Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Clothesline Code and Love is a Revolution

Halfmann, Janet and Mason, Trisha (Illustrator). The Clothesline Code: The Story of Civil War Spies Lucy Ann and Dabney Walker
February 1st 2021 by Brandylane Publishers
E ARC provided by the author

As she did in The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls (2019, Lee & Low Books), Halfmann takes little celebrated historical figures and makes their story come to life. This picture book biography traces Dabney's involvement in the army and showcases how his wife helped him with codes by spying and then relaying messages via laundry. There's so much "hidden history", especially surrounding the Civil War, that this is a fantastic story to read aloud during lessons on the Civil War or during Black History Month. I can see a really interesting activity with students coming up with their own codes! Halfmann's story is intriguing, and Mason's pictures do a great job of showing what people and places would have looked like during this conflict. There's a helpful afterword and list of reference sources. This is available both in hardcover and in paperback! 


Lucy Ann and Dabney Walker didn't have to risk their lives to spy for the Union army. The couple had already risked everything to escape slavery themselves. But in early 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, the couple was determined to help defeat slavery for everyone—no matter the risk. Together, they created a secret code disguised as laundry on a clothesline. Their plan was incredibly dangerous: it required Lucy Ann to sneak into Confederate territory to steal military secrets, while Dabney took the vital information she gathered to the Union army. This true story of sacrifice and bravery shows us that when we have courage and compassion for the world around us, even the simplest items can become powerful tools for change.

Watson, Renée. Love is a Revolution
February 2nd 2021 by Bloomsbury YA
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Nala's very close cousin Imani is part of a group in their New York City neighborhood called Inspire Harlem. They have a very energized youth group that participates in lots of social activism, but Nala is much more interested in hanging out with Imani and their friend Sadie, trying out new hairstyles, watching Netflix, and finding a boyfriend with whom to spend the summer. She's jealous of Imani, in part because her own parents struggled with raising her, and she has lived with Imani's family for several years. At one Inspire Harlem event Nala is forced to attend, she meets the very attractive and magnetic Tye Brown, who seems interested in her as well. At first she's not sure if Tye just wants to recruit her for the group, but soon it's clear that he is as interested in her as she is in him. Nala capitalizes on a misunderstanding early in the relationship, and keeps up the idea that she works as an activities director at Sugar Hill Senior Living, when in reality she is just visiting her grandmother, and she pretends to be interested in different types of food and activities because she thinks that this will make Tye like her more. She tries out different hairstyles, spends lots of time with Tye, does start a photograph project at Sugar Hill, and has some difficulty with Imani. It's tough to keep up with all of her pretend interests, but is it worth it for Tye to know the real Nala if that means he may no longer be interested in her?
Strengths: Ah, summer romance. Nala is not alone is wanting this. I really enjoyed that this book was set in a particular place during a set amount of time; there should be a whole series of books about "summers in...". The family relationship was interesting, and the tensions between Nala and Imani interestingly done. Nala's interest in Tye, and her willingness to change herself to interest him are unfortunately all too common. Nala, as well as other members of her family, are "big boned", and it's good to see that reflected accurately on the cover. Some reviewers were not as happy with the level of body positivity, and while I don't feel qualified to opine on this matter because of my own social conditioning, it seemed that Nala was generally comfortable in her own skin, and up front about those feelings. There's not just one flavor of body positivity. Nala's interactions with her grandmother and the residents of Sugar Hill added more dimension with the story, and the romance with Tye was top notch. 
Weaknesses: I personally wasn't thrilled with the fact that Nala felt she had to be a different kind of person for Tye, but I think it's still all too common. Nala isn't perfect, and her attitudes toward people who are interested in social activism have bothered other reviewers. It also seemed odd to me that while Nala was very protective of her own food preferences, she denigrated others' if they didn't align with hers. Seitan  and other vegetarian options aren't that bad! 
What I really think: I'm always looking for upper middle grade books, especially romances, and this Watson title is right up there with Tanita Davis, Kasie West, and Sarah Dessen when it comes to a high school romance that also incorporates topics of interest to middle school students, like social activism, dating, and problems with family. It's tricky to get books like this, since not all YA romances strike a chord with middle school readers. (While I loved Yen's A Taste for Love and Namey's A Cuban Girl's Guide to Tea and Tomorrow, the worries and issues seemed more applicable to high school readers.) Definitely purchasing.

1 comment:

  1. This biography is fascinating! What a great story to bring to life from the past. Love the code aspect hidden in laundry!