bicycle through the darkened countryside, just to satisfy his need for adventure outside the household of women--his mother, his sister, their housekeeper. When Paolo runs afoul of the Partisans, and then gets in their good graces, his need for danger and excitement is fully satisfied and then some. Hughes' novel is a great adventure story, but is also historically accurate and finely nuanced. One young German man helps the Crivelli family; one of the sons of their rich Italian neighbors is a traitor to his country. Hughes shows briefly some of the horrors and deep sorrows of war, so this book is recommended for older elementary students and teens.