Posted in picture books

The Clothesline Code: A true Civil War spy story!

The Clothesline Code: The Story of Civil War Spies Lucy Ann and Dabney Walker, by Janet Halfmann/lllustrated by Trisha Mason, (Feb. 2021, Brandylane Publishers), $12.95, ISBN: 978-1-951565-58-9

Ages 7-10

Author Janet Halfmann gives us another story about two historic figures that haven’t gotten their full due. The Clothesline Code is about escaped slaves-turned-Union spies, Lucy Ann Walker and her husband, Dabney Walker. At age 52, Dabney was spying for the Union and learned the army’s flag codes, used to communicate across the battlefield. His wife was a laundress in the Union camp, but Dabney approached her with a different idea: how could they adapt the flag codes to help them spy on the Confederate army? The two devised a method using laundry on a clothesline, and Lucy went across lines to blend in with the other washerwomen at a nearby Confederate camp. She went on to create different laundry codes for each Confederate unit, and help keep General Hooker and his troops informed of the enemy’s plans.

Janet Halfmann has a gift for finding little-discussed people in history, primarily enslaved or escaped slaves who contributed to the fight for freedom and education of other Black families. She invests the reader with her storytelling, full of suspense and nail-biting moments: there is a lot on the line here, and Ms. Halfmann makes sure readers understand that. An author’s note at the end includes what little information exists on the Walker family after the War, and some selected references for more research.

Trisha Mason’s colorful artwork throughout brings the Walker family to life for readers. The photorealistic artwork is expressive, with warm closeness between Lucy Ann and Dabney Walker and emotional moments when they are apart.

Solid additions to your picture book biographies and Black History collections. Don’t miss.

Janet Halfmann’s Clothesline Code page on her author website includes links to discussion questions and interviews.

Posted in picture books

G’day, mate! This baby kangaroo’s mom has a Bobby-Dazzler of a Pouch!

A Bobby-Dazzler of a Pouch!, by Janet Halfmann/Illustrated by Abira Das, (May 2020, Pen It! Publications), $13.99, ISBN: 978-1951263126

Ages 4-7

A little gray kangaroo wants to wander off on his own, but can he find his way back to Mum’s pouch? He can if he and his friends decorate it so her pouch stands out – a real bobby-dazzler! Award-winning author Janet Halfmann‘s newest book is an amusing little story of a kangaroo and his mom, and a bunch of Austalian animal friends that give Mama Kangaroo a bedazzling. The phrase “bobby dazzler” is British slang for somethin outstanding, striking, or showy, and boy, does her pouch get the showy treatment! A lorikeet and an emu contribute some feathers; a sugar glider shares some blossoms, even an echidna contributes some spikes – yikes! Little Joey has a lot of friends, but he finds a way to include everyone’s contribution. It’s a good thing, too: the easy-to-spot pouch does the trick when he has to dash for Mama when a dingo makes an appearance!

The artwork is cartoony and cute, with smiley animals and a bright Australian landscape. A little note about Australian kangaroos accompanies fun kangaroo facts, and lists of Australian words, animals, and plants. A cute read-aloud for animal fans, especially fans of those ‘roos! Have some Aboriginal-inspired coloring sheets available for storytime.

Janet Halfmann is a multi-award-winning children’s author who strives to make her books come alive for young readers and listeners. Many of her picture books are about animals and nature. She also writes picture book biographies about little-known people of achievement. Janet has written more than forty books for children. Visit Janet at: janethalfmannauthor.com
Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Books from Quarantine: Civil War Hero Robert Smalls

The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls, by Janet Halfmann/Illustrated by Duane Smith, (Feb. 2020, Lee & Low Books), $9.95, ISBN: 9781643790169

Ages 7-11

I really like Lee and Low’s “The Story of…” series: for me, it’s easily a companion series to the more well-known “Who Was…?” series from Penguin Random House, and the subjects of the “Story of” books shine spotlights on people of color that we may not hear about as often. The biography of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls, by Janet Halfmann (The Midnight Teacher) and illustrated by Duane Smith (Seven Miles to Freedom), is a concise, thorough biography of Robert Smalls, an enslaved steamboat wheelman who saved his family and crew when he used the captain’s hat and cover of darkness to commandeer a Confederate ship and steer it directly to the Union – and freedom. Filled with illustrations and photos, readers get a great picture of Robert Smalls and his nighttime ride through Confederate waters, and his life afterward, including his further actions in the Civil War, where he took part in 17 battles, and his post-War life, when he founded the Republican Party i South Carolina and helped write the new democratic state constitution and a proposal on education, his activity in the state militia, where he attained the rank of major general, and his political life, winning seats in both the South Carolina house and senate. The book includes a timeline of of Smalls’s life and a glossary of terms, plus references and a list of further reading.

Treat yourself to this book, and this series, and treat yourself to more books about Robert Smalls, including Janet Halfmann and Duane Smith’s picture book, Seven Miles to Freedom, also published by Lee & Low, and Be Free or Die, by Cate Linberry, is available for teens and adults. Smithsonian Magazine has an excellent article on Smalls.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

The Midnight Teacher’s bravery

Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School, by Janet Halfmann/Illustrated by London Ladd, (Feb. 2018, Lee and Low), $18.95, ISBN: 9781620141632

Recommended for readers 7-11

Lilly Ann Granderson was born a slave, taught to read by her master’s children, who played school with her. As she grew up, she practiced her spelling and reading in secret – in some areas, it was against the law to teach slaves to read – and eventually began teaching other slaves. She was determined to teach as many of her people as she could, to give them the chance at freedom made possible through education, and began a midnight school where slaves would gather after dark to learn, risking cruel punishment if they were discovered. Eventually, Lilly Ann won the right to start a school and a Sabbath church school, where she could teach her students with no fear of repercussion.

This picture book biography looks at the life of an overlooked champion for literacy and social justice and makes an excellent addition to biography collections. Lilly Ann Granderson’s determination and perseverance; her desire to to learn and promote learning among others is an important and, sadly, relevant topic today. Talk about how education leads to freedom, and mention that education is not always a right, even today. Malala Yousafzai’s picture book biography, For the Right to Learn, illustrates this and is a good companion to Midnight Teacher.

The artwork is realistic and subdued, made with acrylic paint and colored pencil; London Ladd gives character and expression to his characters, particularly Lilly Ann Granderson, whose determination and inner strength shine through. An afterword provides an overview of Granderson’s life and those of her descendants, who went on to become activists, had life in public service, and found professional success. A nice bibliography has more resources for interested readers, caregivers, and educators. Midnight Teacher has a starred review from Kirkus and is a must-add to collections where picture book biographies are available.