Sarah Emma Edmonds started pretending at a very early age. Her father only wanted sons, so Sarah pretended to be one. Unlike most kids, though, Sarah never really stopped pretending. In 1861, during the U.S. Civil War, Sarah pretended her way into the Union army, becoming a male nurse named Frank Thompson.

Being a nurse didn’t quite satisfy “Frank,” though. She wanted to keep her fellow soldiers from getting hurt. So when the Union army needed a spy, she leapt at the chance. While still pretending to be Frank, Sarah also pretended to be a male African American slave, a female Irish peddler, and a female African American laundress. She slipped behind enemy lines time after time, spied on the Confederate army, and brought back valuable intelligence to the Union. Sarah was not only good at pretending; she was also very brave.

Later in life, Sarah Emma Edmonds wrote a book to tell her story. She explained, “I am naturally fond of adventure, a little ambitious, and a good deal romantic.” She was also truly a great pretender.


What People Are Saying

“The cover portraits cleverly introduce the book’s topic. The front shows a person in a Civil War Union uniform, winking, with one hand hidden. The back presents a rear view of the same figure but now her fingers are shown to be crossed. Below the uniform, a skirt and parasol are displayed. As a teenager in the 1850s, Edmonds ran away from her abusive father and native Canada to come to the United States. Being on her own, she found it safer and easier to dress as a man. When the Civil War began, she is quoted as saying that patriotism was her primary impulse for enlisting in the Union army as ‘Frank Thompson, ‘ then working as a nurse and a spy. Her practice at pretending served her well as she once again changed her name and took on various new identities behind enemy lines. Using an informal, conversational style, Jones succeeds in keeping the complicated narrative at a level appropriate for young readers. Based on Edmonds’s own writings as well as secondary sources, the book presents a believable account of the woman’s actions. While some speculation is included as to her motivations, the text makes clear what is known and what is not. The illustrations portray Edmonds’s feelings through her expressions and provide a visual context for readers. Employing a palette heavy on blues, yellows, and greens, with white outlining for emphasis, the pictures are impressionistic with realistic details. An unusual heroine, Edmonds will capture readers’ attention.” —School Library Journal


Great things can come from games of make-believe! As a girl, Sarah Edmonds practiced at being what her father wanted most: a boy. This skill later served her (and the Union army) well when she joined its ranks as a male nurse. Upon hearing that President Lincoln needed troops, she refused to accept that she couldn’t contribute. After a friend was killed in battle, Edmonds upped the ante and became a Union spy, sneaking behind the Confederate lines to relay their strategies to the north. Based on a book she wrote.” —ForeWord Magazine


Jones makes a confident departure from her bestselling YA novels with an entertaining and powerful Civil War-era story about living by one’s own rules.Realizing she would never satisfy her father’s desire for a son, teenage Sarah Emma Edmonds fled from Canada to America where she assumed the identity of Frank Thompson. Edwards then joined the Union Army, first as a male nurse, then as a spy, passing herself off as a slave and, later, as an Irish peddler: ‘She was a woman (Sarah) pretending to be a man (Frank) pretending to be a woman (Bridget).’ In Oldroyd’s full-bleed spreads, characterized by strong cross-hatching and angular shapes, Edmonds’s eyes twinkle with her secret knowledge, while Jones delivers her story with the assuredness of a natural storyteller.” —Publishers Weekly


“This large-format picture book tells the remarkable story of Sarah Emma Edmonds, who grew up in Canada in the 1840s, raised by a father who mistreated her. Disguised as a boy, she ran away in her teens and supported herself by selling Bibles. When the Civil War began, she enlisted as a male nurse in the Union army. Later, she became a spy, passing on information gained when she disguised herself as a male slave, an Irish peddler woman, and an African American laundress. The portrayal of Sarah as a child, dressing as a boy in hopes of pleasing her father, will resonate with many readers, and the story of her later adventures is well worth telling. However, Jones overuses the words pretend and pretender in the text, making valid points but with little subtlety. The large-scale artwork offers dramatic scenes featuring Sarah in her many disguises. Accessible to younger children than most books on the Civil War, this would be a good addition to many collections.” —Booklist


“Two complementary biographies track the life of Sarah Edmonds, a woman who, disguised as a man, nursed, fought alongside, and spied for Union troops during the Civil War. The accounts differ slightly in detail although each author lists similar sources. For example, Jones has Sarah posing as (or as she repeats throughout the text, pretending to be) a boy to please her harsh, Canadian father, while Moss indicates Sarah’s first impersonation came from her need to escape an arranged marriage, crossing the border into the United States as Frank Thompson. Here, Frank, a.k.a. Sarah, enlists in the Union Army, and her dedication and bravery make her the perfect candidate to act as a spy. Jones enumerates these feats, often continuing the touch of humor indicated on the jacket that shows a mock daguerreotype portrait of a uniformed Frank, broadly winking at the reader (see the back of the jacket for the punchline), and continues Sarah’s story throughout the war and her subsequent marriage. Moss, on the other hand, puts her emphasis on Sarah’s early work and initial mission, concluding the biography before war’s end. Hendrix’s art, heavily shading pages in orange for battle scenes or blue for the somber settings of night or makeshift field hospitals, emphasizes the horror and drama of war. Using hand-lettered text reminiscent of broadsides of the time, he visually shouts danger to the reader when tension is the highest. For his part, Oldroyd makes effective use of broad, rough-hewn brush strokes, particularly in creating an impressionistic background that frequently allows a detailed illustration of Sarah to take center stage. Both books contain a bibliography (Moss’s is the most extensive) and an author’s note. Additionally, the Moss account includes an artist’s bibliography and note, an index, and a glossary.” —The Horn Book Magazine


“As far as we know, Sarah Emma Edmonds began dressing as a boy early on, in an attempt to please her abusive father, who hated girls. When she emigrated from Canada to the United States as a teenager, she kept pretending: It was easier to earn her living as a boy. When the Civil War broke out, Sarah enlisted under the name Frank Thompson and became a spy. Frank was a master deceiver: She/he portrayed a slave boy, a female Irish peddler and an African-American laundress. As Frank, Sarah braved bullets and rode through battles. Only when she became ill with malaria could she no longer pretend–but she was never discovered. Frank Thompson deserted, and a very ill Sarah Edmonds sought treatment at a private hospital. Jones, in her first departure from novels for teens, tells Sarah’s story with strong simplicity, quoting at times from Sarah’s own memoirs. One small quibble is that she ends the story too soon, at the close of the Civil War. An author’s note says that Sarah Edmonds died in 1898 in La Porte, Texas, but gives no details of her later life. Oldroyd’s illustrations convey Sarah’s likeness through all her many disguises, and help readers will see her as both sympathetic and brave. Recommended, especially for middle grades studying the Civil War.” —Kirkus Reviews


“Sarah Edmonds, disguised as a man, fought alongside and spied for Union troops during the Civil War. Jones enumerates these feats with touches of humor, and she continues Sarah’s story throughout the war and her subsequent marriage. Oldroyd makes effective use of broad, rough-hewn brush strokes, particularly in creating an impressionistic background that frequently allows a detailed illustration of Sarah to take center stage.” —The Horn Book Guide