Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring
Series: Spy on History #2
Author: Enigma Alberti
Illustrator: Tony Cliff
Published: April 2, 2019
Reviewed By: Cristina
Your Mission: Find Mary’s secret diary using spycraft stools to uncover hidden codes!
It’s a true story of bravery: Mary Bowser was an African American spy for the Union who worked as a maid in the mansion of Confederate Jefferson Davis. From hair-raising close calls when she almost gets caught to how she uses her photographic memory to “steal” top secret documents. Mary’s story reads like a gripping novel.
It’s a mystery to solve: There are clues embedded in the story’s text and illustrations, and Spycraft materials—including a replica Civil War cipher wheel—come in an envelope at the beginning of the book. Use both to discover what happened to Mary Bowser’s secret diary.
What would you do if you had the opportunity to be a spy where it would really matter? Your skills: a photographic memory, ability to read, and blending into the background. If you succeed, your people have a chance at freedom. If you fail, you’ll be hung. Are you in?
This book is a historical fiction with a fun interactive spy riddle to solve as well. A reader can just enjoy the story, or they can try to solve the case that’s embedded in the real story. Mary Bowser was a real person. She was a free African-American, but went undercover as a maid in Jefferson Davis’s mansion to spy for the Union. Because no person of color was expected to be able to read at that time in the South, Mary was able to read many valuable documents in Davis’s office while she dusted or polished lamps. She had to pretend to be illiterate and a little slow to avoid suspicion. It was a job filled with danger, but Mary proved to be invaluable to the Union. She was able to get critical information to the Union army and it helped save lives and win battles.
This book is written in a very engaging style. Lots of action, a few narrow misses that have you holding your breath, and insights into what the Civil War was like for the non-soldiers who still wanted to help fight for freedom and the Union. The interactive riddle–a search for Mary’s secret diary–is engaging as well. There is help at the back of the book if the reader gets too frustrated, but it’s fun to try and find the diary without any assistance. Spy on History is a series, so if historical fiction sounds appealing, come to the library to choose your spy adventure!