When I heard the Candlewick rep say, ” Hero is about a 13-year-old boy during World War II, living in Italy,” I wanted to read this book. World War II is my favorite period of history. We meet Paolo Crivelli, his older sister Constanza, and their mother Rosemary living in the hills of Florence. It is 1944, and the Allied forces are trying to push the Nazis north of Florence to the Italian border. Paolo wants to be part of the war efforts, but is too young to enlist as a soldier and is bored staying home. So he daily plans his escape and rides his beloved bike through the darkened streets of Florence late at night.
One night on his way back home, he is stopped by some Partisans who want help from Paolo’s family. Rosemary agrees to hide Allied prisoners until they can be moved to safety. By hiding prisoners, she puts her whole family at risk of being shot. Paolo, Constanza, and Rosemary show their bravery and courage.
This story captured my attention from the first page. It is Shirley’s first novel, but she has known since she visited Florence at the end of World War II that she would someday write a story about this beautiful area. That someday has come—sixty years later. Her teenage characters seem very authentic, because she based them not only on her own memories as a teenager living in England during this war, but also on a family she met in Italy after the war.
Courage Has No Color is also a story about World War II, but it is based here in the U.S. Think about it, we had troops in Europe and the Pacific fighting Hitler’s injustices. But in the United States, men of black skin didn’t have the same rights as those with white skin. German and Italian prisoners of war, who had killed American soldiers, were allowed into the post exchange, but the black soldiers in uniforms were not allowed in. Black soldiers could not even sit at a table with the white soldiers to eat. They were treated as servants.
I had not heard of this group of paratroopers before, but I have gained much respect for them from this book. In the fall of 1943, first sergeant Walter Morris started a training program modeling that of the white paratroopers. Within a week his men began to act like soldiers. Sixteen African-American men made history on February 18, 1944, when they became paratroopers. The Triple Nickels were never sent to the war front, but were transferred to Pendleton Air Base in Oregon. At Pendleton, the Triple Nickels became smoke-jumpers, putting out fires started by bomb-laden balloons. These balloons had been floated by the Japanese on the jet stream to the west coast of the U.S. I found this story as fascinating as the Red Tails story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American group of pilots from World War II.
Tanya Lee Stone asks, “What did it take to be a paratrooper in World War II? Specialized training, extreme physical fitness, courage, and—until the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion (the Triple Nickels) was formed –white skin… What is courage? What is strength? Perhaps it is being ready to fight for your nation even when your nation isn’t ready to fight for you.”
Guestblogger : Kathy V.