About the Holiday
Today’s holiday kicks off National Nurses Week, which runs until May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale. Nightingale, born in 1820, was an English social reformer and the founder of modern nursing. She was well-known for her work tending wounded soldiers during the Crimean War and was called “the lady with the lamp,” because of the rounds she made of her patients during the night.
During National Nurses Day and Week, we honor and thank all of the nurses working in hospitals, private practices, and with charitable organizations around the world for their dedication to and compassion for the patients under their care.
Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero
Written by Marissa Moss | Illustrated by John Hendrix
When President Abraham Lincoln called for young men to join the army fighting against the Southern states that wanted to secede from the Union, Frank Thompson signed up. One thing though, Frank wasn’t really a man but, instead, a 19-year-old woman named Sarah Edmonds. Sarah already knew the freedom that posing as a man could bring in her society. Three years earlier to escape a marriage arranged by her parents, Sarah cut her long hair, began wearing pants, and crossed “the border from Canada into the United States, trading a bridal gown for trousers, trading countries, without a single regret.”
Now, outside the Michigan courthouse, Sarah slowly moved her way along the line to the table where she could sign up to join the troops. When she finally stood in front of the recruiter, however, he stopped her. Sarah was mystified. How did he know she wasn’t a man? She had grown up on a farm, learning the work, copying the gestures, and even wearing the clothes of her brother. But the recruiter took one look at “Frank Thompson” and told her…she was too young to join the army. “He looked at her peachy cheeks free of any sign of a whisker. ‘We aren’t taking any sixteen-year-olds,’” he told her.
A month later, however, more men were needed, and Sarah was allowed to join up. Now a soldier, Frank was a valuable member of the corps. She was an expert at riding and shooting, and she felt at home among the men, enjoying the jokes, stories, and letters. Keeping her identity a secret was made easier by the fact that soldiers did not change clothes to go to sleep. Her small feet led the other soldiers to give her a nickname: “Our little woman.” A name Frank enjoyed immensely.
On the battlefield Frank trained to be a nurse, “which was something only men with the strongest stomachs did because of the long, draining hours and the horrors of surgery without anesthetic.” She fearlessly participated in the battles of Bull Run and Fair Oaks, risking her own life to rescue wounded soldiers. One night the regimental chaplain approached Frank. He wanted to recommend her for a very important—and very dangerous—job. The chaplain wanted to recommend to the generals that Frank become a spy for the North.
“Frank didn’t hesitate. ‘I’m your man!’” she said. Disguising herself as a freed slave, she infiltrated “a group of slaves bringing breakfast to the rebel pickets, the men who guarded the camp.” With so much work to do, the group quickly accepted her, but when the rest of the men, women, and children went off to their own assignments Frank hesitated, not knowing where to go next. Suddenly, a Confederate soldier caught Frank and ordered her to work on the fortifications. The work was backbreaking and left her hands blistered and bloody. The other workers helped when she had trouble.
The work gave Frank an opportunity to count the number of guns the army had, sketch a layout of the fort, and notice that some cannons were fake—just logs painted to look like cannons. By switching jobs with the water boy, Frank was able to get closer to the troops, where she encountered another spy—one working for the Confederate army. When night fell, Frank returned to his Union battalion. Giving the password, Frank was let into camp and made her way to the general’s tent. “Freedom, she knew, wasn’t something to take for granted. It was something to fight for, to cherish. And so long as her heart was beating strong, that’s just what she would do.”
An extensive Author’s Note revealing more about Sarah Edmond’s life and an Artist’s Note on the creation of the illustrations follow the text.
Marissa Moss’s biography of Sarah Edmonds is a suspenseful, gripping, and enlightening story of a woman who broke molds, lived on her own terms, and paved the way for future generations of women. Her well-chosen vignettes from Edmonds’ time as a Union soldier demonstrate not only Edmonds’ bravery and abilities but also create a clear and exciting trajectory of her increasing responsibilities and the danger that went with them. Fascinating details of the Civil War period, the people and attitudes involved, and the duplicitous nature of warfare, add up to a rich account of Sarah Edmonds’ life as well as the Civil War era in general.
Meticulously researched and drawn, John Hendrix’s illustrations perfectly accompany and illuminate the text. Accurate depictions of Civil War-era buildings and clothing as well as Union and Confederate uniforms and weapons allow children to become fully immersed in the time period. Wide-view depictions of encampments and battlefields let readers peek into tents and scour trenches, and action abounds. In camp soldiers pick out tunes on banjos, write letters, and hang laundry; on the battlefield fires rage and ammunition explodes as soldiers follow the charge of their leaders; at the Confederate fortifications black workers steer wheelbarrows of rock; and in the medical tent Frank tends to wounded soldiers, the equipment used clearly visible. Scenes portrayed in both daylight and at night highlight the ongoing conflict and the dangerous, secretive work Sara Edmonds undertook.
Nurse, Soldier, Spy: the Story of Sarah Edmonds a Civil War Hero is historical and biographical work at its best. This fast-paced, fascinating look at one particular soldier informs readers about so many aspects of the Civil War era, including societal issues that shaped the United States and are still discussed today. The book is a must for school and public libraries and its in-depth, absorbing content makes it a welcome addition to home libraries for children who love history, art, biographies, and a well-told story.
Ages 5 – 12
Abrams Books for Young People, 2016 (Paperback edition) | ISBN 978-1419720659
Discover many more books, fun stuff, writing tips and more on Marissa Moss‘s website!
View a portfolio of picture book art, editorial illustration, a sketchbook, and more on John Hendrix‘s website!
National Nurses Day Activity
Nurse Clothespin Dolls
Make one of these clothespin figures that honors hard-working and compassionate emergency nurses!
- Printable Emergency Nurse’s Uniforms Template
- Peg clothespins, available at craft stores and hardware stores
- Draw a face and hair on the clothespin
- Cut out the outfit you want your doctor to wear (color pants on your clothespin if you choose the lab coat)
- Wrap the coat or scrubs around the clothespin. The slit in the clothespin should be on the side.
- Tape the clothes together
- Wrap the cap around the head and tape it.
- If you’d like to display your clothespin doctor on a wire, string, or the edge of a box or other container, cut along the dotted lines of the clothes template.
Picture Book Review