Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark has written picture-book biographies of women in STEM fields ranging from computer science to mathematics, astronomy to code breaking. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Cook Prize Honor, and Parents’; Choice Gold Medal. She is a former software engineer and computer science professor. She lives in Ringoes, New Jersey. (Photo credit Jeanne Balsam)
Thanks so much, Laurie, for stopping by to celebrate Inventors Month with me! Since this holiday recognizes innovators of the past and present, it seems a perfect fit for your books that teach kids about amazing women whose inventions or inventive ways of thinking have changed our understanding of math, computers, communications, and even secret codes.
Your love for these subjects and depth of research lead to compelling biographies. Reading them, I’ve often wondered whether a previous job has influenced your writing and the kinds of books you write.
For many years I was a software engineer and, after that, a computer science professor. Not surprisingly, my first two women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) picture book biographies were about computer scientists, Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper.
The same love of math and science that led me to these careers also led me to want to encourage children’s interest in these fields. And what better way to do this than through books? I now have three more picture book biographies of women mathematicians and scientists out, the latest being Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars, with two more on the way.
But it’s important not to fall into a rut in your writing, so my next title, coming out in October, is Dino Pajama Party. Because of my interest in STEM, people have asked me if it’s nonfiction. Um, no. But who knows? Maybe reading a fun, rhyming picture book about dinosaurs will encourage a child to grow up to be paleontologist.
I’m sure readers are as thrilled as I am to hear that you have two more STEM-related books coming out! I’m really looking forward to seeing who they’re about! And what could be better than dinosaurs partying in pajamas?! What a terrific way to send little one’s off to bed.
The Latest Books from Laurie Wallmark
I’m excited to share a little bit about Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars and Dino Pajama Party.
Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars
Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by Brooke Smart
In Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars, readers open the cover to an intriguing question: “Could it be? Had enemy spies sneaked into the United States?” World War II was raging, but the United States had not yet joined the effort. And yet the “FBI had intercepted hundreds of coded messages from a secret base in New York.” The problem was no one could read them. Who did the FBI turn to? Elizebeth Smith Friedman, who broke the codes, discovered a cadre of Nazi spies, and provided the evidence “to send thirty-three German spies to prison.”
Elizabeth’s career in code breaking began in an unusual way: through her love of Shakespeare. In 1916, she met the eccentric George Fabyan, who was trying to prove that Francis Bacon was the true writer of Shakespeare’s plays. He hired Elizebeth to “find secret messages Bacon had supposedly hidden in the plays. But the more she explored the plays, the more convinced she became that there were no hidden messages.” In 1917, with the US involved in World War I, Fabyan asked Elizebeth and her now-husband William Friedman, who was also an expert at secret codes, to establish “the country’s first code-breaking unit, the Riverbank Department of Cyphers….”
In 1921, they helped soldiers send sensitive intelligence from the field by devising a complex code that would use only pencil and paper instead of the Army’s cumbersome machine. During Prohibition, they helped stop smugglers and Elizabeth created the Coast Guard’s first code-breaking unit. With America’s entry into World War II, it was Elizabeth who figured out how to defeat the Germans’ powerful code-making machine, Enigma, which “saved thousands of lives and shortened the war by many years.”
Compelling and wonderfully detailed, Laurie Wallmark’s biography of Elizebeth Friedman immerses children in the world of war-time spies, where cracking codes equaled saved lives and battles won. Wallmark’s storytelling reads like a thriller and is sprinkled throughout with quotes from Elizebeth that give kids a sense of her personality and the demands of her career. By including several cases Elizebeth was instrumental in solving, Wallmark provides readers with historical context on the broad range of nefarious activity that relied on secret codes. This informs children’s knowledge of today’s uses of encryption as well as of international spy networks. Each page is a celebration of Elizebeth’s talent, intelligence, and accomplishments, and her incredible story will enthrall readers.
Brooke Smart’s watercolor and gouache illustrations offer enticing glimpses into the past while following Elizebeth as she meets George Fabyon who shows her around his museum-like house while carrying a small monkey on his shoulder, establishes the United States’ first code-breaking unit, testifies in court, and thwarts the Nazis’ war plans. Interspersed with Smart’s realistic depictions of Elizebeth’s life are images in which lines of coded messages snake across the page, giving readers a look at the kinds of unreadable text Elizebeth and her teams cracked.
Ages 7 – 11
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419739637
Discover more about Laurie Wallmark and her books on her website.
To learn more about Brooke Smart, her books, and her art, visit her website.
Inventor’s Day Activity
Code Breaker, Spy Hunter Activity Kit
Secret fun is at your fingertips with the Code Breaker, Spy Hunter Activity Kit, which is full of codes kids will love learning, using, and sending! It’s available for download from the Abrams Books website here:
You can find Code Breaker, Spy Hunter at these booksellers
To support your local independent bookstore, order from
Dino Pajama Party
Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by Michael Robinson
Jazzy dinos have a fun day singing, dancing, and making music, boogying to a funky beat. But once the sun goes down, bedtime calls! Perfect for story time or bedtime, this playful read aloud goes from rollicking to restful.
Laurie Wallmark’s infectious rhymes will have kids stomping, jiving, and roaring along with Michael Robinson’s colorful, pajama-clad dinosaurs that shake their claws, strum guitars and toot horns, and show their pointy white teeth through big grins. As nighttime falls and the dinos trudge home, tired and yawning, readers will find themselves yawning and ready for bed too.
Ages 4 – 8
Running Press Kids, 2021 | ISBN 978-0762497751
To learn more about Michael Robertson, his books, and his art, visit his website.
Dino Pajama Party Activity Kit
Have dino-sized fun with the Dino Pajama Party Activity Kit available for download from Laurie Wallmark’s website here:
You can preorder Dino Pajama Party at these booksellers
To support your local independent bookstore, preorder from
Check out these other books by Laurie Wallmark!
Picture Book Review