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A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent Library Binding – November 1, 2016
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From the Publisher
James was in Lafayette’s camp when Cornwallis paid his visit. No one knows for sure if James saw the look on Cornwallis’s face when the general realized who had fooled him, but it’s not hard to imagine James would have felt satisfied.
From School Library Journal
"Rockwell's detailed yet accessible text is perfectly matched with Cooper's exceptional oil paintings in this picture book biography. Using a muted color palette and done in a grainy style, the art imparts a sense of historical drama in each spread and expertly draws readers into James Lafayette's remarkable story. Rockwell wastes no words, beginning right away with General Cornwallis's defeat at the Battle of Yorktown and his discovery that a guide for the British army was in fact a double agent, a slave working as a spy for the Americans. (Rockwell discloses enough background information on the Revolutionary War to keep kids grounded.) Students will learn that although James provided an invaluable service to the Americans, he was denied his freedom after the war ended until a letter from General Lafayette intervened (back matter notes that James petitioned for his freedom on his own and was initially denied by the general assembly). In a triumphant last spread, the former spy, now James Lafayette, appears at the forefront of a landscape with bold red text proclaiming, 'James Lafayette was finally free.' VERDICT: A profoundly successful work. Pair this with Stephen Krensky's Hanukkah at Valley Forge and Laurie Halse Anderson's Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution for a well-rounded, multicultural look at the American Revolution."―starred, School Library Journal, Journal
"Rockwell (Hey, Charleston!) delivers a striking portrait of James Lafayette, an African-American spy critical to the outcome of the Revolutionary War. Enslaved by a Virginia farmer and known only as James, he worked with the French general Marquis de Lafayette (whose surname James later adopted) in exchange for freedom. Pretending to be a runaway slave, James infiltrated British troops, and 'information he passed to Lafayette allowed the colonial army to trap Cornwallis at Yorktown.' The succinct narrative explains a complicated wartime story using a conversational tone (General Lafayette is 'the French general with names to spare'). Cooper's (Ira's Shakespeare Dream) appealing oil-and-erasure illustrations affirm his skill as a gifted portrait artist. Settings recede into the background as close-ups of James, George Washington, Charles Cornwallis, and others bring emotion to the tale, revealing feelings of dejection, pride, and determination. Final pages and an author's note explain how James continued to fight for his freedom several years after the war and how Lafayette aided him in securing it."―Publishers Weekly, Journal
"Two years prior to the close of the Revolutionary War, an enslaved man in Virginia named James asks to help defeat the British by becoming a spy in exchange for his freedom. Working under the command of General Lafayette, James infiltrates General Cornwallis' troops by posing as a runaway slave and eventually becomes a double agent. Although Cornwallis surrenders, and the U.S. wins the war in 1783, James does not receive the freedom he expected, and three years pass before Lafayette wrote a certificate declaring James' independence. Rockwell's engaging narrative shines a light on the little-known story of a key African American player in a pivotal moment in American history. Rockwell's engaging, straightforward paragraphs are well matched by Cooper's stunning, soft-focus oil paintings, which add drama, thanks to the figures' expressive faces, from James' sly, knowing glances to the reader to his deflated aspect after the injustice of being denied what was promised him. With a compelling story and appealing artwork, this inviting foray into American history will catch the attention of many readers."―Booklist, Journal
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Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
I very much appreciate this book for existing in the first place — it’s a wonderful idea to introduce children to stories like these at a young age, especially stories like James’s are hardly ever told in schools. At least, they weren’t very often told in my schools when I was younger, but I hope that’s changing. As the description says, James Lafayette was a spy for George Washington’s Army during the American Revolution, and had to fight to obtain the rights that were given to other former slaves who served in the army because “spies” were not generally covered under the agreement that was made between slaves and the newly formed American government.
The story itself is simply told in a language that children will understand, but covers all the details. And I love the illustrations. They’re soft water-color type illustrations with a lot of blended colors and soft lines. It’s very child-friendly and I know I enjoyed looking at the pictures, so I think they might, too.
I could see this being in a classroom for children to enjoy during free reading time, or even have it being read aloud to children as part of a history lesson. And, of course, it’s a nice addition to the home library, especially for a history-lover.
Moses A, 8 years old, Atlanta Mensa