The New York Times Book Review - Monica Edinger
Those [young readers] who find the excitement and anguish of World War II especially fascinating, along with others who enjoy a gripping wartime tale whatever the time period, are going to relish Shirley Hughes's realistic adventure…Huge as the war is, this story is an intimate onecentering on the courageous actions of one Italian family as the conflict arrives at their doorstep, forcing them to grapple with the harsh complexities of good and evil. The actions of secondary characters like a young German officer, a careless wealthy friend and the brother of a loyal family servant reinforce Hughes's clear desire for her young readers to understand that those on either side can have a myriad of honorable and dishonorable reasons for their behavior.
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.)
From the Publisher
This first novel by acclaimed children’s picture-book writer and illustrator Hughes expertly captures the tension in the Crivelli home, as Rosemary tries to raise her two children and keep them safe while covertly supporting the Partisan cause...A superb historical thriller.
—Kirkus reviews (starred review)
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...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.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Vividly evoking the closing-in conflict, with tanks rumbling along a nearby road, zooming fighter planes and relentless shellfire, Hughes ratchets up the tension. ... Huge as the war is, this story is an intimate one centering on the courageous actions of one Italian family as the conflict arrives at their doorstep, forcing them to grapple with the harsh complexities of good and evil.
—The New York Times Book Review
Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
Many teen and middle-school readers will know Hughes, twice winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, as a prolific illustrator and author of picture books like Dogger and the "Alfie" series. As she explains in her introduction, this is Hughes's first novel, inspired by a Florentine family she met on a visit shortly after World War II. For young readers who enjoy historical fiction or are curious about that war, thirteen-year-old hero Paolo and his family star in a tale both exciting and thoughtful. (It turns out that his indispensable bicycle and beloved dog Guido are heroes, too.) Under Nazi occupation in 1944, Florence is experiencing hunger, fear, and for Paolo, his English mother, and sister Constanza (who live outside the city), boredom and anxiety about their fathergone to fight with partisans. Riding out at night on his bicycle, seeking diversion in the streets and eventually in the hills, Paolo encounters ruthless partisans and their leader Il Volpe, the fox. The action quickly escalates as Hughes introduces well-realized and believable characters: Constanza's Fascist friend Hilaria; Helmut, an attractive young German officer; British David and Canadian Joe, escaped prisoners the family is forced to hide till partisans can move them on. Especially wrenching are searches of their villa by the Gestapo, a tender and tentative romance between Constanza and Joe, and a scene in a nearby village, where a German firing squad plans to execute Il Volpe. Each character has complex motivations and emotionsreaders will discover that few are completely good or evil, even in wartime. From a rather expository beginning, Hughes raises the tension, the stakes, and the horrors of war to a triumphant climax and an ending offering relief and hope for the futurecreating as well a poignant coming-of-age story for both Paolo and Constanza. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
VOYA - Nancy Pierce
Thirteen-year-old Paolo lives in Florence, Italy. He knows the beautiful, historic city and his neighbors well as an adventurous boy exploring on his bike. But it is a dark time in Florence and tricky to navigateit is 1944, World War II, and the city is occupied by the Nazis. Some of the neighbors are friendly with the occupying German soldiers, others oppose them; it is hard to know who to trust. Complicating things is the fact that Paolo's father is in hiding, and his mother is English, a foreigner not to be trusted to some. When Paolo becomes involved with an underground anti-Nazi group, his chance to be part of the war could be very dangerous, and being thirteen will not spare him from danger. Hero On A Bicycle is a wartime adventure that will appeal to many late elementary and middle school readers, especially boys who enjoy reading about war and danger. There is much to be learned about the day-to-day existence of those who lived in occupied areas during World War II, and it shows how young people can be empowered, albeit in this case while in serious danger. The book provides a significant amount of historic and cultural detail, which will appeal to some readers but might hinder others. Learning history and what happens to Paolo will keep war buffs turning the pages. Reviewer: Nancy Pierce
Thirteen-year-old Paolo Crivelli dreams of being a hero in Nazi-occupied Florence. It's a tricky business living in an occupied city. The Allies are advancing from the south, Paolo's father is missing (thought to be fighting for the Partisans), and the Crivelli family is caught between the Nazi occupiers and the sometimes ruthless Partisans. This first novel by acclaimed children's picture-book writer and illustrator Hughes expertly captures the tension in the Crivelli home, as Rosemary tries to raise her two children and keep them safe while covertly supporting the Partisan cause. Not so easy with a son like Paolo, who risks sneaking out at night on his bicycle, looking for his own way to be a hero for the cause. There are plenty of heroes here, as layers of resistance to the Nazis are carefully delineated--the obvious bold resistance of the Partisans in the countryside, Rosemary's agreement to house escaped prisoners of war in her cellar, a lifesaving tip from the captain of the local military police and even a sympathetic member of the Gestapo who conveniently finds nothing when searching the Crivellis' cellar. The townspeople, a dog and even Paolo's bicycle play a role in the resistance movement, though the dangers and the realities of war are always tangible in this fine novel. A superb historical thriller. (Historical fiction. 10-14)
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—For 13-year-old Paolo Crivelli, the excitement of planning secret nightly trips into Florence balances the boredom and stress of living under Nazi occupation in a war-torn village outside the city. Because his mother, Rosemary, is English, she senses the town's suspicions of her. Paolo's father has joined the Partisans, a secret group working to sabotage the Nazis. For Rosemary, keeping her family safe is a daunting task, and she desperately misses her husband's strength and confidence. Then the Partisans ask her to hide two Allied soldiers who have escaped from the Germans. Though reluctant to jeopardize her family's safety, she feels she has no choice. As the excitement escalates, the characters struggle to be courageous while wrestling with life-threatening decisions. They have been living under harsh conditions and with the awareness that Nazi sympathizers are among their neighbors. Once the Allied soldiers are with the Crivellis, intrigue and mystery mount. Both Paolo and his sister, Constanza, do what is necessary, though there is underlying resentment by them and their mother that their father has chosen to follow his beliefs instead of staying to protect them. In this engrossing story, Hughes combines a riveting plotline with multidimensional characters. It also provides youngsters with some understanding of the choices and conditions faced by people in Europe during World War II. It's a good follow-up to Donna Jo Napoli's Stones in the Water (1997) and its sequel, Fire in the Hills (2006, both Dutton).—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