Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Non-Fiction Picture Books Dig New Stories From History

   Visit Alyson Beecher on Wednesdays for Non-Fiction Picture Books at Kidlit Frenzy -- hashtag #nfpb2020! Thanks to her hosting and sharing.  
       From others, too, who add their posts, you can discover and celebrate terrific nonfiction picture books! 
        I hope you are all keeping healthy and finding good ways to be at home and to help others if you can!
         Sad to write this is my final non-fiction picture book from the library. I have a few more of my own, however!
         Somewhere I have heard this story of Anna Strong, a woman spy in the American Revolution who used laundry on a line to send coded messages that were passed on to General Washington! For example, she hung a black petticoat when she wanted other waiting spies to know there was a new message to be delivered. She was part of what was called the Culper Ring, a group of American spies. They devised a code to send the messages, sometimes written in invisible ink. Parts of that code are given in the back matter, along with a recipe for the special ink!

        Many of Anna's relatives were loyalists, rooting for Britain to win this war, but not Anna or her husband, Selah, also a spy. The story shares that Anna, a woman, was never suspected or caught, but in the back matter, Sarah Glenn Marsh explains there is "no clear documentation that Anna was, in fact, a spy", but she further adds numerous stories and "indirect" proof that it must be true and was never revealed to protect Anna's identity. Anna lived in Setauket, New York in a home that happened to be well-positioned to watch for ships and share the information through secret messages like her laundry. In the author's note, Marsh also writes that this "has remained a part of Setauket's folklore and family tradition to this day."
       Sarah Green adds her own explanation of her illustrations, choosing to follow artists of the Revolutionary period and MOMA's Costume Institute for "a sense of motion and action." She also has included some framed spots, connecting with the look a spyglass might give along with including some of the numbers from the code. Anna Strong remains the central figure in most pages, showing her casual, friendly look while in actuality, she is a spy. The book includes some references to varied parts of this time that will inspire further research, like the Battle of Yorktown, an important one to the revolutionaries in this war.
        Extra notes, a bibliography, and an index are added at the back with the author's and illustrator's notes, plus the Culper Spy Code and recipe mentioned earlier. It's a great story to know from our country's past, just out this year!


  1. I do enjoy reading illustrator's notes especially when they do research to best capture the text.

  2. It's so tricky to write modern picture books about people from so long ago. I'm always interested in how writers talk about their work in their back matter. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I imagine it is, Annette, and I enjoyed both Sarahs' notes about this book. It is an intriguing story.


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