Book Review: Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington

7 Oct

Today’s book review is for Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington, written by Lynda Durrant, illustrated by Joe Rossi, published by Vanita Books. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington is an early chapter book based on the true story of a 9-year-old boy who was recruited by George Washington to act as a spy during the American Revolutionary War. When his older brothers come home on leave, Ariel is asked if he can play the “Johnny Raw” (country bumpkin) for General Washington. So begins Ariel’s adventure, where he must enter enemy encampments to gather information about troop numbers, weaponry, horses and conditions–all while pretending to be a country bumpkin in search of a flour mill. Exciting and entertaining, school children are sure to connect with Ariel, and learn some American history along the way.

Durrant does a wonderful job at drawing readers into the story. Rather than get bogged down in descriptions of setting, she opts to instead focus on events and character. I liked this tactic–it kept the story moving forward and didn’t allow time for the mind to wander. Another thing that I enjoyed was that throughout the text, we get to experience Ariel’s confusion, doubts, and fears. Even though he was doing something very important and brave, it was also dangerous. By sharing these insights, Durrant let’s children know that it’s normal to be plagued by doubts and fear, even when you’re doing the right thing.

Rossi’s illustrations are a lot of fun. He blends a modern chariacture-inspired cartoon style with layers of watercolor and digital aging techniques to produce dynamic images. In this way he is able to appeal to his young audience while also capturing the sense of looking back at the past. Rossi is particularly adept at rendering facial expressions in his work. My favorite picture was one of British General Howe, looking particularly stuffy.

The book closes with an afterward detailing additional history about the real Ariel Bradley and what happened to him after his stint as a spy. It also include a short glossary of terms that children might not have known before reading. It’s a nicely designed book–from layout choices to font selection, it has an attractive, high quality appearance.

I think that Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington would make an excellent addition to schools and public libraries. It gets 4 out of 5 stars, for strong educational value and solid kid appeal. Plus, it helps show children that they do, in fact, have the power and agency to shape the course of history.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

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