A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent

A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent, written by Anne F. Rockwell and illustrated by Floyd Cooper, will be released on November 1st, 2016.

This picture book tells the story of James Armistead Lafayette, a slave who served under French General Lafayette during the American Revolution. He was a double agent, and he was instrumental in Lafayette’s defeat of British General Cornwallis. James, underestimated and overlooked because of his status and skin color, was privy to conversations and information that he then passed on to American troops, at great personal risk.

Following the war, James had another battle to face–the fight for his own freedom. Since he wasn’t technically a soldier, he was not granted his freedom for service during the war. He appealed to the government, and, after General Lafayette himself appealed on James’ behalf, his petition for freedom was granted.

This easy-to-understand picture book is a necessary addition to any elementary school library. It definitely fills a void when it comes to studies of the American Revolution. Each year, my 4th grade students complete biography projects about famous figures from the war. Each year, James Armistead Lafayette is one of their choices. Until now, there have been no books–or at least no books they can comprehend–on this figure. I am thrilled to add this wonderfully written and illustrated book to my library’s collection.

Light in the Darkness

Light in the Darkness: A Story about How Slaves Learned in Secret, written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome, is a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Light in the Darkness is a moving account of how slaves risked their lives to do something that most of us take for granted. They stole away in the dead of night, always looking over their shoulders for patrollers, to meet in pit schools. These schools, often nothing more than holes in the ground covered by branches, were led by older, literate slaves who taught others to read.

This book is an excellent addition to studies of slavery and how people knew that knowledge and reading were essential to being truly free. I thinkĀ Light in the Darkness would be an ideal selection for Black History Month and American Education Week celebrations.

Light in the Darkness is a wonderful read-aloud for children of all ages, but some younger readers may need a bit more background information on slavery to really appreciate the story.

Never Forgotten

Never Forgotten, written by Patricia C. McKissack and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, is a nominee for the 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Never Forgotten is a beautiful, poetic book that, in my opinion, fills a void when it comes to studies of slavery. This book of poetry takes a look at the relationship between a man, his son, the elements that were a huge part of their lives as blacksmiths in Africa, and how their lives were impacted by the slave trade.

When the young boy, Musafa, is taken as a slave and forced to cross the ocean in the Middle Passage, the father, Dinga, grieves and looks to the elements–Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind–to help him find his lost son. Each element searches for Musafa, and, while they do see him, they cannot bring him back to his father. They do, however, report to Dinga how Musafa is doing. Dinga is determined that his son never be forgotten.

When Wind gathers the strength to cross the Atlantic (as a hurricane), he learns that Musafa–who now goes by the name of Moses–has not lost the spirit instilled in him by his father, and he’s making a life for himself as a renowned, and soon-to-be free, blacksmith. Dinga, while still missing his son, is filled with joy at this news, and even though the villagers think he’s crazy, Dinga celebrates “the son who was taken but never forgotten.”

The author’s note at the end of this fantastic book gives a little background on the origin of the story. Not much is written about how African parents remembered their sons and daughters who were taken as slaves, so McKissack took what she learned about African history, the slave trade, and Caribbean legends to craft this amazing story. This book may be a work of fiction, but it’s easy to see how real it could be.