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A Spy Called James by Anne Rockwell

A Spy Called James

post written by Emma Filbrun
A Spy Called James by Anne Rockwell

Title: A Spy Called James
Author: Anne Rockwell
Major Themes: Slaves, Spies, Picture Books, American Revolution
Synopsis: Washington’s victory over Cornwallis at Yorktown was not due to a famous person—who was responsible for it?

When I was looking for resources to accompany our study of the American Revolution, one of the picture books I happened upon was A Spy Called James. This was one of those picture books I like best, the kind that tell a little-known story from history in a way that young children can understand and enjoy it.

How was George Washington able to win the battle at Yorktown? Was it because of the famous people with names that everyone knows? No—and Cornwallis would figure out as soon as he saw one person in the American camp why he lost. Who was that person?

A black slave named James wanted to become free, so he helped the Patriots. He worked for the British and helped them find food, and pretended to give them information about the American army. All the while, he paid close attention to everything he saw and heard—and was invaluable to Washington!

The pictures in this story are wonderful. I really like books like this one, which tells a story from history in a way that children can easily understand, and which has attractive, realistic illustrations. This book also shows that even people who are considered unimportant have vital roles to play. James was “just” a slave, and practically unknown, yet without his help, the United States may not have come into being. Whether you buy A Spy Called James or get it from the library, it will be a great addition to a study of the American Revolution.

No warnings!

Age levels:

Read Aloud—Ages 3 – 4, 5 – 8
Reading Independently—Ages 7 – 9

Links to buy this book:

Amazon: Library Binding | Kindle | Audio CD (unabridged)
AbeBooks: View Choices on
Book Depository: Hardcover | Audio CD (unabridged)

Keywords: Slaves, Spies, Picture Books, American Revolution

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