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Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender: The True Story of a Civil War Spy (Carolrhoda Picture Books) Library Binding – April 1, 2011
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Dramatic illustrations and carefully-selected vignettes make this informative biographical account of an unusual Civil War soldier accessible to young learners. Although the text is a bit sparse, parents and teachers can use the book to stimulate discussion about how gender discrimination in employment and women's roles in the military have changed over time.
Being a runaway teen from Canada wasn't going to help her eat and so she started selling Bibles. It wasn't safe for women to roam the countryside in the 1850s so she decided to pretend again. This time she "bought men's clothes and cut her hair." Sarah, or Frank Thompson as she was now known, began her new life in the United States. Soon the Civil War began to roil around the country and in 1861 she thought to herself, "What can I do? What part am I to act in this great drama?" She pensively put her hand to her chin and decided that she would try to join the Union only to be rejected for being "too small." There was no doubt she would try again.
Finally, when she was able to enlist Sarah became a nurse in the Second Volunteers of the United States Army. They were headed to the South where the fighting was fierce. As Sarah stood outside a tent watching someone being operated on, she once again grew pensive. There was a great need for someone to spy because a Union soldier had just been captured. Sarah was still Frank, but she was also a great pretender. Could she possibly pretend enough to get the job?Read more ›
Sarah Emma Edmonds was a Great Pretender opens with Sarah depicted as a boy. Carrie Jones explains Sarah was unhappy about being a boy in 1840's Canada...and so was her father. The story doesn't go into explicit details, only saying "He treated Sarah badly." The use of these statements helps as an excellent framing device for Sarah's "pretending," keeping the story short.
Once in the United States, Sarah sold Bibles door-to-door only to find many people weren't buying. Jones puts a little historical context in here, explaining "It was unusual back then for a woman to travel by herself, and people weren't buying a lot of books." So Sarah turned to pretending to be a man. She cut off her hair, dressed more masculine, and referred to herself as Frank Thompson. The result, Jones adds was "she started selling a lot more Bibles."
Then came the Civil War. As Shelf Employed blog points out, the war details aren't rehashed for readers in Sarah Emma Edmonds; only brief details are given for Sarah is the heroine here. In 1861, Sarah decides to enlist as Frank Thompson, male nurse. Sarah/Frank volunteered to spy on the Confederacy for the Union, after their spy was captured. This time she became Cuff, a Southern slave and darkened her skin with silver nitrate. While spying, Sarah found out numerous information for the Union, including the fact the Confederacy painted giant logs as cannons!
Sarah Emma Edmonds goes on to pretend to be an female Irish peddler named Bridget O'Shea.Read more ›