Review: Hero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes

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I was prompted to pluck this book from my “to be read” pile when I noticed on Twitter that Shirley Hughes was celebrating her 90th birthday a couple of weeks ago. There were many things that I loved about this book and made it stand out for me.

Firstly, the setting, which is Florence in 1944. I found it different and interesting to read a WWII story set not just outside Britain, but in one of the Triple Alliance nations, giving me a different perspective on a part of history that I have studied in school this year.

The main character in the book is thirteen year-old Paolo Crivelli – the eponymous Hero on a Bicycle. However, his sister Constanza and his English mother Rosemary also feature as very strong characters.

In the opening chapter of the book Paolo is taking a secret night-time ride around the streets of Florence when he is suddenly grabbed my two men who command him to relay a message to his mother. Thus he and the reader are thrust into a story of courage and endurance and battling against a seemingly much stronger enemy.

Every character in the book was beautifully  well-written including less major characters such as Hilaria Albertini – a neighbour from a fascist sympathising family; and Lieutenant Helmut Grass – a young and compassionate officer. Another interesting aspect of the book was that it was set near the end of World War 2, with more emphasis on fear of exhaustion and starvation rather than bombing and fighting. By the end of the novel, each character has grown up and changed after the experiences they have overcome.

I would rate this book as an essential read, along with “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” by Judith Kerr and ” Letters from the Lighthouse” by Emma Carroll for anyone in late KS2 or KS3.

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