HERO On A Bicycle by Shirley Hughes is published in hardback by Walker Books, priced £9.99. Available now.

Shirley Hughes has enriched thousands of childhoods with her illustrations for more than 200 picture books including the award-winning Dogger.

Now at 84, she has written her first novel for children.

Set in wartime Florence, it follows the Crivelli family: 13-year-old wannabe hero Paolo, his dreaming older sister Constanza and their English-born mother Rosemary are trying to cope without dad Franco, who's fighting with the Italian resistance, the Partisans.

The book starts with Paolo making forays on his bike into the city each night, but the action really ramps up at the halfway mark, when the family are asked to shelter two Allied soldiers.

With Nazi soldiers watching their every move, the Crivellis suddenly find themselves at the centre of the fighting, as the Allies liberate Italy.

Hughes herself visited and fell in love with Florence just after the Second World War ended, saw the poverty and even met a family similar to the Crivellis, who had helped escaping prisoners of war.

It's an exciting and colourful read, and doesn't shelter its young reader from the horrors of war, just as The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas has done.

The plodding start repays patience, and shows Hughes is indeed a master storyteller.

(Review by Kate Whiting)