The Bicycle Spy
by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Related Activities & Resources:
Yona Zeldis McDonough’s website:
Activities & Resources:
Select a favorite scene from the book and identify the characters who are important in this passage. Write a readers theater or a dramatic script, including a narrator and stage directions. Recruit students to perform the script or the readers theater.
Codes play an important role throughout the book. With a partner, create your own code, using letters, numbers or secret words. Write secret messages that relate to the book and then see if other students can break the code.
Using the Glossary of Terms found in the back of the book, make flash cards for each term. Illustrate the words, and then create a way to use the flash cards in a group to help everyone become familiar with the terms from The Bicycle Spy.
Read about the lives of the Jews during the German Occupation. Using information from your reading and The Bicycle Spy, create a Jewish family living during that time of occupation. Pretend you are a member of that family and write a journal about your daily life and the threats you experience during the German Occupation.
Create a news program about the Tour de France before 1942. Use the Short History of the Tour de France in the back of the book or information from other sources to write the interviews and informative pieces about the race. Include advertisements that would reflect that time period. Present the program to an audience.
Choose a character or event in The Bicycle Spy and write a poem or song about your selection. Perform the poem/song for other students and then discuss.
Explore and Learn:
If available through your library, check the TexQuest digital resources for articles on the topics below. These resources include Britannica Online School Edition, National Geographic Kids (Gale), Kids InfoBits (Gale), ¡Informe! (Gale), and ProQuest SIRS Discoverer. See the librarian for login information for TexQuest resources.
Use the sites below to gather information for student/class projects or just to find out more about these topics from the book.
Study this map of France and also locate Spain and Germany, two other countries that are mentioned in the book:
Discover fun facts about France:
Information and photographs of the dangerous Pyrenees mountain range that Delphine and her family had to cross:
Listen to the French national anthem (La Marseillaise) that Marcel’s class sang at the end of every school day until the German Occupation began (1:19):
German Occupation in France during World War II:
France during World War II:
A DK Find Out — Adolf Hitler:
Read the history of the Gestapo, Nazi Germany’s secret police force:
View video of an American soldier who worked with the French Resistance (4:00):
Jewish Persecution during World War II:
Read about World II and the Holocaust and take the quiz at the bottom of the webpage:
The Holocaust in Europe:
Wearing the Yellow Star:
French Resistance (World War II):
A DK Find Out — French Resistance:
Read about the French Resistance, including links to all of the groups that helped save lives:
Secret Coding Fun:
Make a cipher wheel:
Transpose letters to send a message:
Write secret messages using ciphers:
Tour de France:
Tour de France facts for kids:
Tour de France activities and printables:
French cooking lesson with recipes:
French food for kids:
The French are famous for food! Find some easy French dessert recipes and create a snack to share with the group.
Using information from the back of the book, create a 3D timeline. Using art materials that are available in the makerspace, design a creative way to display important events during World War II. You can try a hidden door timeline, if you want to start with a template (http://www.teachinginroom6.com/2013/05/how-do-you-timeline.html).
The Bicycle Spy is full of French words and phrases. Make a list of these French terms and create a comic book with illustrated panels and word bubbles that explains their meaning.
Read the Tour de France section at the back of The Bicycle Spy and design a board game, using the information from this back matter. Create the board and pieces and play the game with others who have read the book.
Design a Tour de France t-shirt that a bicycling fan might wear. Include a slogan, a graphic, and color.
Big Idea Questions:
Why is The Bicycle Spy a good title for the book? Share an alternate title that might also describe the book and explain the reasons for your new choice.
While riding his bicycle, Marcel would often pretend to be riding in the Tour de France. How did those fantasies help him in his efforts to assist the French Resistance? Describe a time you used your imagination to help you survive a difficult situation.
Marcel’s mother often sent him with extra food to give to soldiers. How did this strategy affect the soldiers Marcel met on his missions? Give reasons why this strategy was so frequently successful.
Marcel’s uncle tells him, “Every boy should know something about history.” (p. 22)
Why would knowing something about the past be important to a person living in the present?
The Bicycle Spy is a book that is full of characters who have secrets. Make a list of the secrets that you remember in the book. What was the effect on the characters in the book who tried to keep their particular secret? What would it be like to live in an environment of secrecy?
