Code Breaker, Spy Hunter

h1 April 6th, 2021 by jules


If, like me, you hadn’t heard of Elizebeth Friedman, author Laurie Wallmark and illustrator Brooke Smart have got you covered in Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars (Abrams, March 2021).

The book begins with a brief introduction to Elizebeth’s crowning achievement — her work during World War II on what the FBI called “the greatest spy roundup in American history.” As a cryptanalyst “with a stellar reputation,” Friedman broke the codes that sent a group of Nazis to prison. From there, we visit Elizebeth as a child and young woman. She studied literature and languages, met and married scientist William Friedman, and worked with William to establish the U.S.’s first code-breaking unit, the Riverbank Department of Ciphers. “Their methods,” writes Wallmark, “are now considered the basis for the modern science of cryptology, the study of secret codes.”

Wallmark also chronicles Elizebeth’s and William’s invention of a scientific method to create ciphers, using pencil and paper — as well as Elizebeth’s desire to slow down and have a family. But “again and again, another government agency needed her decoding skills.” Working for the Coast Guard, she helped convict smugglers flaunting prohibition laws and even created the Coast Guard’s first code-breaking unit. Eventually, she did raise two children.

As the book comes to a close, the narrative comes full circle and we read in more detail about Elizebeth’s work to capture Nazi spies. We also read that the government classified her work in the National Archives: “The last of Elizebeth’s secrets were finally declassified in 2015, thirty-five years after her death.” Wallmark addes:

“Elizebeth was a true heroine of World War I and World War II. She is now considered one of the most gifted and influential code breakers of all time. Yet no one knew how many codes she broke, how many Nazis she stopped, how many American lives she saved … until now.”

Wallmark’s writing is reverent and informative — and, as the review from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books notes, focuses on “the demand for Elizebeth’s skills apart from those of her acclaimed husband.” A closing note explains cryptography today (and even gives young readers an opportunity to “be a code breaker like Elizebeth”). Brooke Smart’s illustrations on a sleek, cool-colored palette are gently stylized. Here are some spreads below. …


“Elizebeth Smith Friedman, a cryptanalyst with a stellar reputation,
agreed to work with the FBI on their top-secret project. …”

(Click spread to enlarge and read text in its entirety)



Two images above: Click second image to see spread in its entirety


“The lawyers couldn’t deny the evidence before their eyes. …”
(Click spread to enlarge and read text in its entirety)



Two images above: Click first image to see spread in its entirety


(Click cover to enlarge)


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CODE BREAKER, SPY HUNTER: HOW ELIZEBETH FRIEDMAN CHANGED THE COURSE OF TWO WORLD WARS. Text copyright © 2021 Laurie Wallmark. Illustrations copyright © 2021 Brooke Smart and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Abrams Books for Young Readers, New York.

2 comments to “Code Breaker, Spy Hunter

  1. Smart people are so much fun – it would’ve been a hoot to be a friend of the family and been invited to break codes in order to eat!!!! I love the artwork and the liveliness and movement of the letters crammed in the background of the cover. What a life!

  2. Thanks for reviewing Code Breaker, Spy Hunter. If any readers are teachers or librarians, you can find curriculum and activity guides for this and my other titles on my website. Click on the books tab, then the title.

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