March 8 – International Women’s Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-code-breaker-spy-hunter-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday is celebrated around the world and focuses on the social, economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women. Spurred on by this mission, the theme for 2021 is “Choose to Challenge.” The sponsors of today’s holiday know that “a challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.” Individually, each of us can choose to call out and challenge gender bias and inequality wherever we see it. Each of us can choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. To celebrate today and all year through, commit to helping forge an inclusive world. To learn more about International Women’s Day and how you can get involved in making positive change toward gender equality, visit the International Women’s Day website.

Thanks to Abrams Books for Young Readers and Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of Code Breaker, Spy Hunter for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with them for a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Change the Course of Two World Wars

Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by Brooke Smart

 

In Code Breaker, Spy Hunter, 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.” Who was Elizebeth Friedam? Children are about to find out!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-code-breaker-spy-hunter-cryptanalyst

Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

As a child, Elizebeth loved poetry and especially the work of William Shakespeare, with its structure and patterns. In college, she studied English literature, Latin, Greek, and German. While looking for a job in Chicago 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.

Elizebeth shared her thoughts with a friend, William Friedman, who also loved puzzles and secret codes. Over a year’s time, their discussions resulted in a stronger friendship and finally marriage. In 1917, the US entered World War I and Fabyan asked Elizebeth and William to establish “the country’s first code-breaking unit, the Riverbank Department of Cyphers…. Their methods are now considered the basis for the modern science of cryptology, the study of secret codes.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-code-breaker-spy-hunter-childhood

Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

In 1921, Elizebeth and William moved to Washington D.C., where they worked as code breakers for the Army. At the time, the Army used a large, cumbersome machine to convert messages into code, which precluded soldiers in the field from sending intelligence back. Elizebeth and William invented a complex code that used “only pencil and paper.” After the war, Elizebeth settled down to write books and raise a family, but still the entreaties came to decode messages for court cases sometimes thousands of miles away.

In 1925 with Prohibition the law of the land, smugglers were running rampant. The Coast Guard summoned her, and within three months Elizebeth had cracked “two years of backlogged messages.” Her work and court testimony that helped to convict smugglers made Elizebeth a recognized expert in the new field of cryptology, and when the work became overwhelming for just two people, she created the Coast Guard’s first code-breaking unit.

With the entry of the US in World War II, Elizebeth’s expertise was once again needed. Again, she needed to create a code-breaking unit, and in 1942 she hired and taught “mathematicians, physicists, and chemists” the skills of cryptology. Now, Elizebeth’s team was learning important war information about the Nazi’s movements and plans. When the FBI director wanted to nab the spies, Elizebeth recommended waiting “until the military could learn more of the enemy’s secrets.” But he disagreed and raided their hiding place. The spies that escaped quickly changed their codes, making their communications harder to decipher. The FBI director took all the credit for breaking the codes and catching the spies.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-code-breaker-spy-hunter-world-war-II

Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

As the war progressed, Elizebeth helped capture an American spy working for the Japanese, and when the Germans developed Enigma, a powerful code-making machine that could “create billions of different cipher alphabets, it was Elizebeth’s team that broke the code for the United States. In Allied countries around the world, other cryptologists were also decrypting Enigma messages. The Nazis were now at a disadvantage, their planned attacks thwarted. Historians believe the work of these code breakers “saved thousands of lives and shortened the war by many years.”

Throughout her life Elizebeth could not speak a word about her work, even to her family. It was classified as Top Secret Ultra by the government and kept locked in the National Archives. At last, in 2015, Elizebeth’s work was declassified. “She is now considered one of the most gifted and influential code breakers of all time.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-code-breaker-spy-hunter-counter-spied

Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

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 of Elizabeth’s trajectory from Shakespeare scholar to ultra-secret code cracker 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 to inform their knowledge of today’s uses of encryption as well as 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. In addition to presenting a visual representation of the tangled communications that eventually nabbed our enemies, two of these clever illustrations contain messages of their own.

A superlative biography that would enhance any history, social studies, language arts, or STEM curriculum as well as captivate kids who love spy, military, and detective stories, Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Change the Course of Two World Wars is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and library collections.

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.

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter Giveaway

I’m happy to be teaming with Abrams Books for Young Readers and Blue Slip Media in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Code Breaker, Spy Hunter written by Laurie Wallmark | illustrated by Brooke Smart

To enter:

This giveaway is open from March 8 to March 14 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on March 15. 

