Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Codebreaker Elizebeth Friedman gets a book and a giveaway for Women’s History Month!

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars, by Laurie Wallmark/Illustrated by Brooke Smart, (March 2021, Abrams), $18.99, ISBN: 9781419739637

Ages 7-9

This picture book biography on code breaker Elizebeth Friedman is a great way to kick off Women’s History Month!  Beginning with her early years as a Shakespeare-loving student and working for an eccentric millionaire, she meets fellow code aficionado and scientist, William Friedman. The two marry, and their expertise in codes and ciphers led to their groundbreaking work in cryptology during World War I. Friedman traveled two worlds, raising her family away from the city and answering the government’s call for help, whether it was to break smuggler’s codes during Prohibition or ferreting out Nazi spies and Japanese spies during World War II. The FBI took credit for the work she and her team did, and she was sworn to secrecy. Her secrets were declassified 35 years after her death in 2015. Laurie Wallmark, a STEM/STEAM biographer for women in STEM, has written several books I’ve brought to my Girls Who Code sessions, including Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (2017) and Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (2015). She has a great way of factual storytelling that show each of her heroines breaking barriers while juggling the weight of societal expectations. Ms. Wallmark does Elizebeth Friedman a great justice and brings her story to a new generation of girls.

Brooke Smart’s watercolor and gouache paintings sprinkle Friedman quotes throughout and have humorous moments, including a page where a line of coded language wraps itself around an angry group of Nazis as Friedman gazes off sagely on the companion page; one spread has Friedman leading a team of young men through ticker tapes, curling all over the page, likely pointing out how to break codes. She combines the realistic with the imaginative, encouraging readers to let their minds go where coding takes them. Back matter includes an explanation on codes and ciphers, cryptography, and a crack the code exercise, along with a bibliography and timeline of Friedman’s life. An excellent biography on a ’til-now virtually unknown figure in history.

Check out the Code Breaker, Spy Hunter book page on author Laurie Wallmark’s webpage where you’ll find a trailer, cool activity sheets, and more!

 

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark has written picture-book biographies of women in STEM fields ranging from computer science to mathematics, astronomy to code breaking. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Cook Prize Honor, and Parents’; Choice Gold Medal. She is a former software engineer and computer science professor. She lives in Ringoes, New Jersey. You can find her at lauriewallmark.com.

On Twitter: @lauriewallmark

Facebook: @lauriewallmarkauthor

Instagram: @lauriewallmark

 

Brooke Smart loves telling stories through her illustrations, especially stories about brave women from history. She has always loved to read, and growing up she could be found nightly falling asleep with a book on her chest. Illustrating books as a professional artist is a lifelong dream come true. She is living the busy, tired, happy, wonderful dream in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, their three kids, and their naughty cat named Sunshine. Learn more about her at brooke-smart.com.

Instagram: @bookesmartillustration

 

 

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Code Breaker, Spy Hunter courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers (U.S. addresses). Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway!

Posted in Espionage, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Can You Crack the Code? makes codebreakers out of your readers

Can You Crack the Code? A Fascinating History of Ciphers and Cryptography, by Ella Schwartz/Illustrated by Lily Williams, (March 2019, Bloomsbury USA), $21.99, ISBN: 9781681195148

Ages 10-13

Three years ago, I held a great, week-long Spy program at my library for Summer Reading. The kids went berserk for it; I had a blast planning and running it, and books like Can You Crack the Code? make me think it might be time to hold a program like that again. Ella Schwartz has come up with a nice history of codes, code names, and cryptography for middle graders, with loads of pictures, informative sidebars, and activities to keep readers on their toes. Famous moments in cryptography history include the Caesar Cipher, invented by Julius Caesar, the Arnold Cipher, used by the infamous Benedict Arnold, and the Enigma machine, used by the Germans during World War II; the machine that gave them the upper hand until a team of British codebreakers at Bletchley Park finally broke the code (shout-out to computer scientist and codebreaker Alan Turing). Want to know why you have to generate a strong password, obnoxious as it may be? Check out the “Can You Hack the Bank?” activity and you’ll be changing all of your passwords. A final challenge has readers going through the book to solve one last cipher. There’s a comprehensive bibliography and the book is indexed, making this a nice volume to have on your shelves.

Display this with the Book Scavenger series, the Mr. Lemoncello’s Library books, the Secret Coders graphic novels, and – naturally! – the Girls Who Code books, both fiction and nonfiction. Brightly has a good post on fiction with puzzles and codes.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to revisit some of my old Summer Reading plans… I know this year’s theme is A Universe of Stories; maybe I’ll just use some codes to send them into space! Great escape room ideas in here, too. All around fun for your brain-teaser-loving readers.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Discover the secrets of Winterhouse!

