On sale April 23, 2013 • Hardcover • Ages 10–14 ISBN: 978-0-7636-6037-6

“ A thrilling and moving tale, set in a

wonderfully rendered background of war-torn Italy. Danger abounds, but so do love and courage. I enjoyed it enormously.

— Philip Pullman 

“ A very exciting wartime story.”
— Judith Kerr

Hero on a Bicycle marks the fiction debut of celebrated picture-book creator Shirley Hughes — a gripping and moving story of courage and love in the face of adversity. Set in Nazi-occupied Florence in 1944, Hero on a Bicycle explores how, in extraordinary circumstances, people are capable of extraordinary things. Paolo and his sister, Constanza, are both desperate to fight the occupation, but what can two siblings — with only a bicycle to help them — do against a whole army? This stunning debut novel is a thrilling yet heartwarming war story, a modern classic in the making. Shirley Hughes has written and/or illustrated more than 200 children’s books and is one of England’s best-loved writers for children. She has won the Kate Greenaway Medal twice and was named an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for her distinguished service to children’s literature. In 2007, Dogger was voted the U.K.’s favorite Kate Greenaway Medal–winning book of all time. Shirley Hughes lives in London.

Dear Reader

I always knew I would write this story one day.
I was nineteen when I first saw Florence, and I thought it was the most beautiful city I had ever seen. I had my sketchbook with me, and I was enchanted by the narrow winding streets, the washing hanging out of the shuttered windows, and the sun-bleached ochers and terra-cotta browns of the roofs and walls, as well as the grand architecture. This was not long after the end of the Second World War — the time in which Hero on a Bicycle is set. Although Florence had been miraculously spared the devastation that had been visited on many European cities during the war, there was a lot of poverty, and food was still scarce for those who could not afford to buy on the black market. Tourists were beginning to trickle back, even though many streets still bore the marks of military occupation. So when I came to write this story, it was easy for me to imagine what the Italian people went through in wartime — when Hitler’s Nazi army was fighting the Allies on Italian soil after Italy’s own strutting dictator, Benito Mussolini, whom they had followed with such fervor, had so miserably let them down. On Sunday mornings, the ex-Partisans used to gather in the Piazza Goldoni, which was near where I was living. They had been the anti-Fascist freedom fighters during the war, and some still sported their red bandanas around their necks to show their Communist allegiance. Although they no longer carried rifles, they still sang their old marching songs while brandishing clenched fists. They were recalling the time when they had roamed the hills around Florence, hampering German troop movements by blowing up bridges and railway lines, and helping escaped Allied prisoners of war rejoin their units. If they were caught by the dreaded German secret police, the Gestapo, it meant torture and execution. When, in 1944, the British and Canadian troops at last entered Florence, the Partisans came out of hiding and joined in the bitter fighting as, street by street, the city was liberated. After it was over, they meted out pitiless revenge upon anyone who had collaborated with the Fascists. My fictional thirteen-year-old “hero on a bicycle,” Paolo Crivelli, is living with his mother and older sister, Constanza, in their home in the hills outside the city of Florence during that summer of 1944, just as the Allied advance is approaching. Paolo and Constanza’s father, Franco — a passionate anti-Fascist — is in hiding, and none of them know where. Their story was inspired by a courageous family I got to know on that first visit to Florence. The children, like Paolo and Constanza, had an English mother who was persuaded by the Partisans to help escaping prisoners of war. It was a very risky undertaking, as it was punishable by death. Paolo and Constanza are two young people who find themselves caught up in extraordinary and often terrifying circumstances that demand all their courage. But, like all teenagers, they still hang on to their dreams. This is my first novel and also the first book I have ever attempted without doing my own illustrations. Luckily for me, it is now possible for young readers to access evocative visual background on the Internet: contemporary newsreels, photographs of Second World War aircraft tanks and weaponry, of Partisans and armies on the march, and of refugees fleeing the bombing, as well as material from my sketchbooks, fashion drawings, and hit songs of the era can all be found online at www.heroonabicycle.com.