How did Marcel’s passion for cycling make a difference in the outcome of the book? Describe an activity about which you are passionate. How could that passion help you make a difference in the world?
Marcel’s parents were willing to put their 12-year-old son in many dangerous situations, including interactions with the German gestapo and French gendarmes. Why would Marcel’s parents allow Marcel to often be in harm’s way? What does this decision say about the parents? What does this decision say about their understanding of their son?
The Bicycle Spy contains many situations where children, adults, and governments bully other people. What are the similarities in the way these three types of bullies treat other people? How is the effect on their victims similar, whether the bully is a child, an adult, or the government?
When Delphine learns that Marcel’s family is planning to help her escape, she asks, “Why is your family doing all this?” (p. 100) What would cause someone to join the French Resistance, knowing that certain danger and possible death lie ahead? Share whether you would have joined the Resistance and support your opinion.
Marcel is very small for his age, but he is oversized in other personal strengths. What are Marcel’s outstanding qualities as a person? Give examples to support your ideas about this central character in the book.
After Delphine and her family leave for Spain, Marcel returns to the house and sees that they have left all of their possessions behind. What stories have been in the news recently where people have left all they own to move to safety? How would you respond in a similar situation? What one thing would you try to take with you and why?
Book Specific Questions:
Examine the cover of the book. What mood does the artwork create? What prediction might you make about this book from studying the cover?
The genre of this book is historical fiction. What historical event at the very beginning of the book sets the plot in motion?
Marcel thinks that the German soldiers and the French gendarmes (police) “made his little village seem like a strange and scary place.” (p. 6) How did the presence of soldiers change the normal life in the village? What would your reaction be to soldiers and police suddenly taking over your city or town?
Why is the Tour de France an important event to the French people? Why is Marcel obsessed with this famous cycling challenge?
Marcel’s parents asked him to deliver bread with secret notes inside, but didn’t let him know about the enclosures. Why didn’t the parents tell him the significance of the deliveries he was making?
What clues did Marcel use to discover that his parents were a part of the French Resistance? What was his emotional response when he uncovered this secret? How would you have reacted if you discovered that your parent was working the Resistance?
What does the reader learn about Marcel in the passage where he has to reinsert the note in the bread that he is taking to his aunt and uncle’s home? (pp. 20-21)
Describe the difference between your school and Marcel’s. Include differences between the room, the teacher, class routines, and the subjects studied. What similarities do you find between your school and Marcel’s?
What does the fact that Delphine wants to join Marcel and Arnaud’s bicycle race tell the reader about this character? What does the reader learn about Delphine from her behavior in and after the race?
Why did Marcel feel he had to be careful not to be seen with Delphine outside of school? Share how would you react if you were in a similar situation.
After the incident with the Gestapo in the classroom, Delphine and Marcel exchange secrets about their families (pp. 63-68). How are the two secrets related? Why do you think Delphine and Marcel felt safe sharing their secrets?
When Marcel lets his father know that he is aware of the secret messages that he has been carrying in the bread, his father doesn’t get upset, but instead becomes very “sad” and “defeated.” (p. 78) Why do you think his father responded in this way to Marcel’s announcement?
When Marcel listens to his mother talk about the importance of standing up to the Germans and to keep them from taking over France, Marcel thinks that his mother’s courage is “contagious.” (p. 95) Tell about a time when someone else’s courage inspired you to not be afraid.
Marcel breaks a promise that he made to Delphine and tells his parents that her family is Jewish. Why did Marcel decide to tell his parents? What would have happened if Marcel had kept the secret about Delphine’s family? Describe a situation when you might break a promise to a friend.
Several times in the book Marcel has to confront the Gestapo or French police in the town when he is on a mission. What impresses you the most about the way Marcel acts under pressure? Give an example from the book of behavior that you admire.
The watchmaker who is going to help Delphine’s family trusts Marcel with valuable information about the location of the safe house. What about Marcel inspires this trust from a total stranger? What about the situation made it necessary for the watchmaker to share top-secret information with a 12-year-old?
Define the word persistence. Then share examples of how Marcel demonstrates this quality on his journey to the safe house and back to his own village again. Tell about a time when you were persistent.
