Review: Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring

Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring tells a story about Mary Bowser, a slave working in the Confederate White House during the Civil War. As part of her duties, Mary sees coded documents on the president’s desk. She can read (unusual for a slave) and has a photographic memory, and over time begins decoding the messages she sees and sending information back to the Union. This is based on the true story of Mary Bowser, a former slave who delivered intelligence information to the Union during the war.

This is both a reader and an activity book. While you read, you also have the chance to decode the messages Mary finds and solve a mystery yourself! The story is engaging, and there are illustrations and document pictures throughout as well that add to the story. I particularly liked a cutaway of the Confederate White House, showing the layout of the building.

This would be an excellent addition to a study of the Civil War, and I hope there will be additional volumes relating to other parts of history – after all we can definitely trace spies back to the Trojan War, and likely there were many well before that! I’d say it’s an upper elementary reading level, so use as a read-aloud through about 3rd grade, independent thereafter.

The book itself is hard cover, and includes an envelope of spy materials in the front, and has a seal on the final pages which give the solution to the mystery.

Note: I received a review copy from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

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