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A Spy Called James
Cover of A Spy Called James
A Spy Called James
The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent
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Told for the first time in picture book form is the true story of James Lafayette—a slave who spied for George Washington's army during the American Revolution. But while America celebrated its newfound freedom, James returned to slavery. His service hadn't qualified him for the release he'd been hoping for. For James the fight wasn't over; he'd already helped his country gain its freedom, now it was time to win his own.

Told for the first time in picture book form is the true story of James Lafayette—a slave who spied for George Washington's army during the American Revolution. But while America celebrated its newfound freedom, James returned to slavery. His service hadn't qualified him for the release he'd been hoping for. For James the fight wasn't over; he'd already helped his country gain its freedom, now it was time to win his own.

Available formats-
  • OverDrive Read
  • PDF eBook
Languages:-
Copies-
  • Available:
    always available
  • Library copies:
    always available
Levels-
  • ATOS:
    5.2
  • Lexile:
    940
  • Interest Level:
    LG
  • Text Difficulty:
    4 - 6

Recommended for you

About the Author-
  • Anne Rockwell is the author of Hey, Charleston!:The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band, which was a Junior Library Guild Selection. She lives in Stamford, Connecticut.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 5, 2016
    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. Ages 7–11. Author’s agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from November 1, 2016

    Gr 2-5-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 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.-Jennifer Steib Simmons, Anderson County Library, SC

    Copyright 2016 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    Built from an exhaustive search of a mostly unwritten history, Rockwell's account recasts the American Revolution from the experience of one of the courageous thousands who fought to gain independence from British rule--an independence that did not equate to freedom for the enslaved black population. While it is popularly known that many more Africans fought alongside the British than the patriots, here Rockwell introduces James, who, upon hearing that an enslaved man could gain his freedom by fighting for the Colonies, volunteers and spies on Gen. Cornwallis. The intelligence James gathers is critical to the decisive American victory at Yorktown, yet freedom is stalled until the Marquis de Lafayette demands James' manumission, leading to James' choice of surname as the text proclaims him "finally free!" However, the author's note reminds readers that the legal freedom of the entire enslaved black population in the United States stands almost a century and another war away. A narrative that is deserving of much nuance (the free James Lafayette may have become a slave owner himself, the author's note also informs readers) goes without much critical examination, and the narrow records on which it was built provide more insight about the decisions of those around him than the man himself. Readers are left with a story that tries to honor the role African-Americans played in the American Revolution while clinging to a linear history of the United States as always moving forward. With new historical narratives complicating the period for adults, this well-meant picture book comes off as timid rather than disruptive, leaving children with the usual incomplete story, albeit with an African-American protagonist. (further reading) (Informational picture book. 7-11) COPYRIGHT(1) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Kirkus

    August 15, 2016
    Built from an exhaustive search of a mostly unwritten history, Rockwells account recasts the American Revolution from the experience of one of the courageous thousands who fought to gain independence from British rulean independence that did not equate to freedom for the enslaved black population. While it is popularly known that many more Africans fought alongside the British than the patriots, here Rockwell introduces James, who, upon hearing that an enslaved man could gain his freedom by fighting for the Colonies, volunteers and spies on Gen. Cornwallis. The intelligence James gathers is critical to the decisive American victory at Yorktown, yet freedom is stalled until the Marquis de Lafayette demands James manumission, leading to James choice of surname as the text proclaims him finally free! However, the authors note reminds readers that the legal freedom of the entire enslaved black population in the United States stands almost a century and another war away. A narrative that is deserving of much nuance (the free James Lafayette may have become a slave owner himself, the authors note also informs readers) goes without much critical examination, and the narrow records on which it was built provide more insight about the decisions of those around him than the man himself. Readers are left with a story that tries to honor the role African-Americans played in the American Revolution while clinging to a linear history of the United States as always moving forward. With new historical narratives complicating the period for adults, this well-meant picture book comes off as timid rather than disruptive, leaving children with the usual incomplete story, albeit with an African-American protagonist. (further reading) (Informational picture book. 7-11)

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    October 1, 2016
    Grades 2-5 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 writes 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.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2016, American Library Association.)

  • Publishers Weekly

    "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

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