Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero written by Marissa Moss and illustrated by John Hendrix is one amazing book. The incredible story of Sarah Edmonds and her service to the nation alone will make your jaw drop and the dynamically detailed illustrations of Hendrix will take your breath away. My singular complaint about this book is that it is too short. Not only do I want to know more about the life of Sarah Edmonds as told by Moss, who is a thoughtful and precise writer, but I want to see more of her life and her adventures illuminated by Hendrix. Happily, Marissa Moss is currently working on a middle-grade novel about the life of Sarah Emma Edmonds to be published by Abrams/Amulet Books, publishers of this beautiful book! And, if all goes well, John Hendrix should be doing the cover art and chapter headings. Can't wait to read it!
Sarah Edmonds was born in Canada and raised on a farm, doing many of the same chores that her brothers did. In order to escape a marriage arranged by her parents when she is sixteen, she cut her hair, dressed as a boy and crossed the border into America, changing her name to Frank Thompson. Of this event Moss writes,
She had run away, crossing the border from Canada into the United States, trading a bridal gown for trousers, trading countries, without a single regret. Once she discovered the freedom of taking big strides unhindered by heavy skirts, and the freedom to travel when and where she wanted, she couldn't put a dress back on.
At nineteen, "eager to give back to the country that had given her a new life," Sarah joins the line of men "snaking around the Michigan courthouse" waiting to join the Union Army but is turned away for being too young. A month later when more men are needed the recruiter doesn't even look twice at the smooth young face of the "man" standing before him and Sarah/Frank becomes a soldier.
A skilled marksman and horseman, Frank "felt at home in the army, living with a large group of men, practicing drills together, learning the discipline of a fighting force." The rugged, outdoor life of the soldiers allowed Frank to keep her secret and the camaraderie and jokes, including calling Frank "our little woman" because of her small boots, helped her to fit right in and make friends, something she hadn't done for years.
Frank trained to be a nurse, a job only men with the strongest stomachs took on because of the "long, draining hours and the horrors of surgery without anesthetic." Frank was a dedicated nurse who fought in the Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Fair Oaks, pulling wounded men from the battlefield. Moss shares one story from the Battle of Williamsburg in which Frank and another nurse carried a wounded soldier off the field only to discover he was faking injuries to avoid the battle. Frank confronted the man, who turned out to be a colonel, roaring, "You, sir, are a fraud! Get up this instant and back into battle before I report you as a deserter!" Seething, Frank resolved never to be fooled again. There were too many real soldiers in need of her help.
As if being a dedicated, tireless nurse were not enough, Frank was recruited to fill the place of a spy who had recently been captured and killed. Frank dresses as a freed slave and heads into enemy lines where she does back breaking work to keep her cover but is able to discover that a peddler who visited the Union camps weekly is in fact a Confederate spy.
Frank makes the dangerous journey back to camp to report what she's learned and the book ends with these words,
Freedom, she knew, wasn't something to take for granted. It was something to fight for, to cherish. And, so long as her heart was beating strong that's just what she would do.
Sarah Edmond's story does not end there. There is a detailed author's note from Moss as well as a fascinating artist's note from Hendrix detailing the rest of Edmond's life and her accomplishments as well as describing the travel, research and practice that went into creating authentic illustrations for this book. One interesting aspect of the book that both author and illustrator had to deal with was the shifting gender of Edmonds. Moss navigates this well, referring to her as "Frank" but using the pronouns "she" and "her." As Hendrix says of his task, "There are only a few images that still exist of Sarah. So I had to guess at much of her clothes, her posture, and her freckles. She needed to look different from the other characters in the book but still appear strong and confident in her abilities." And, finally, this magnificent, incredible book has a glossary, author's bibliography, artist's bibliography AND an index!!! I have no doubt that, besides stirring the imaginations of readers, Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero will undoubtedly spark an interest in the Civil War and this amazing American hero for all who read it.
Sarah Edmonds disguised as Frank Thompson
This is not the first picture book from Marissa Moss featuring heroic American women. Click here to see her other historical works. Readers who enjoyed Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero might also like:
My Brother Abe: Sally Lincoln's Story by Harry Mazer
The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Flemming
Lincoln and His Boys by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by PJ Lynch
For older readers, Rosemary Well's Red Moon at Sharpsburg is a stunning novel of a young southern girl and her struggle to survive the war.
For those of you who want to see more of John Hendrix's work, check out his blog, Drawing on A Deadline, where you can see a sneak peek of his spectacular next book that I can't wait to get my hands on, A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson due out in January of 2012.