Winterhouse, by Ben Guterson/Illustrated by Chloe Bristol, (Jan. 2018, Henry Holt & Co), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250123886

Recommended for readers 8-12

Elizabeth Somers is an 11-year-old orphan, living with her awful aunt and uncle. She has vague memories of the accident that took her parents’ lives, and a pendant around her neck, given to her by her mother. But a mysterious benefactor has paid for Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle to go on vacation over winter break, and she’s sent off to the Winterhouse Hotel, owned by the odd but kind Norbridge Falls. There, Elizabeth makes her first real friend – an inventor named Freddy, whose family sends him off to Winterhouse every winter break – and discovers a strange book in the library. She learns that the Winterhouse has some very deep secrets, but she’s not the only one trying to discover them: there’s a very creepy married couple that seems to be trying to figure things out, too. And why are they inviting her to tea? Mysteries abound in the first story of a new trilogy.

Winterhouse is loaded with puzzles for readers to piece together as they go. You’ve got a bookish heroine, a kid inventor who loves word puzzles almost as much as our heroine does, and a mystery code that will make or break our characters. There’s an awesome librarian, if I may say so myself, and a quirky proprietor whose secrets run deep: in short, a wonderful and group of characters that readers will enjoy adventuring with and discovering more about. Angular black and white illustrations by Chloe Bristol add interest to the book’s surroundings, and the beginning of each chapter provides a word ladder to introduce readers to a fun pastime that comes up throughout the novel. Other word games include anagrams, ambigrams, and a Vigenere Square – a code that holds the mystery to the story. Author Ben Guterson explains the puzzles and codes on his webpage. There are some great book references in Winterhouse, too: some of Elizabeth’s favorites include good readalike suggestions, like The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. (I’d also add Jennifer Chambliss’ Book Scavenger and Greenglass House by Kate Milford.)

 

A fun beginning to a new middle grade series. Give this one to your code breakers, for sure.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Can our favorite Book Scavengers figure out The Unbreakable Code?

The Unbreakable Code (Book Scavenger #2), by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, (April 2017, Henry Holt & Co. BYR), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627791168

Recommended for readers 8-12

The sequel to Book Scavenger (2015) continues the adventures of friends, code breakers, and bookworms Emily and James. Emily’s parents have put a hold on their state-hopping, giving Emily a feeling of permanence she missed terribly. She and James find themselves in the middle of another mystery when they notice their teacher, Mr. Quisling, acting strangely; they follow a trail of encrypted messages in Book Scavenger-laid Mark Twain books. The messages are an attempt to break a legendary, historic puzzle known as the Unbreakable Code, which leads to either a treasure or a curse. As mysterious and suspicious fires pop up around them, Emily and James are worried that Mr. Quisling is the arsonist – unless they can figure out who his mysterious Book Scavenger messenger is.

The Unbreakable Code is loaded with the adventure, mystery, and code-breaking fun that made the first book so enjoyable. There are mysteries within mysteries, and a real sense of urgency as the tweens try to get to the bottom of the arsonist on their trail. There’s a very good subplot about the history of Chinese immigrants during the California Gold Rush that shines a light on a part of history that doesn’t get as much discussion as it should. Ms. Chambliss also presents a very different Mr. Griswold, changed by the events in Book Scavenger. He’s withdrawn, hesitant, apprehensive; his buoyant style is toned down, and he surrounds himself with his assistant, Jack, and the company of dogs to guard him. Emily and James’ secondary mission is to nudge Mr. Griswold back to his former self.

A fun follow-up and a fun accompaniment to coding and spy programs. Introduce kids to coding with Book Scavenger and Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders! Kids can play their own game of Book Scavenger at the Book Scavenger website and sign up for the newsletter.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

Are you a Book Scavenger? Read, Play, and Find Out!

bookscavengerBook Scavenger, by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (June 2015, Henry Holt), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627791151

Twelve year-old Emily is on the move again. Her unconventional parents are on a quest to live in all 50 states, so she and her brother don’t get a chance to put roots down anywhere. This move takes them to San Francisco, where Emily’s idol-Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the game Book Scavenger-lives. Shortly after arriving, she and her new friend James discover a strangely new copy of the classic Edgar Allan Poe story, The Gold Bug; they learn that Griswold has been viciously attacked and is in the hospital, and people start showing an unusual interest in her copy of The Gold Bug. Could there be a connection?

This is a new spin on the middle grade mystery, with a real-life tie in that’s interesting and brings kids into the world of The Book Scavenger. Influenced by the online site Book Crossing, where you leave books for people and record where you’ve left and discovered books, Book Scavenger creates a game where you can attain levels of detective-dom by finding books and hiding books using clues to lead your fellow players to them. Chambliss and publisher Henry Holt have brought Book Scavenger to life, hiding advance review copies of Book Scavenger all over the country and inviting readers to locate them – go to http://bookscavenger.com/ to get on board and join the fun!

There is some great discussion on cryptography and hidden codes used in the book – James and Emily are fans that bring the practice into their school after being caught passing notes – and the book becomes a true whodunit, with readers trying to figure out who could have been behind the attack on Garrison Griswold, and more importantly, what is the secret of The Gold Bug? The characters are likable, even if Emily does become frustrating in her single-mindedness over solving the mystery at points, and Book Scavenger makes for exciting summer reading.

Check out Jennifer Chambliss Bertman’s author page for updates on what she’s working on.