Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars

by Laurie Wallmark (Author) Brooke Smart (Illustrator)

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars
Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

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.

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School Library Journal

Gr 2-4--This picture book biography introduces Elizebeth Smith Friedman (1892-1980), a pioneering white American code breaker who helped establish and develop the science of cryptology. After beginning with one case that resulted in the conviction of 33 German spies, the main narrative traces her life chronologically. Friedman's love of poetry and language sparked an early interest in code-making exercises. This eventually led to her pioneering accomplishments in the relatively new science of cryptology. During World War I, Friedman and her husband William "set up the country's first code-breaking unit." Brief descriptions of specific cases provide insight into the challenges and importance of her work, which included aiding the Coast Guard to prosecute bootleggers, key cases in both world wars, and the establishment of the first cryptography department for the Office of Strategic Services. Numerous quotes from Friedman add context and a more personal connection. Her life as a mother and author was regularly interrupted by government requests for her unusual skills. Watercolor and gouache drawings depict a rich visual background to Friedman's life and career, including glimpses of her family and more dramatic scenes of trials and criminals. There's just enough information about how codes work to inform readers without overwhelming them. Some of the illustrations show basic examples of code-breaking; the text also introduces simple concepts. Back matter describes basic code types and offers a "Crack the Code" challenge. VERDICT An engaging introduction to a unique woman in a fascinating field.--Steven Engelfried, Wilsonville P.L., OR

Copyright 2021 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"Youngsters will be fascinated by this engaging biographical selection of an original thinker, which includes elements of STEM and history and provides a picture of a dedicated, resilient woman." — "Kirkus Reviews"
Laurie Wallmark
Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark writes picture book biographies of women in STEM. Her titles include Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars; Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, which received four starred reviews and a Cook Prize Honor; Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code; Hedy Lamarr's Double Life, a Crystal Kite Winner and Cook Prize Honor recipient; and others. Laurie has an MFA in Writing from VCFA and is a former software engineer and computer science professor. You can find Laurie online at and on twitter: @lauriewallmark and Instagram: @lauriewallmark

Adelina Lirius is an illustrator based in Stockholm, Sweden. She loves painting imaginary scenes, portraying nature, and depicting the different cultures she grew up with. Adelina is the illustrator of a picture book adaptation of The Secret Garden; The Fort by Laura Perdew; and I, Too, Am Mozart by Audrey Ades, which received a starred review from School Library Journal. Visit her on Instagram @adalinaillustration.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Publication date
March 20, 2021
BISAC categories
JNF007000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | General
JNF023000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Girls & Women
JNF025000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | History | General
Library of Congress categories
United States
Friedman, Elizebeth

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