Thanks to Hamilton and our constant National Park Service Adventures, my daughter is currently fascinated by American history. Living near Washington, DC, has only stoked that interest. In fact, we recently had the opportunity to sleep over at the National Archives and literally spent the night right next to the Constitution. My daughter couldn’t have been more thrilled.
It’s no surprise, then, that Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring is right up our alley at the moment. It’s therefore a thrill to take part in this blog tour in support of the new book by Enigma Alberti (a pseudonym for a group of authors writing the Spy on History series) and illustrated by Tony Cliff (Delilah Dirk).
Mary Bowser is an unsung hero of the Civil War: an African American spy who agreed to work as a maid in Jefferson Davis’s Confederate White House and then sent information back to the Union. She’s so unsung that I’ve never heard of her, and neither have a lot of people. Which makes this book so important.
The book relates Mary’s thrilling story and how she used her photographic memory and various codes to send vital information north during the war. But instead of just telling her story, the book pulls readers into the tale, makes them “honorary spies,” and asks them to actively engage with the world of spies and spy rings – by cracking codes and ciphers embedded in the illustrations and text throughout.
When I was a kid, I would eat this stuff up. Books that demanded active participation were my jam. This was absolutely the kind of book that captured my imagination. And it seems that infatuation has been passed on to my daughter, since she latched on to Spy on History right away.
I mean, the book begins with an envelope filled with tools kids need to physically remove if they want to follow along and help piece together the clues scattered throughout the book. One of those tools is a secret decoder ring! Technically, it’s a replica Civil War cipher wheel, but yeah, you had us at hello.
Even the copyright page has a secret hidden message. They just don’t make enough of this kind of book anymore. Thank you Workman!
The fact that the book is fascinating and Mary Bowser’s story is captivating is just icing on the cake.
As part of the blog tour, we’ve been asked to answer the following question: “If you could go back to any time or place in history, where would you put your spy skills to use?” I posed this question to the 7-year-old history addict in my house, and her answer was almost immediate.
The Revolutionary War. Obsessed with Hamilton, her first inclination was to be a spy for Alexander Hamilton. I asked her why Hamilton would need a spy, and she thought for a little while.
“Well, I guess he’d want to spy on Aaron Burr. Or I could be someone like Hercules Mulligan….But I think I’d rather work for George Washington and spy on King George. I could go to England, practice my British accent, and find out what the king is planning.”
Practicing her accent, I think, was key to her decision. She’s pretty good at it and is quite proud of herself – able to start speaking in a British accent at a moment’s notice. She’s convinced this is the only quality she’ll need to be an effective spy. And who am I to argue?
This giveaway is now over. Thanks for entering!
Finally, we’re just one stop on the blog tour for Spy on History. Be sure to visit all of the other great blogs and see what they have to say about where they’d like to spy:
- February 1: Middle Grade Mafia
- February 2: YAYOMG
- February 3: Mundie Kids
- February 6: Miss Print
- February 7: Recreational Scholar
- February 9: Randomly Reading
- February 10: A History of Books & –This Kid Reviews Books
- February 13: Teen Library Toolbox
- February 14: Ex Libris Kate
- February 15: Geo Librarian
- February 16: Kidliterati
- February 17: Kristi’s Book Nook
(Disclosure: Workman provided me with a review copy of this book. All opinions remain my own.)