Hero On a Bicycle is about a family living near Nazi-occupied Florence, Italy during World War II. Thirteen year old Paolo is bored with the strict military rules that govern the citizens of Florence so he sneaks out at night and rides his bike through the deserted streets. One night he is approached by men from the anti-Nazi resistance. He and his family are asked to aid the effort by hiding Allied soldiers in their home. Suddenly the realities of war are dangerously close for this family.
I appreciated reading a World War II novel that gave a different perspective on the conflict. Most novels about this time focus on the Holocaust. It is not common to find a book that addresses Italy's role in the war. I believe the students that are drawn to war novels will enjoy this story because it is from a young boy's point of view and includes the elements of fear and tension that living near the front lines bring to a home. My only complaint about the book is that the end seemed to wrap up too nicely. I will not spoil it here though. Be sure to check out the author's website for this book.
A read alike for this book is War Games by Audrey Couloumbis.
This book really stuck with me because it relates to my own family's history. The story is about this handsome man, my grandpa, Roy (Bud) Easler.
My grandfather was a prisoner of war during World War II. He was captured in North Africa in 1943 and taken to O-Flag 64 in Poland. There is a website that archives the prison records. My grandfather's record can be found here. In the history section it describes how the prisoners were marched out of the camp because Soviet troops were drawing near. During the snowy march about 400 men escaped, including my grandfather. He never told me the details of the escape, but I've been told that he and a few friends hid under piles of hay in a barn to elude their captors. Somehow he made his way to Naples, Italy where he boarded a US Navy ship and returned home. There are many nameless people that assisted him on the journey from Poland to Naples, maybe even families like the one described in this book.
While reading the book I often wondered if my grandfather experienced something similar to the soldiers in the story. My grandfather survived because of the bravery of people like this fictional family, those brave enough to risk their own lives to help soldiers to safety. I will never know the people that helped my grandfather, but thanks to stories like this one, they will not be forgotten.
Grandpa passed away last year at the age of 92. He came home from war, married my grandma, had two children, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He worked in the mill and then in the school book depository for Spartanburg County. (Maybe this is where my library skills come from) He was funny, patient, smart and had a green thumb. All around, just a great man.
I thank Shirley Hughes for telling this story and I hope that you find historical fiction novels that you can connect with as we read together this month.