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Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars Hardcover – Picture Book, March 2, 2021

4.8 out of 5 stars 57 ratings

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Editorial Reviews

From 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., ORα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


"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

"Wallmark’s lively, detailed text maximizes the appeal of Friedman’s story, focusing on the demand for Elizebeth’s skills apart from those of her acclaimed husband, and Smart’s digitally assembled watercolors sport a vibrant stylishness." ―
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"An engaging introduction to a unique woman in a fascinating field." ―
School Library Journal

"Painted in watercolor and gouache and digitally assembled, the book’s attractive illustrations often incorporate a quote or a stream of letters representing code." ―
Always the perfect gift

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Abrams Books for Young Readers; Illustrated edition (March 2, 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 48 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1419739638
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1419739637
  • Reading age ‏ : ‎ 7+ years, from customers
  • Grade level ‏ : ‎ 1 and up
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.01 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 8.5 x 0.63 x 10.5 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.8 out of 5 stars 57 ratings

About the author

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I’m an award-winning author of picture book biographies of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) as well as fiction. My books have earned multiple starred trade reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Best STEM Book, Crystal Kite Award, Cook Prize Honor, and Parents’ Choice Gold Medal. My titles include ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE, HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE, NUMBERS IN MOTION, CODE BREAKER, SPY HUNTER, and DINO PAJAMA PARTY.

I have an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. from VCFA and frequently present at schools as well as national professional conferences (NSTA, NCTE, ALA, TLA, etc.). I am a former software engineer and computer science professor.

You can find me on the Web at and @lauriewallmark. Want to meet me in real life? Check out my calendar at

I am represented by Liza Fleissig and Ginger Harris of the Liza Royce Agency.

I live in NJ with my husband and have two grown daughters.

Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5
57 global ratings
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4.0 out of 5 stars From Shakespeare to Secrets....The Woman Spies Fear
By The Neon Librarian on July 9, 2022
In this picture book biography, readers will learn about the life of Elizebeth Friedman, an American code breaker who helped the US to turn the tide of two World Wars. Elizebeth Friedman used her love of languages and literature to become America's first female cryptanalyst. Beginning with secret notes and codes exchanged with her husband while they dated, Elizebeth grew and developed her code breaking skills. This eventually lead to her setting up America's first code breaking unit. This unit helped the Army during World War I to code their messages using complicated ciphers.
Elizebeth continued to train new cryptologists and crack codes for the US government. During World War II, Elizebeth created a code breaking unit for the CIA made up of mathematicians, physicists, and chemists. This unit ended up cracking Enigma, a German code making machine. By cracking Enigma, the Allies had advance notice of the Nazis' planned attacks and bombing raids which they could then counterattack, thus shortening the war.
Elizebeth's work was deemed Top Secret Ultra and she was not allowed to speak of her work or accomplishments with anyone....ever. Her story finally came to light in 2015 when her secret papers were declassified by the CIA. What a fascinating woman Elizebeth Friedman was! She fought gangsters, Nazis, and smugglers from all over the world with only paper and pencil.
The back of the book includes a section of code explanations and examples of ciphers, a timeline of Elizebeth's life and a secret message to be decoded.

<Fans of code creating and breaking would also enjoy learning about the Navajo Code Talkers of WWII.>

<Looking for more books about brilliant women working in STEM? Check out Women Who Dared by Linda Skeers or The Amazing Scientists series by Julia Mosca.>

Winner of the 2023 Sequoyah Award (Oklahoma)
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