Delphine’s family has to put their faith in total strangers to lead them out of France and into Spain. Why were they willing to give their safety to people they had never even met before? Describe a time when you had to trust your safety to someone who was a stranger.
When confronted by the Gestapo at school, Marcel tells the authorities that he did not know that Delphine was Jewish. Defend Marcel’s decision to tell this lie.
Guillaume tells Marcel not to be friends with a Jew, even one he feels sorry for. Why did Guillaume give this advice to Marcel? What was Marcel’s reaction to his friend’s suggestion?
Marcel is finally able to stand up to the bully Thierry’s taunts about Delphine when she fails to come to school. What gives him the strength to not be afraid?
What does Arnaud mean when he says, “Bullies can never stand a taste of their own medicine,” referring to Thierry and Marcel? (p. 162) Describe a time that you witnessed someone confronting a bully. What was the result of this brave action?
What does the new bike that he receives for Christmas represent to Marcel?
What was the final secret that is revealed in the envelope from Portugal? Why is this a secret that only Marcel would understand?
Book Talk Teasers:
Show the book trailer for The Bicycle Spy. After viewing, ask for predictions for what will happen in the story.
Project an image of German-occupied France during World War II. Ask the students to imagine that they are French citizens and that the German military has just taken over their village. Give students the chance to share how they would feel, then introduce the students to Marcel and the secrets that he carries, encouraging students to read the book to find out more about this young bicycle spy.
Jewish children in World War II (historical fiction)
Cerrito, Angela. The safest lie. A nine-year-old Jewish girl, helped by Irena Sendler and the Zegota organization, is smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto, given a new identity, and sent to live in the countryside for the duration of the World War II. (NoveList Plus)
Lowry, Lois. Number the stars. In 1943, during the German occupation of Denmark, ten-year-old Annemarie learns how to be brave and courageous when she helps shelter her Jewish friend from the Nazis. (NoveList Plus)
Macdonald, Maryann. Odette’s secrets. When Odette Meyer’s father is sent to a Nazi work camp, her mother sends Odette from Paris to the French countryside where she must pretend to be a Catholic peasant to remain safe, while secrets burn within her. (NoveList Plus)
Roy, Jennifer. Yellow star. From 1939, when Syvia is four and a half years old, to 1945 when she has just turned ten, a Jewish girl and her family struggle to survive in Poland’s Lodz ghetto during the Nazi occupation. (NoveList Plus)
Tarshis, Lauren. The Nazi Invasion, 1944. A young Jewish boy escapes the ghetto and finds a group of resistance fighters in the forests of Poland, and he must determine if he has what it takes to survive the Nazis and fight back. (NoveList Plus)
The French Resistance (historical fiction)
Calkhoven, Laurie. Michael at the invasion of France, 1943. Michael, a thirteen-year-old French-American, watches in fear as the Nazis invade Paris, and is spurred to become part of the French Resistance movement, defying Hitler, helping American aviators to safe zones, and delivering secret documents at great risk to his own safety. Includes historical notes, glossary, and timeline. (NoveList Plus)
Giff, Patricia Reilly. Genevieve’s War. In August 1939 Genevieve makes an impulsive decision not to get on train to take her to boat back New York and must spend the duration of World War II with her grandmother in a small village in Alsace, France, where she becomes involved with the French resistance. (NoveList Plus)
Meyer, Susan. Black radishes. Gustave and his family, who are Jewish, are forced to flee to the countryside when the Germans occupy France, but to reach Free France which would enable them to escape to America, Gustave must undertake a risky venture into the occupied zone. (NoveList Plus)
World War II in France (nonfiction)
Demuth, Patricia. What was D-day? Presents the events leading to and during the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, during World War II, describing the importance of the campaign and its effect on the outcome of the war. (NoveList Plus)
Greenly, Larry W. Eugene Bullard: world’s first black fighter pilot. Presents the life of the African American pilot who flew missions for France during World War I, experienced racial discrimination in the United States, was beaten in the Peekskill Riots of 1949, and became a member of the French Legion of Honor. (NoveList Plus)
Millman, Isaac. Hidden child. The author details his difficult experiences as a young Jewish child living in Nazi-occupied France during the 1940s. (NoveList Plus)
