From School Library Journal
Gr 5–8–The first novel (Candlewick, 2013) by octogenarian Shirley Hughes, the award-winning picture book author and illustrator, is set in Italy in 1944. The story follows 13-year-old Paolo, his 16-year-old sister Costanza, and their mother. The family lives in the outskirts of Nazi-occupied Florence. Their father, an anti-Fascist, fled when the Nazi's took control, leaving the family in a politically precarious position. Paolo's nighttime forays into the city on his bicycle have brought his family into contact with the Partisans, the Italian resistance, who ask them “in a convincing manner, made more convincing because of the gun” to help them. Told in third-person narration, the story builds in tension, skillfully shifting between the perspectives of each main character as well as the many well-developed secondary characters who add depth and understanding to an age-old question this story seeks to answer: What motivates people's actions in times of war? Simon Vance's incomparable vocal style is a perfect fit for this intense and suspenseful work of historical fiction. With his strong and consistently paced narration, as well as subtle and skillful character voices, Vance's performance is both nuanced and captivating. A website (www.heroonabicycle.co.uk) offers additional material to supplement lesson plans or deepen book discussions. For those interested in offering students more in-depth information about the time period, other supplemental sources would be required. Highly recommended for students who enjoyed John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (David Fickling Bks., 2007) and historical or WWII fiction.–Chani Craig. Converse Middle School. Palmer, MA α(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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The resistance movement in WWII Italy is the backdrop for a beloved picture-book creator’s first full-length novel. In 1944, with Nazi soldiers occupying the city and their father away, teens Paolo and Costanza Crivelli are bored. Paolo, 13, sneaks out to bike through the streets of Florence at night, seeking adventure, avoiding the occupying Germans, and hoping to meet his heroes, the Partisans, while his 16-year-old sister sulks in her room. In spite of their mother’s attempts to shelter them, the war comes far too close when their mother, already under suspicion because of her English background and her husband’s known anti-Fascist views, reluctantly agrees to hide a pair of escaped prisoners of war. Soon Paolo becomes part of the escape strategy, and his bicycle becomes a Partisan tool. An omniscient narrator switches focus among the three family members as the action takes place in and under the family villa, in dark city streets, and in the surrounding countryside. The mounting suspense will keep readers turning pages. An absorbing survival adventure. Grades 5-8. --Kathleen Isaacs