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Codes from the past

NONFICTION: Books to help children understand fascinating personalities and thrilling events from history

Codes from the past
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The Woman All Spies Fear: ­Codebreaker Elizebeth Smith Friedman and Her Hidden Life

Amy Butler Greenfield

Young Elizebeth Smith hated her common-as-dirt surname. Her first name, with the unusual spelling chosen by her mother, better suited a woman who longed for prominence. Ironically, the gifts that would make her vital to U.S. intelligence meant her greatest achievements would remain unknown while she lived. Only recently were her exploits as a code-breaker and code-maker declassified.

This biography reveals little-­known chapters of World War II and introduces some fascinating personalities. Besides a true-life espionage tale, it’s the story of a lifelong partnership between Elizebeth and her cryptologist husband, William Friedman.

Their marriage stood the test of hardship, sickness, long separations, and the stress of hugely consequential assignments. The Friedmans sacrificed peace and tranquility for their country, often with little reward. Their story, meticulously researched, is an engaging read for a wide audience, not just history buffs. And analytical readers will relish the many intra-chapter inserts about codes and cyphers. (Ages 12 and up)

Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown

Steve Sheinkin

Steve Sheinkin shines again with this thrilling, month-by-month narrative of the events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. From the hollow nickel inadvertently used to tip a paperboy to the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between Kennedy and Khrushchev, the story of intrigue, intelligence, intuition, and near misses keeps pages turning. While the story never references Providence, Christian readers will finish the book with overwhelming gratitude for divine action averting disaster. Parents should be aware that there are a few instances of quoted profanity. (Ages 12 and up)

Murder on the Baltimore Express: The Plot to Keep Abraham Lincoln From Becoming President

Suzanne Jurmain

As President-elect Lincoln made his way from Illinois to Washington, D.C., on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, a handful of conspirators plotted to assassinate him before he ever got there. Tensions were high, as seven states had already seceded from the Union. Maryland was not one of them, but Baltimore seethed with hotheads and radicals. When an aspiring detective named Pinkerton received word of a plot against Lincoln, he created his own web of informers. The narrative reads like a spy thriller, with a cast of intriguing historical characters. The quoted documents and letters include a few curse words. (Ages 10-14)

Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica

Rebecca E. F. Barone

In 1910, Capt. Robert Scott launched his second attempt to reach the South Pole, unaware that the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had assembled an expedition with the same goal. The challenge of reaching the Pole became a race. In 2018, Capt. Louis Rudd was preparing to set a record as the first man to cross Antarctica alone and unaided—equally unaware that American athlete Colin O’Brady had set himself the same task. In alternate chapters, the narrative covers both races in all their grueling, heartbreaking, death-defying intensity, while probing the ambitions of men determined to conquer the world’s most forbidding landscape. (Ages 12-15)

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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