Raum, Elizabeth. World War II: an interactive history adventure. (You choose books) Describes the events of World War II and explains the significance of the war today. The reader’s choices reveal the historical details from the perspective of a member of the Dutch resistance, a Canadian soldier, and an American soldier. (NoveList Plus)
Ruelle, Karen Gray. The grand mosque of Paris: a story of how Muslims rescued Jews during the Holocaust. During the Nazi occupation of Paris, no Jew was safe from arrest and deportation to a concentration camp. Few Parisians were willing to risk their own lives to help. Yet many Jews found refuge in an unlikely place, the sprawling complex of the Grand Mosque of Paris. Not just a place of worship but also a community center, this hive of activity was an ideal temporary hiding place for escaped prisoners of war and Jews of all ages, including children. (NoveList Plus)
Tour de France (nonfiction)
Hamilton, Sue L. Tour de France. Looks at the notable cyclists and moments in the history of the Tour de France, and describes the rules, strategies, and dangers of competitive cycling. (NoveList Plus)
Robinson, Laura. Cyclist bikelist: the book for every rider. A guide to bicycles and bicycling discusses the history of bicycles, their parts, different types, and choosing the right one; bicycling safety and clothing; bicycle maintenance; and famous cyclists. (NoveList Plus)
Slade, Suzanne. The science of bicycle racing. Describes the science concepts involved in several types of bicycle racing. (NoveList Plus)
McDonough, Yona Zeldis The Bicycle Spy 197 pp. Scholastic 2016. ISBN 978-0-545-85095-7
(4) 4-6 Tour de France–loving Marcel, twelve, uses his cycling skills in his small French town to help his baker parents, members of the French Resistance. His new friend Delphine and her Jewish family also need his help escaping the Nazis. Although plot points are occasionally too neatly resolved, Marcel’s courageous spirit carries this World War II drama set in 1942. Reading list, timeline. Glos. Reprinted from The Horn Book Guide by permission of Horn Book, Inc.
McDonough, Yona Zeldis. The Bicycle Spy. Scholastic Press, 2016. School Library Journal (June 1, 2016) Gr 4-6-It is 1942 in German-occupied France. The Tour de France has been cancelled for the last two years, and Marcel, a young French boy, must keep two very big secrets: his parents are part of the resistance, and the new girl in town, a friend and fellow bicycle enthusiast, tells him that she is Jewish. Marcel must decide if he will help his new friend, even if it means putting his life and the lives of his parents at risk. This story takes readers on a historical adventure as they follow Marcel, astride his trusty bicycle, along the streets of German-occupied France. History seamlessly meets fiction as readers learn about a snippet of life in World War II Europe. Marcel is often frightened when he has to go through various checkpoints, where soldiers question his every move. However, he uses his love for cycling to get him through these dangerous times. The brief histories provided at the end of the story and the glossary of terms offer additional background and support for students just learning about this time period. VERDICT This would be a great resource in a World War II unit. Students will become engrossed in Marcel’s exploits as he attempts to save his family from an awful fate.-Elizabeth Anne Ragain, Springfield Public Schools, MO © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Reprinted with permission from School Library Journal , 2016.
McDonough, Yona Zeldis. The Bicycle Spy. Scholastic Press, 2016. Booklist (September 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 2)
Grades 4-6. It’s 1942, and German troops have recently occupied the small French town where Marcel lives with his parents, who run a bakery. Delivering bread one day, he finds a cryptic message inside a loaf and deduces that his parents are working with the Resistance. He befriends Delphine, a new classmate who shares his love of bicycles and the Tour de France. After discovering that she is Jewish and her family is in danger, Marcel begins a perilous journey on his bike to arrange for their escape. A glossary of terms (cornichons, Gestapo, ration cards), a time line of WWII France, and a brief history of the Tour de France are among the appended features. Clearly written, suspenseful, and accessible to a younger audience than most escape stories involving Jewish children during the war, this chapter book has classroom potential. An engaging story with an attractive jacket, this historical novel is a good companion book for Gregory Maguire’s The Good Liar (1995) and Susan Lynn Meyer’s Black Radishes (2010), which are also set in occupied France. Used with the permission of Booklist https://www.booklistonline.com/