Don't you love this cover?
Besides being captivating, the title informs the reader EXACTLY what to expect from Code Breaker, Spy Hunter (Abrams Books, 2021). Written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Brooke Smart, this book will be good for students from 7-10 years old. As you look through these illustrations, make sure you read Elizebeth's quotes that are cleverly "hidden" within the illustrations!
When the United States entered WWII, the Office of Strategic Services had gathered communications from around the world, but they were unable to break their codes. Enter Elizebeth. She created another code-breaking unit and hired and trained mathematicians, physicists, and chemists.
After Elizebeth helped capture Nazi spies, the U.S. Postal Service asked for her help. They had seized letters from an American spy; on the surface they appeared to be about buying and selling dolls. But Elizebeth decoded the real message.
The war's "Number One Woman Spy" was sentenced to ten years in prison. Elizebeth wrote, "It is obvious that even a casual examination of these letters, indicates their suspicious nature."
Elizebeth's work was top secret. She was even threatened to be put in prison if she spoke about it to anyone--even her family! Thirty-five years after her death her secrets were finally declassified.
CAROL: How did you get interested in Elizebeth?
LAURIE: I have always found codes and ciphers fascinating. As a child I would create them and write notes that no one else could read. I found out about Elizebeth in Jason Fagone’s book, The Woman Who Smashed Codes. After reading her story, I knew she had to be a subject for one of my women in STEM picture book biographies. There’s also an excellent new YA book about her by Amy Butler Greenfield, The Woman All Spies Fear.
CAROL: This book seems longer than most picture books with a longer word count. In a publishing world of tight word counts, how did you swing that?
LAURIE: I seem to be able to get away with longer word counts than others. I can’t tell you why. This book, at 48 pages, not only has more text words, about 2,200, but quite a bit of back matter, too. It was quite a trick fitting it all in.
CAROL: What was your favorite part about writing this?
I think most of us who do any writing of nonfiction love doing the research. It’s delightful finding that special nugget of information that you know adds a little extra something to your book. The hard part is know when to stop researching and start writing.
LAURIE: Can you speak a little bit about the research involved?
I always start my research by reading books. That gives me a good overview of the person’s life and helps me figure out how I’m going to structure my book. Then it’s time to dig deeper. With Elizebeth, I’m lucky that many of her papers and photographs, both personal and professional, are archived in the George C. Marshall Foundation collection. I’m especially lucky that even during a pandemic, the librarian was able to help me with my questions. (Thank you, librarians everywhere!)
CAROL: It was fun to discover that Elizebeth’s quotes are hidden in the illustrations. Was this your idea or your illustrator’s?
LAURIE: I had used quotations in the illustrations with two of my previous books, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE and HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE. I believe the original idea was mine, but I wouldn’t swear to it. What’s different in this book is the ribbons of code that swirl around several of the pages. The illustrator had put in random letters to represent coded messages. I suggested that the letters should actually be coded messages. It was a lot of extra work for me to give Brooke the codes, her to hand letter the ribbons, and me to check them. I live in fear that a ten-year-old will find I’ve made a mistake. If you look closely at the cover, you'll see the ribbon of code.
|Here is my husband's uncle, Robert Toupal, proving that |
picture books are for all ages!
(Don't tell anyone, but he turned 92 yesterday!)