Two Wheels and Two Tales

I could never choose just one of the picture book biographies of Italian cyclist Gino Bartali over the other, since the authors of both these outstanding books have given me the generous gift of their time and attention to critique my work.

And to be fair to Bartali himself—someone so courageous deserves to be the subject of at least two books. He could have chosen to be remembered as a two-time Tour de France champion, with championships an amazing 10 years apart. His first happened in 1938 when he was 24 years old, and his second came in 1948, when he was 34, an advanced age for a world-class cyclist.

It’s what happened between those two championships that demonstrated Bartali’s courage and grit. By delivering documents hidden in the hollow places of his bicycle to evade Nazi soldiers, Bartali helped 800 Jewish people and 50 English soldiers. He never even talked about it after the war was over. He never thought of himself as a hero. 

A quote from Bartali appears as a prologue to Hoffman’s The Brave Cyclist. “If you’re good at a sport, they attach the medals to your shirts and then they shine in some museum. That which is earned by doing good deeds is attached to the soul and shines elsewhere.” The back cover of Hoyt’s Bartali’s Bicycle has a more succinct version: “Some medals are pinned to your soul, not your jacket.”

Both books are masterfully illustrated by Italian artists. Iacopo Bruno chose stylistic close-up illustrations in bold colors in a vertical orientation for Bartali’s Bicycle. Chiara Fedele’s illustrations for The Brave Cyclist are more muted and realistic and fill horizontal spreads.

The Brave Cyclist shows us Bartali as a youth, in a struggle to win the Tour de France, and all the way through winning his second Tour de France. Bartali’s Bicycle focuses closely on the war years.

Kudos to both authors for shining a light on a deserving subject!

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