Marcel loves riding his bicycle, whether he's racing through the streets of his small town in France or making bread deliveries for his parents' bakery. He dreams of someday competing in the Tour de France, the greatest bicycle race. But ever since Germany's occupation of France began two years ago, in 1940, the race has been canceled. Now there are soldiers everywhere, interrupting Marcel's rides with checkpoints and questioning.
Then Marcel learns two big secrets, and he realizes there are worse things about the war than a canceled race. When he later discovers that his friend's entire family is in imminent danger, Marcel knows he can help -- but it will involve taking a risky bicycle ride to pass along covert information. And when nothing ends up going according to plan, it's up to him to keep pedaling and think quickly... because his friend, her family, and his own future hang in the balance.
A winning protagonist propels this WWII adventure, which is set in 1942 in a Nazi-occupied French village. Diminutive yet determined 12-year-old Marcel loves to ride his bicycle and adores the Tour de France, which has been suspended because of the war. Marcel imagines himself on the Tour as he delivers bread for his baker parents, slipping sweets to armed guards to win their cooperation. McDonough (Little Author in the Big Woods) effectively escalates the conflict as Marcel discovers coded messages inside the loaves and realizes that his parents are members of the Resistance. Marcel forms a fast friendship with Delphine, a clever girl who shares his love of biking, and later discovers her family's Jewish heritage, which puts them in grave danger. Some narrative elements feel rushed, such as how quickly Marcel and Delphine disclose their families' secrets to each other, but readers should be riveted as Marcel encourages his parents to help Delphine's family escape and helps put a daring rescue into action. This engrossing introduction to WWII also includes a glossary, historical notes, and reading suggestions. Ages 8 12.