Prizing provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers and Blue Slip Media

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

International Women’s Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pig-pen-cipher

Send a Secret Message

 

Would you like to be a code breaker – or a spy? Get started with this Pigpen Cipher that makes sending secret messages to friends, siblings, and other family easy and fun. This ancient code is called the Pigpen Cipher because each letter is in its own “pen.” Use it as originally developed then try mixing the letters and pens to create new codes. 

Pigpen Cipher Key

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-code-breaker-spy-hunter-cover

You can find Code Breaker, Spy Hunter at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 27 – It’s Mystery Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Kate-Warne-pinkerton-detective-cover

About the Holiday

The month of May is dedicated to mysteries! Established nine years ago by Booklist, part of the American Library Association, Mystery Month highlights all things mysterious and offers webinars, articles, awards, recommendations and more! For kids it’s a terrific time to discover this most exciting, chilling, and fun genre. So celebrate by reading all types of mysteries from gentle puzzlers for little ones to more complex fiction and biographies of great detectives – likes today’s book!

Kate Warne: Pinkerton Detective

Written by Marissa Moss | Illustrated by April Chu

 

As Kate read the newspaper advertisement from the Pinkerton Agency for the third time, she knew that this was the job for her. It said: “Wanted: Detective. Must be observant, determined, fearless, and willing to travel.” But in 1856 no one would hire a single woman, so Kate decided to present herself as a widow.

Kate had been raised by her father, a printer. Books had always been her companions, and she knew how to make up a story—even the story of her life. “So Kate Carter became Kate Warne…exactly the kind of person you’d want to hire as a detective.” As soon as she walked through the door, Allan Pinkerton began writing down his impressions of Kate. He thought she was a client seeking help. From her manner and appearance, he knew he would take her case—whatever it was.

But when Kate told him she was applying for a job, he told her he “had no need for a washerwoman or cook.” Kate told him she was there to apply for the detective position. Pinkerton had reservations. The dangerous work was “not at all the sort of thing a woman could do,” he said. But Kate disagreed. She told him that she would be able to go into places his male detectives could not and could be the confidant of women witnesses. Pinkerton told her he would think it over.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Kate-Warne-pinkerton-detective-applying-for-job

Image copyright April Chu 2017, text copyright Marissa Moss, 2017. Courtesy of Creston Books.

The next day Kate was at the office as soon as it opened. “Today, you’ve made some history,” Pinkerton told her, “You’re now the first woman detective in the country.” He handed her a file marked The Adams Express Case. As she read the case, Kate felt a thrill of excitement. “The Adams Express Company transported money and valuables for businesses all over the South, by rail, steamboat, and stagecoach.” Valuables were well protected by locks that couldn’t be picked.

But $40,000 had disappeared. One suspect stood out from the rest—Nathan Maroney, the manager of the Montgomery office where the packages had come from. He had been the last person to lock up the carrying pouch before the messenger, Mr. Chase, transported it to Atlanta, where it was found to be empty. Maroney was arrested, but there was little hard evidence—only a slit in the pouch that had not been there before Maroney was accused.

Kate considered the problem then remembered the sleight of hand tricks huskers used to fool people. She figured out how Maroney had stolen the money, but they needed more evidence and a confession. While a male agent pretended to be a fellow thief named “John White” in the same jail cell as Maroney, Kate befriended Maroney’s wife, Belle, pretending to be Madame Imbert. While Belle didn’t confess to the theft, she did ask her new friend for advice on where to hide valuables. Kate told her she hid her valuables in the basement or buried them in the garden.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Kate-Warne-pinkerton-detective-train

Image copyright April Chu, 2017, text copyright Marissa Moss, 2017. Courtesy of Creston Books.

When Belle left town to visit her husband in jail, Kate took the opportunity to do some snooping at her house. Just as Kate found a freshly dug mound behind crates and barrels in the basement, she heard Belle returning home. She hurriedly put everything back in place and rushed upstairs. Belle was suspicious of the dust on Kate’s dress, and Kate knew she and the other agents had to act fast. She alerted another agent who crawled through the basement window while Belle slept. He tidied up the basement, and the next morning when Belle checked her hiding place, everything was in order. She could still trust her friend she thought.

The Pinkerton Agency plan was going like clockwork. Inside the jail cell, Maroney put his faith—and his money—in the detective’s hands. Maroney wrote to Belle, telling her that John White was going to help them. He instructed her to give John White all the money he had stolen. White was going to plant some of it on Mr. Chase, use some of it to bribe a judge to find Maroney not guilty at trial, and keep the rest for Maroney to collect later. At first, Belle didn’t trust John White, but one sentence from her friend “Madame Imbert” eased her mind and she went along with her husband’s plan.

