Cloaked in Courage – Perfect Picture Book Friday

It’s Women’s History month, so I thought I’d feature this fabulous biography of someone who didn’t let gender stop her from claiming her independence as a “masterless woman.”

Text ©Beth Anderson Illustration ©Anne Lambelet

I love this first sentence:

Deborah Sampson's spirit was always a little too large.

And then it’s followed by three “maybes,” because no one knows Deborah’s internal thoughts for sure, a brilliant strategy for a biographer to use when writing about people whose actions are shrouded in mystery. And I love this opening image, too. You can see the kind of woman that Deborah is going to be.

Deborah’s early life was one of hard work, uncertainty, and uprooting. And as she develops into a young woman, the reader witnesses the known events that shaped her, while being offered a reasonable perspective on why Deborah may have acted as she did. Beth Anderson, the author, explains that she used this approach because so many details are missing for those whose lives were not documented in the same manner as those who had “leading roles” in history. Instead, Anderson “dug into Deborah’s surroundings, examined her actions and experiences, and tried to find the person inside.” She also includes a lengthy list of primary resources to back up her approach. Really well done!

Text ©Beth Anderson Illustration ©Anne Lambelet

This may be one of my favorite spreads of the book, depicting the independence of a young woman who chooses to be “masterless.” (An aside: quotes are sourced in the bibliography.)

Deborah’s first attempt at enlisting would have landed her in jail, but she fled before she was arrested. Her second attempt was successful. She worked hard and excelled at musket practice, guard duty, and drilling, and as a result was rewarded for being one of the best and brightest—by being the first called into action. (I’ll never understand why they want to kill off the best soldiers first.)

When Deborah was injured with a head and leg wound, rather than being treated and reveal her gender, she headed back to camp with only her head bandaged. Despite being in constant pain due to the musket ball still lodged in her thigh, she continued to serve as a general’s waiter. Even there, she was able to keep up the façade of being a man. It wasn’t until she became ill during an epidemic that a doctor discovered her secret.

To the general’s credit, Deborah was honorably discharged, and not arrested for impersonating a man. She ended up marrying, having children, and leading a fairly normal life, but continued to speak publicly about her service. What an amazing woman! In 2021, her memory was honored when the Deborah Sampson Act was signed into law, protecting female soldiers and veterans from gender-based harassment, as well as creating other programs and benefits.

The narrative pacing is well-controlled through the use of skillful page turns, occasional font size changes, and in the case of the spread shown above, the confident striding of the young Deborah toward the edge of the recto page. I want to make special mention of the back matter, which explains the differences between primary and secondary sources (important distinctions for kids to learn when starting their own research), how the setting affected the telling of the story, and an extensive bibliography.

The illustrations, with their muted color palette, do a great job of depicting the time period, as well as the harshness of war without being too graphic. A terrific book!


Pair this book with Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss, illus. by John Hendrix. One woman was a soldier in the Revolutionary War, the other in the Civil War. How are their experiences similar? How are they different? How are the illustration styles different?

Read about how colonial women worked to use spinning and weaving to disrupt England’s monopoly on textiles.

Watch this spinning house demonstration from Mt. Vernon to see the kind of loom that Deborah used to make cloth.

Learn about Revolutionary War music through this PBS-created website, including a downloadable teacher’s guide.

Title: Cloaked in Courage: Uncovering Deborah Sampson, Patriot Soldier

Author: Beth Anderson

Illustrator: Anne Lambelet

Publisher: Astra – Calkins Creek, 2022

Ages: Elementary school

Themes: American Revolutionary War, women soldiers, gender issues

For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website:

4 thoughts on “Cloaked in Courage – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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