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

Abrams. Mar. 2021. 48p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781419739637.
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.

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