Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - Code Breaker, Spy Hunter review - 3.03.21

There are a few things I expect to see when I open a Laurie Wallmark authored book.  I expect to read about a woman who made powerful advances in the STEM world, often before the men around her.  It's usually a woman I had not heard of before, often because only males were celebrated at that time.  I also expect to see quotes from the featured woman, instead of made up lines of dialogue.  This is important because it is authentic text that is verified by source quotes in the back of the book.  I also expect to hear an inspiring story that helps me learn more about the way women have made their mark in history.
This books is no exception.

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter
How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars
written by Laurie Wallmark
illustrated by Brooke Smart
published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Goodreads summary
Decode the story of Elizebeth Friedman, the cryptologist who took down gangsters and Nazi spies

In this picture book biography, young readers will learn all about Elizebeth Friedman (1892–1980), a brilliant American code breaker who smashed Nazi spy rings, took down gangsters, and created the CIA's first cryptology unit. Her story came to light when her secret papers were finally declassified in 2015. From thwarting notorious rumrunners with only paper and pencil to “counter-spying into the minds and activities of” Nazis, Elizebeth held a pivotal role in the early days of US cryptology. No code was too challenging for her to crack, and Elizebeth’s work undoubtedly saved thousands of lives. Extensive back matter includes explanations of codes and ciphers, further information on cryptology, a bibliography, a timeline of Elizebeth’s life, plus secret messages for young readers to decode.

Using with readers
This is a fascinating story that celebrates a woman in the STEM world.  I love that more and more stories are celebrating the brilliant work women have contributed to our country for many many years.  It's also important to note that Wallmark made sure to show that this was a woman who was a working mother.  She made important contributions to our country, while raising children.  Such an important person to highlight!
Readers will also be so curious about codebreaking and ciphers.  I love that the backmatter pays special attention to this.  Wallmark explains about different codes and ciphers which will encourage readers to create some of their own.  There is even one in the backmatter to try.  But this is a book about history?  What does cryptography look like today?  A full page in the backmatter explains how all of this is still relevant today.
No doubt you will have readers who want to explore more.  Be sure to point them to the Code Breaker, Spy Hunter book page, where you'll find a trailer, cool activity sheets, and more!

More about author Laurie Wallmark and illustrator Brooke Smart:

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

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

Instagram: @bookesmartillustration

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media and Abrams for the review copy.

Would you like a copy of Code Breaker, Spy Hunter for your library?  Abrams Books for Young Readers has kindly donated a copy for giveaway (US addresses only)!  Enter by Wednesday, March 10th!


  1. I didn't realize you had this post today, Michele until I saw on twitter. I too am so glad to see so many unknown women's stories being told. My granddaughters will learn about them. I certainly did not. Thanks for the review & the giveaway!

  2. This looks wonderful, as all of Laurie's books are :)

  3. It is already in my Amazon cart! But I will wait until after the 10th....