As the ingenious plan was hatched and carried out, Kate made sure that all the money was secure. The money made its way to the Pinkerton agent “Mr. White” with Belle and Maroney none the wiser. As Maroney’s trial proceeded, and he heard Mr. White called as the first witness, Maroney suddenly changed his plea from “not guilty” to “guilty.” “The reputation of the Pinkerton agency was made. So was Kate Warne’s.”

Kate became one of the agency’s most valuable detectives. She was even put in charge of a women’s division and hired many more women who became “some of Pinkerton’s strongest agents.” But Kate Warne, the first woman detective in America, would always be considered the best.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Kate-Warne-pinkerton-detective-belle

Image copyright April Chu, 2017, text copyright Marissa Moss, 2017. Courtesy of Creston Books.

An Author’s Note explaining more about the Pinkerton Detective Agency and the first woman detective follow the text.

Children who love mysteries will be enthralled with this true tale of the first woman detective in America and her explosive first assignment. Marissa Moss’s suspenseful, compelling storytelling and excellent pacing reveal the facts of the case, Kate’s insightful reasoning, and the clever ruses the agents used in outsmarting and capturing the thief. Moss infuses the story with the feeling of the time period and a sense of pride in this little-known piece of women’s history.

April Chu’s detailed period drawings take kids to the mid-1800s to follow Kate Warne as she solves her first case. Depictions of Kate’s father’s printing press, the dirt roads traversed by horse-drawn wagons and carriages, the Adams Express locked pouches and secure rail car will excite history and mystery buffs. The full cast of characters are clearly portrayed, allowing young readers to become detectives themselves as they see the action through Kate’s eyes. The dramatic finale to the case will have children on the edge of their seats whether they are hearing the story aloud or reading it themselves.

Kate Warne: Pinkerton Detective is a thrilling picture book introduction to both biographies and mysteries for children. It offers a unique look at the contributions of strong women in history and is an excellent selection for school, public, and home libraries.

Ages 5 – 13

Creston Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1939547330

Visit with Marissa Moss on her website to discover more about her, her books, and loads of fun activities!

View a gallery of artwork by April Chu on her website!

Mystery Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mysterious-mystery-word-search

Mysterious Mystery Word Search Puzzle

 

Do a little sleuthing to find the twenty mystery-related words in this printable Mysterious Mystery Word Search Puzzle! Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

March 17 – It’s National Women’s History Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Kate-Warne-pinkerton-detective-cover

About the Holiday

National Women’s History Month is all about celebrating women who broke barriers with their intelligence, creativity, courage, persistence, and unwavering confidence in their abilities. In every discipline, women brought new perspectives, experiences, and talents to make an impact and undeniable, unforgettable contributions that made the world better. Today’s book highlights a true original whose success is no mystery

Kate Warne: Pinkerton Detective

Written by Marissa Moss | Illustrated by April Chu

 

As Kate read the newspaper advertisement from the Pinkerton Agency for the third time, she knew that this was the job for her. It said: “Wanted: Detective. Must be observant, determined, fearless, and willing to travel.” But in 1856 no one would hire a single woman, so Kate decided to present herself as a widow.

Kate had been raised by her father, a printer. Books had always been her companions, and she knew how to make up a story—even the story of her life. “So Kate Carter became Kate Warne…exactly the kind of person you’d want to hire as a detective.” As soon as she walked through the door, Allan Pinkerton began writing down his impressions of Kate. He thought she was a client seeking help. From her manner and appearance, he knew he would take her case—whatever it was.

But when Kate told him she was applying for a job, he told her he “had no need for a washerwoman or cook.” Kate told him she was there to apply for the detective position. Pinkerton had reservations. The dangerous work was “not at all the sort of thing a woman could do,” he said. But Kate disagreed. She told him that she would be able to go into places his male detectives could not and could be the confidant of women witnesses. Pinkerton told her he would think it over.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Kate-Warne-pinkerton-detective-applying-for-job

Image copyright April Chu, text copyright Marissa Moss. Courtesy of Creston Books.

The next day Kate was at the office as soon as it opened. “Today, you’ve made some history,” Pinkerton told her, “You’re now the first woman detective in the country.” He handed her a file marked The Adams Express Case. As she read the case, Kate felt a thrill of excitement. “The Adams Express Company transported money and valuables for businesses all over the South, by rail, steamboat, and stagecoach.” Valuables were well protected by locks that couldn’t be picked.

