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Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender by Carrie Jones
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Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender: 02/11/13

cover art

I have been interested in the American Civil War since high school. I like reading about it, whether it's fiction or nonfiction. As soon as Carrie Jones announced her nonfiction picture book biography of Sarah Emma Edmonds called Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender, I immediately added it to my wishlist.

Using simple, straightforward language, Carrie Jones outlines Sarah Edmond's childhood and early adulthood. Jones explains that Sarah's father wanted a son and she did her best to pretend to be the boy he wanted. When it was painfully clear that she could never live up to expectations, Sarah left Canada for the United States where she started selling bibles. Through experimentation she learned that she could sell far more books dressed as a man than she did dressed as a woman.

But this book isn't about gender identity per se. It's about her part in the Civil War. She joined the Union Army as soldier (named Frank Thompson) and male nurse. When the army needed spies, she decided to do her duty and volunteer. Jones goes through some of her different missions and her different disguises.

Mark Oldroyd's illustrations show the many faces Sarah wore in her life and her army career. Sometimes she dressed as a woman (or as Carrie puts it, a woman pretending to be a man, disguised as a woman). Throughout all the costume changes, Oldroyd is able to let Sarah's personality shine through so we can see it's still her.

It's a fascinating slice of American history seen through a nonfiction picture book. The book includes a short bibliography in the endnotes and I plan to read through the listed books as time permits.

Five stars.

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