The Whole Megillah (TWM): What inspired you to write this story?
Amalia Hoffman (AH): My parents lost their entire families during the Holocaust. I visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem annually where I spiritually connect with my would-be grandparents, uncles, aunts, their spouses and babies. During one of my visits, I walked through the promenade of the Righteous Among the Nations, which honors those non-Jewish individuals who saved Jews during the Holocaust. I noticed that a new name was added—Gino Bartali. Thus began my journey which led me to writing The Brave Cyclist: The True Story of a Holocaust Hero.
In an article entitled, “Long Overdue Honor for Righteous Christian Italian Cycling Great Bartali” (Alon Sinai, The Jerusalem Post, 8 October 2013), I found out that Gino Bartali was recognized by Yad Vashem in 2013 and included in the long list of righteous rescuers.
Another article, “Gino Bartali: the Cyclist Who Saved Jews in Wartime Italy” (Peter Crutchely, Belfast: BBC, 9 May 2014), ignited my passion for this courageous and generous person. A documentary film, My Italian Secret (Oren Jacoby, PBS Distribution, 2015), inspired me to research further. I went on to read numerous books and publications and realized that I must write a book for young readers about this brave champion who rode hundreds of miles on his bike and smuggled forged identification cards for Italian Jews so that they could escape to safety.
TWM: What was your greatest challenge in writing it?
AH: Since the book touches on difficult subjects such as the Holocaust, Benito Mussolini’s anti Jewish laws and dictatorship, I had to figure out how to tell the story in a simple way that would be easy for young people, ages 9-12, to understand. I also had to learn a lot about bicycling competitions, particularly the Tour de France.
TWM: What was your greatest satisfaction?
AH: My greatest satisfaction was knowing that young readers would be inspired by Gino Bartali’s heroic acts during the Holocaust. In Judaism, one of the most enlightening concepts is that of Tikkun Olam, which in Hebrew, literally means—to fix the world. We have the right and the ability to make the world a better place. The Brave Cyclist is a testament to the fact that one individual can make a difference and fight against discrimination, prejudice, antisemitism and racism.
TWM: Who inspires you?
AH: I am inspired by “unsung heroes.” I love to read and write about amazing, generous and courageous individuals who never seek fame or recognition for what they have done.
Such an individual was Gino Bartali, who once said: “If you’re good at a sport, they attach medals to your shirts and then they shine in some museum. That which is earned by doing good deeds is attached to your soul and shines elsewhere.”
TWM: Your picture books span anthropomorphic animals to nonfiction. Do you prefer any particular style?
AH: I don’t prefer any particular style. I like to experiment and create books in different genres. Sometimes, I’m in a silly mood, playing around with board books for babies and painting anthropomorphic animals. Other times, I find myself researching and writing a nonfiction for older kids. For me, as long as I’m passionate about the project, I prefer not to limit myself and to dip into just about everything.
TWM: Do you have a critique group?
AH: Yes, I belong to a wonderful and inspiring group which I formed in 2017. We call ourselves, The Mavens. We help and support each other in our writing journeys.
TWM: What’s next for Amalia Hoffman?
AH: I’m experimenting with a different illustration style while working on a new board book. At the same time, I’m writing about another “unsung hero,” this time—a woman.
I’m also working on a very personal YA novel that I started five years ago but never gathered enough courage to complete. My new board book, All Colors, is coming up on September 28, 2019 (Schiffer Publishing).
For more about Gino Bartali, click here.
For a Kirkus review of The Brave Cyclist, click here.
To learn more about Amalia Hoffman and her work, click here.