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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hero on a Bicycle, written by Shirley Hughes. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $18.00 ages 10 and up

"It was after three o'clock in the morning when Paolo reached home. He was exhausted. Rosemary had locked the house up again, so there was nothing he could do but stay out all night and appear just before breakfast, pretending that he had gone for an early-morning stroll. He hoped his disheveled state would not arouse suspicion."

Paolo loves getting out on his bike at night when he thinks no one else knows. His mother and sister Costanza do know, but they keep his secret. They wait patiently before sleeping until they know he is back home and safe.

Paolo's story is set in Florence during the German occupation in World War II. It is a dangerous time for all who live there. Paolo's father is missing; his political views have forced him into hiding or risk being captured (and perhaps killed) by the ruling Fascists. The hills are filled with those working against the Germans in hopes that their area will soon be liberated. The Germans are desperate to maintain control.

When they get word that Paolo's family may be harboring two Allied escaped prisoners, the Nazis  prove just how dangerous they can be. They force their way into the villa and search it thoroughly. They are furious when they find no sign of the prisoners. After they have gone and while trying to make their escape into the city, David is captured and Joe is wounded. It is up to Paolo to get Joe back to the safety of the villa. The Germans return, and can find no sign of him yet again.

There is great danger for Paolo and his family, and the action is relentless. You can almost feel the rumble of the tanks, hear the planes overhead and surely experience anxiety when Paolo sets off to seek help from the partisans.  The Nazis are as menacing as you might expect, and the fear is palpable. It is a story of family courage, and shows that many people did heroic things during a terrible time in history.

Exciting, and heartstopping at times, this is a book that tells a story from the war that Shirley Hughes has wanted to tell for many years. She was in Florence shortly after the war ended, when it was starting to rebound from the occupation. She had those scenes on her mind when she sat to write. She explains her interest in a detailed preface. Anyone interested in this time in our history will find the book hard to put down.       

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