African Voices Summer 2017 AV Summer 2017 Digital Issue - Page 19

BOOK REVIEW Interactive History for Young Readers by Debbie A. Officer Interactive books are known to keep little ones busy opening flaps, touching pop-up features, or pressing buttons. However, a newly published work, “Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring” by Enigma Alberti and Tony Cliff, in the “Spy on History Series,” is bound to keep pre-teen sleuths equally busy this summer. For the purposes of clarity, Workman Publishing explained the authorship of their series. Enigma Alberti “is the nom de plume of a secret cadre of authors who are each writing a book in the Spy on History Series.” This bit of information lends itself intriguing to some. Readers of Nancy Drew mysteries, which appeals to middle-grade readers, will delight in this new historical mystery about an African- American woman who worked as a spy during the Civil War. Mary Bowser was born into slavery near Richmond, Virginia in the 1840s. Her life as a Union spy is at the heart of this first introduction to this series. A unique figure in the history of this period, Bowser led an interesting life. While she worked as a slave for Eliza Baker and John Van Lew, they took keen notice of her skills and intellect. She was sent to a school in Princeton, New Jersey where she learned to read at a time when it was illegal for African-Americans to do so. Later, Bowser went on to become a teacher. Facts about Mary Bowser’s life aren’t easy to find, but remnants of her existence and contribution to American history can be found in baptismal records and in the writings of Eliza Baker. According to Alberti, “Stories like Mary’s leave us with a lot of questions, not just about her, but how history is written, and who writes it. Few people realized how important Mary’s life was at the time.” Readers will open an envelope and use the tools inside to decode messages, solve a mystery, and learn techniques Bowser used. Skilled with a photographic memory, she worked as a servant in the Confederate White House of Jefferson Davis. Posing as an illiterate servant, Bowser was part of a spy ring organized by Elizabeth Van Lew, the daughter of Eliza Baker and John Lew. Sharing the book series’ value for readers, Albetri states, “the history of the entire war is incomplete if it doesn’t include Mary.” This cleverly designed book will have readers waiting for the future release of installments from its brilliant team of authors. “Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring” By Enigma Alberti, illustrated by Tony Cliff Workman Publishing, 96 pages Ages 10+ ISBN: 9780761187394 african Voices 19