Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hero on a Bicycle

Hero on a BicycleHughes, Shirley. Hero on a Bicycle
3 May 2013, Walker Books
Book from YA Books Central and reviewed there

Paolo lives outside of Florence, Italy with his sister Costanza and his British mother, Rosemary. His father has been gone for a long time, working with the Partisans who are fighting against the Nazis during World War II. Life is largely dull because school has been canceled and there are always curfews, so Paolo likes to sneak out on his bicycle. During one trip, he is approached by Partisans who want to contact his mother. The family ends up sheltering a British and a Canadian soldier who are trying to get back to their units. Paolo offers to try to escort them part of the way, but things end badly and the Canadian, Joe, ends up wounded and must spend more time in their cellar. The fighting is coming closer to where they are, so the Nazis are cracking down. When they search the family's house for a second time, Joe narrowly escapes. The family dog is not so lucky. Eventually, the Allied forces borrow the house for a base, and the Nazis are routed with the help of the Resistance and Paolo and his bicycle.
Strengths: I can't think of any other WWII books set in Italy except for Napoli's Stones in Water, so this is an excellent addition to books set in this time period. There is lots of good detail about what everyday life was like-- the food privations, living under the rule of invaders, and the dangers that ordinary citizens faced. There was a particularly good interchange between Costanza and a German guard posted in the area, Helmut. She rather liked him, and the two realized that if there were no war going on, they might have a chance; Helmut was a good person, but he was on the other side of a war. Paolo's contributions, as well as his bicycle, play a large part in the activities of his village. The only scary parts (because we do a unit on the Holocause and WWII, and there are always students who can't handle scary) are the Nazis rounding up villagers and threatening to execute some of there. I especially liked the chapter decorations and the cover of this-- very true to the time period.
Weaknesses: This was a bit slower than I would expect from a WWII book, but the research on every day life makes up for it.

Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent Cornioley, Pearl Witherington  and Kathryn J. Atwood.
Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent 
1 August 2013, Chicago Review Press

Witherington Cornioley, who was born in 1914, had a fascinating life which included 7 months of working with the French Resistance, so this would be a great nonfiction Common Core connection with the book above. Based on interviews with Witherington Cornioley (who died in 2008), this is slavish in its devotion to the facts and the experiences of this brave woman who was one of the celebrated women Resistance fighters.

That said, the book itself was very dry and uninteresting. This could be a generational thing-- most people who lived through hard times and WWII will be very brusque about their experiences and wave them off as nothing. While this has his its merits in this era of reality television, it causes a lack of thrilling moments in a narrative. There are notes explaining that Witherington Cornioley was reluctant to be interviewed lest her experiences be sensationalized. Since this is listed at only $11.02 at Follett, I think I will buy a copy to use as a primary source document, but it somehow does not do justice to Witherington Cornioley's experiences.


  1. Anonymous12:09 PM EDT

    I think I would like this book!

  2. Another book set in WWII Italy is Naples '44, I haven't read it yet.

    P.S. I love Kathryn Atwood's book "Women Heroes of World War II"