Tag Archives: Non-fiction

Summer Reading (MTG): George Washington Spymaster


George Washington Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War by Thomas B. Allen. Non-Fiction.

A non-fiction narrative that details the stories of the men and women who spied, for both sides, during the American Revolution, as well as the methods they used.

Themes/Content: American Revolution, George Washington, spies, codes, ciphers, non-fiction, primary sources,

Recommended for: Grades 5 and up, anyone interested in spies and spying, anyone interested in the American Revolution, anyone interested in codes and ciphers, using end notes and appendices

My Two Cents:  This was one of the top 5 books on my “Mind the Gap” list.  As I’ve said before, non-fiction is not my cup of tea… and now I know why.  (My apologies to the author.)  This book reads very much like a text book.  If you like that style of writing you’ll love this book.  There are a lot of facts, names, places, and dates dropped in each paragraph, but for me, not enough descriptive text to help me visualize what I was reading.  As a result everything just became jumbled in my head.  In my opinion, he includes an overabundance of parenthetical references and asides, to the point of distraction.  To add to my confusion the chapters were not necessarily chronological, which meant that I felt like I was in a time loop.  Again, I’m sure this is because of my reading style, but when I read a date or a name, I really needed to focus and concentrate to internalize it.

All of my prejudice aside, the subject matter is quite interesting.  Allen has hidden messages throughout the book and has more explanations on his website.  His well-researched volume includes several appendices, including a timeline, a glossary of spy terms, and Washington’s actual code, among others.  He also intersperses plenty of primary source material and utilizes end notes to explain some of the quotes and sources of information.

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Adams, Simon. Code breakers : from hieroglyphs to hackers. London: DK, 2002. Print.
  • Anderson, Laurie H. Chains : seeds of America. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2008. Print.
  • Bell-Rehwoldt, Sheri. Speaking secret codes. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Press, 2011. Print.
  • Blackwood, Gary L. Mysterious messages : a history of codes and ciphers. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2009. Print.
  • Bruchac, Joseph. Code Talker : a novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two. New York: Dial Books, 2005. Print.
  • Gregory, Jillian. Breaking secret codes. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Press, 2011. Print.
  • Griffin, Judith B. Phoebe the spy. New York: Scholastic, 1977. Print.
  • Hale, Nathan. One dead spy : the life, times, and last words of Nathan Hale, America’s most famous spy. New York: Amulet Books, 2012. Print.
  • Janeczko, Paul B. Top secret : a handbook of codes, ciphers, and secret writing. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2004. Print.
  • Noble, Trinka H. The scarlet stockings spy. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press, 2004. Print.
  • Paulsen, Gary. Woods runner. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2010. Print. Purcell, Martha S. Spies of the American Revolution. Logan, Iowa: Perfection Learning, 2003. Print.

Final Word(s): Good for the right audience (but not me) 😐

Minding My Gap


Maybe it’s because I’m reading more blogs and tweets this summer, but I have been thinking a lot about what I’m reading and what I’m recommending (and what I’m not.)  In this June post from School Library Journal, Reading Nonfiction for Pleasure | On Common Core, the authors talk about how non-fiction is underrepresented on summer reading lists.  Ryan M. Hanna in his Reflections post on Nerdy Book Club discusses how teachers who reflect on their various reading lives (how they’ve progressed to the readers they have become) can help their students make better book choices.  Here’s part of my comment in response to Matt’s post:

“Right now I have an entire box full of fiction that I brought home from my library for summer reading. I had every intention of bringing home some non-fiction, and biographies, and graphic novels, but my box was already full!”

As I reflected (an read comments from Matt) I realized that I have a huge reading gap.  I love children’s fiction.  I love young adult fiction.  I love fiction in general.  Everything else I read when I get to it.  Of course… I never get to it.  (There’s just so much good fiction!)  I’m guilty of not recommending many genres (non-fiction, biographies, graphic novels) not because there are not amazing works out there, but because I don’t know it well enough to share.

I suggested this challenge:

“How about this challenge? What 5 books are on your “I Know I Should Read This But I’d Rather Clean the Cat’s Smelly Litter Box” list? OK… its not that I don’t want to read, these I really do, but as the saying goes… “so many books, so little time…” With a choice between these and a fiction book, I know what I’m going to choose.”

I agree… maybe the title of the challenge is a little harsh… How about the “Mind the Gap” Challenge.

Here’s my MTG list (and I’m completely embarrassed by this list…):

  • Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm
  • The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth by Kathleen Krull
  • George Washington, spymaster by Thomas B. Allen
  • Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker

My goal for the remainder of the summer is to not only keep up with my fiction, but to mind my reading gap.  The MTG Challenge will be to read all of the books on my list (and then some.)  Look forward to some Summer Reading MTG posts in the future.

What titles do you know you should read, but keep pushing to the bottom of your stack? What’s on your MTG list? Are you up for the MTG challenge?