This is not really a totally new venture for Shirley Hughes. Yes, she’s best known for those wonderful picture books, but they usually have a lot of words in them as well. So, Hero on a Bicycle is the opposite; traditional novel, with some illustrations to make it look prettier. (Or so I understand. I haven’t actually seen the book with pictures, just what the pictures are.)
Never mind. The story is an exciting WWII tale from 1944 set in Florence in Italy. At first I wondered why Shirley didn’t stay in her own country for this, but it makes for a refreshing change to read about Italy in the war. France and Germany we sometimes get, but I found this Italian setting fascinating.
It’s this new (to me) concept of what it was like to survive the war with the German enemy soldiers in your midst. They are retreating, but they are still in charge in Florence, and enough locals support them.
Paolo and his sister Constanza are in a bad position, as the teenage children of an English mother and a father who has disappeared and mustn’t be mentioned. Looking for excitement, Paolo likes to go out during curfew, and eventually he gets it into his head to join the resistance.
Only, things don’t work out as he’d dreamed, and he feels worse than before, when suddenly the family are thrust into doing something they’d rather not be involved in. (This is also an aspect of traditional war stories that I have never bothered looking at from the other side’s point of view. It’s worth doing.)
Aimed at youngish readers you can be fairly sure it’s not going to be appallingly gruesome, but it is a lot worse than Paolo had been able to imagine. You don’t always fight a war with guns and bombs. Courage – and bikes – are good too.