Nurse, Soldier, Spy – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Returning from my long absence with a brief splash of a review for:

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I just read Nurse, Solder, Spy for a nonfiction picture book course and was fascinated by the story of a young Sarah Edmonds who impersonates a boy so she can enlist in the Union Army. Moss writes with the urgency of a war reporter, and Hendrix’s pen and ink illustrations with their blue and gold/orange/yellow acrylic washes suit the era well.

The varied and sometimes hand-drawn typography can be startling—in a good way. For example, when a Confederate soldier hollers:



the question fills half the spread, bringing home to the reader the awful nature of slavery. In his artist’s note, Hendrix explains that he took some of the typefaces from posters of that era.

My son and husband sat spellbound as I read them the story. After impersonating a young man and joining the Union Army, Sarah fought alongside Union soldiers and then disguised herself as a male slave so she could cross enemy lines as a spy. She discovered a Union traitor and made notes about Confederate fortifications and weapons to inform Union leaders once she returned.

From the back matter: During the war, she wore different disguises during each of her spying missions, suffered from malaria and was wounded twice but refused treatment so no one would discover she was a woman. In an additional twist to her story, we find out that she left the army briefly so she could get medical treatment for recurrent malaria, and when she decided to return to the army, she discovered she (her male counterpart) was wanted for desertion and was to be shot on sight!

So it wasn’t until two years later when her autobiography was published that anyone knew the truth. This young lady was unbelievably brave and finally recognized, through an act of Congress, as a veteran of the Civil War in 1889. Although other women served in various capacities during the Civil War, Sarah Edmonds was the only one ever recognized as a veteran. When her autobiography sold 175,000 copies in its first year (1865), she donated all proceeds from the sales to an organization dedicated to helping Civil War veterans. 

The author includes additional information in the back matter that adds more depth and complexity to the story. I think this book would be a great read for 3rd graders on up. Older readers could use this text as a springboard for more in depth research. The back matter includes author and illustrator notes and bibliographies as well as a glossary and index. Well done all around!

Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds
By Marissa Moss, Illustrated by John Hendrix
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011
ISBN 9780810997356


47 thoughts on “Nurse, Soldier, Spy – Perfect Picture Book Friday

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      If you’ve read “John Brown: His Fight for Freedom,” written and illustrated by Hendrix, you will recognize his signature artwork.

      I think the illustrations and text (by Moss) in NSS are extremely engaging. War, spying, and the danger of being discovered by either the Confederate or Union armies really amped up the tension.

  1. FictionFan says:

    Sounds good! When I was a kid I had a huge collection of Ladybird books – were they available in the US? One page was written and the facing page was an illustration. They did fairytales and stuff, but also loads of history and I adored them. I think it was through them that I gained my love for reading history rather than through school. My parents used to use them as bribes and rewards for me, and my Dad used to buy me one any time I was sick. Almost made chickenpox enjoyable! And though I can’t be sure after so long, it seems to me the history was pretty accurate…

  2. Patricia Tilton says:

    My kind of story! I love really good historical fiction, especially when it involves very strong protagonists. Sarah was an amazing woman. To think she’s the only known female veteran. I agree with Carrie, where’s a movie or documentary on this remarkable woman?

  3. robincoyle says:

    I’m with Carrie . . . how had this not been made into a movie? Let’s see . . . who should play Sarah . . . how about Natalie Portman. Thanks for sharing! I get dibs on writing the screenplay.

  4. Mrs. P says:

    Love this book! I checked out her bio and many books, even recent ones, have included her story…so why hasn’t someone made a movie on this???

    Glad she gave all the proceeds to the vets.

    My 2nd great uncle also was a union spy though I checked to see if they might have connected at any point in the war and they did not, they reported to different generals.

  5. viviankirkfield says:

    Hi Jilanne…nice to meet you – isn’t Susanna’s #PPBF awesome? I was blown away when I read this book for Kristen Fulton’s Non Fiction class this summer. It’s a powerful subject delivered flawlessly in this picture book. I see from your post below that you were traveling on the East Coast – you weren’t at the Squam Valley Writing Retreat earlier this month, were you? There were 2 Jilanne’s there. 🙂

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Hi Vivian, Nice to meet you, too! Yes, I love PPBF! So many great books out there. I’m taking Kristin’s class right now and really enjoying it.

      I’m not familiar with Squam Valley. I did attend the Squaw Valley Community of Writers conference for fiction during a week in July.

      I’ve never run into anyone with my name before. There are many I’ve met with the name Jillian or Gillian or even Julianne, but no Jilanne. Amazing that you ran into two!

  6. Stacy S. Jensen says:

    Thanks for sharing this one. It looks exciting and education. I’ll see if my toddler will like it. He’s younger than the older set, but will be a good one for me to read.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Stacy, Three things: There are a lot of words in this book, probably 50+ words per spread, some with 150+ words (and 21 spreads), so depending on the attention span of the younger set, they may or may not be able to hang in there with the full story. 2) There are a couple of spreads of battle scenes that may be a bit disturbing for the younger set, soldiers face down on the ground, wounds, bloody bandages, an amputee, etc. 3) I’m not sure that a toddler would understand the significance of slavery, the unusual instance of a woman dressing as a man, and those types of themes, but it always depends on the child. Just want you to know if you were thinking of buying this online before you had a chance to take a look at the book. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Kate Johnston says:

    My son would love this book. He is big into non-fiction, history, and biographies/autobiographies. He is especially curious about the Civil War as they are learning about it right now in 4th grade. Thanks for this great suggestion!

  8. tchistorygal says:

    This sounds like a great book Jilanne. I was just talking to someone about a book they read that sounds just like this, so I’m going to order it today. Fresno has their big Civil War reenactment weekend coming up Oct. 18-19 in Kearney Park. Biggest one west of the Mississippi, I think. You should come down for it. Our social studies group is having an event there on the 18th starting at 6:00 p.m. 🙂 I’m on my way to walk in a Cancer Relay for Life. I have the midnight shift with a friend. Hope you’re having a great weekend. 🙂

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