But $40,000 had disappeared. One suspect stood out from the rest—Nathan Maroney, the manager of the Montgomery office where the packages had come from. He had been the last person to lock up the carrying pouch before the messenger, Mr. Chase, transported it to Atlanta, where it was found to be empty. Maroney was arrested, but there was little hard evidence—only a slit in the pouch that had not been there before Maroney was accused.

Kate considered the problem then remembered the sleight of hand tricks huskers used to fool people. She figured out how Maroney had stolen the money, but they needed more evidence and a confession. While a male agent pretended to be a fellow thief named “John White” in the same jail cell as Maroney, Kate befriended Maroney’s wife, Belle, pretending to be Madame Imbert. While Belle didn’t confess to the theft, she did ask her new friend for advice on where to hide valuables. Kate told her she hid her valuables in the basement or buried them in the garden.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Kate-Warne-pinkerton-detective-train

Image copyright April Chu, text copyright Marissa Moss. Courtesy of Creston Books.

When Belle left town to visit her husband in jail, Kate took the opportunity to do some snooping at her house. Just as Kate found a freshly dug mound behind crates and barrels in the basement, she heard Belle returning home. She hurriedly put everything back in place and rushed upstairs. Belle was suspicious of the dust on Kate’s dress, and Kate knew she and the other agents had to act fast. She alerted another agent who crawled through the basement window while Belle slept. He tidied up the basement, and the next morning when Belle checked her hiding place, everything was in order. She could still trust her friend she thought.

The Pinkerton Agency plan was going like clockwork. Inside the jail cell, Maroney put his faith—and his money—in the detective’s hands. Maroney wrote to Belle, telling her that John White was going to help them. He instructed her to give John White all the money he had stolen. White was going to plant some of it on Mr. Chase, use some of it to bribe a judge to find Maroney not guilty at trial, and keep the rest for Maroney to collect later. At first, Belle didn’t trust John White, but one sentence from her friend “Madame Imbert” eased her mind and she went along with her husband’s plan.

As the ingenious plan was hatched and carried out, Kate made sure that all the money was secure. The money made its way to the Pinkerton agent “Mr. White” with Belle and Maroney none the wiser. As Maroney’s trial proceeded, and he heard Mr. White called as the first witness, Maroney suddenly changed his plea from “not guilty” to “guilty.” “The reputation of the Pinkerton agency was made. So was Kate Warne’s.”

Kate became one of the agency’s most valuable detectives. She was even put in charge of a women’s division and hired many more women who became “some of Pinkerton’s strongest agents.” But Kate Warne, the first woman detective in America, would always be considered the best.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Kate-Warne-pinkerton-detective-belle

Image copyright April Chu, text copyright Marissa Moss. Courtesy of Creston Books.

An Author’s Note explaining more about the Pinkerton Detective Agency and the first woman detective follow the text.

Children who love mysteries will be enthralled with this true tale of the first woman detective in America and her explosive first assignment. Marissa Moss’s suspenseful, compelling storytelling and excellent pacing reveal the facts of the case, Kate’s insightful reasoning, and the clever ruses the agents used in outsmarting and capturing the thief. Moss infuses the story with the feeling of the time period and a sense of pride in this little-known piece of women’s history.

April Chu’s detailed period drawings take kids to the mid-1800s to follow Kate Warne as she solves her first case. Depictions of Kate’s father’s printing press, the dirt roads traversed by horse-drawn wagons and carriages, the Adams Express locked pouches and secure rail car will excite history and mystery buffs. The full cast of characters are clearly portrayed, allowing young readers to become detectives themselves as they see the action through Kate’s eyes. The dramatic finale to the case will have children on the edge of their seats whether they are hearing the story aloud or reading it themselves.

Kate Warne: Pinkerton Detective is a thrilling picture book introduction to both biographies and mysteries for children. It offers a unique look at the contributions of strong women in history and is an excellent selection for school, public, and home libraries.

Ages 5 – 13

Creston Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1939547330

Visit with Marissa Moss on her website to discover more about her, her books, and loads of fun activities!

View a gallery of artwork by April Chu on her website!

National Women’s History Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mysterious-mystery-word-search

Mysterious Mystery Word Search Puzzle

 

Do a little sleuthing to find the twenty mystery-related words in this printable Mysterious Mystery Word Search Puzzle! Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review