Monday, March 11, 2024

MMGM-The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry and Spying on Spies

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Johnson, Anna Rose. The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry
March 5, 2024 by Holiday House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 1912, Lucy's father perished at sea a few years back, giving her a reasonable fear of water, and since her mother had died previously, she was under the care of Miss Mamie. When Miss Mamie also passes away, her friends are not quite sure what is to be done with the eleven year old. She's being cared for by Sarah, Miss Mamie's housekeeper, but when the will is read, it turns out that she is to be sent to Michigan, nesr the Keweenaw Penisula,  to be raised by the Martins, who share her Anishinaabe heritage. Mr. Martin is the keeper of the Harmony Lighthouse, and he and his wife are raising six children. Mr. Martin arrives to escort her "home", and is patient with her imaginative ways and her fears. The children, ranging from 15-year-old Maureen to two-year-old Orville, are less patient, especially when Lucy claims to be a princess of Acadia. Things at the lighthouse have to be kept in very neat order, since the lighthouse inspector is very strict, and Lucy has a bad habit of not paying attention when she is working. She drags laundry in the dirt, and even spills ink on the floor! She is also obsessed by a shipwreck from the 1880s that has some similarities to the one that killed her father. Her father claimed to have a note that he found in a bottle when he was young that had information about the wreck, and he always told Lucy that he wanted to find the ruby necklace that was supposedly in the cargo. The site of the wreck, Mermaids Corner, isn't far away, and Lucy even meets a mother and son who know two elderly women with a connection to the wreck. Lucy is devoted enough to her cause that she is willing to get on a boat to go and visit the women, but nothing goes smoothly. It's a very helpgul conversation, however, that leads her to uncover some surprising things. Unfortunately, this also causes some problems in the family, and the father's job is in danger. Luckily, the children all step up, and when people need help along the coastline, the family is able to rescue them and keep the lighthouse operating. While it's nice to have worked on her father's quest, the most important thing is that Lucy feels like part of the family, and is able to settle in to her new life with the Martins. 
Strengths: While many of the things that have happened to Lucy are sad, they are also very common occurrences for children in the early part of the 1900s. It was not unusual for children to be orphaned and left to others to be raised. Literature of the time period, like Fisher's 1916 Understood Betsy, often has these themes. Johnson does a great job of taking this classic format and infusing it with some Anishinaabe culture as well as a mystery, to keep modern readers interested. It's all upbeat, and the children, especially Frederick, all try to get along with Lucy, despite the number of "scrapes" she gets into. There's a lot of information about what it would be like to work at a lighthouse, and also about how important they were to coastal communities. 
Weaknesses: Modern readers, who don't have as much imagination as Lucy, might not quite understand her flights of fancy and claims of being a princess. Those of us raised on Langton's 1961 Her Majesty,  Grace Jones or Anne of Green Gables will recognize Lucy as a kindred spirit. 
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who enjoyed this author's The Star That Always Stays or who want a bit of historical fiction that is fairly upbeat. A LOT of historical fiction is fairly depressing, so it's always good to read some that isn't. 

Moss, Marissa. Spying on Spies: How Elizebeth Smith Friedman Broke the Nazis' Secret Codes
March 12, 2024 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Elizebeth Smith was born in 1892, a year before my grandmother, so the challenges she faced in even obtaining employment were well known to me. What was impressive was Smith's drive to break free from her family and use her skills. Even though she didn't have any support, she put herself through college and set out to find a job in 1916. Through a bit of serendipity, she asked at a library about employment possibilities and was put in touch with an eccentric millionaire, Mr. Fabyan. Taking a huge chance, she drove with him to his estate, Riverbank, and learned about his many projects, one of which was solving a code that he believed proved that Francis Bacon wrote the plays of Shakespeare. Elizebeth wasn't keen on the project, but she needed the work. She learned a lot of good skills, and worked on a new field of study, cryptoanalysis, with William Friedman. The two didn't have much luck with the manuscripts, but found their decoding skills in great demand by the armed forces during WWI, and extended their partnership into marriage. Of course, William was treated much more fairly; at one point, Elizebeth was getting paid half what he was, just because she was a woman. Both ended up working various jobs that were so secretive that they slept in separate rooms so they wouldn't run the risk of revealing secrets in their sleep! Elizebeth was not only essential in WWI, but kept up her work during Prohibition, helping the Coast Guard and others figure out the messages of rum runners. WWII brought further challenges. Through all of this, Elizebeth raised her family, worked long hours, and loved the challenges that her work brought. Leery of publicity and bound by the secret nature of her work, not much was known about her until a few years ago, when some of the records of her career were declassified. 
Strengths: I've read that women were making inroads into the workforce starting in the 1920s, but the Depression made things difficult. The years that Smith Friedman was active make this a particulary interesting snapshot of feminine employment for me. The fact that she wasn't just a teacher, librarian, or secretary made this even better! There was a good mix of information about code breaking and what was going on in the world, and her own personal life and how it fit into those times. Moss' illustrations, at the beginning of the chapters, will make this easier to suggest to middle grade readers. This read quickly, and built on information I already knew about WWII, Bletchley Circle, and the Enigma machine. I'm just sad now that my math and puzzle abilities aren't any better, but if there's ever a need for me to dress up as a historical figure for a wax museum, I'm picking Elizebeth Smith Friedman!
Weaknesses: Smith Friedman was involved in so many projects it just boggles the mind, and now I feel like a miserable slacker who wasted the opportunities that the women's movement provided for me! 
What I really think: This is a great book for readers who enjoy nonfictional discussions about women's history and have read titles like Rubin's The Women Who Built Hollywood 12 Trailblazers in Front of and Behind the Camera, Maraniss' Inagural Ballers: The True Story of the First U.S. Women's Olympic Basketball Team, Blumenthal's Let Me Play, or my favorite, Dreilinger's The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live. There are also a growing number of books about women involved in various aspects of spying, like 
Purnell's Agent Most Wanted:The Never-Before-Told Story of the Most Dangerous Spy of World War II, about Virginia Hall. 


  1. I really enjoy historical novels. Students not so much, They can be depressing, but this one at least avoids going down that road. Thanks for your reviews today on MMGM and for the past week. Great choices.

  2. I recognized the Anne of Green Gables spirit in Lucy just by reading your review, but that might be because I am currently reading The Grace of Wild Things by Heather Fawcett.
    I'm wondering how this book on Elizebeth Smith Friedman compares to The Woman All Spies Fear: Code Breaker Elizebeth Smith Friedman and Her Hidden Life by Amy Butler Greenfield. I do like this cover better...

  3. These both look fantastic. Happy MMGM to you.

  4. I suspect part of why I don't read much historical fiction is that it skews kind of grim, so seeing a more upbeat story like The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry is definitely intriguing! (Also, I adore the alliteration in the title—and then we have some assonance happening in this sentence too...) I've also read two different books about Elizebeth Smith Friedman when I judged for the Cybils, so it's delightful to see a third! Thanks so much for the thoughtful reviews as always, Karen, and have a wonderful week!

  5. I'd like to read The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry, it sounds an entertaining and enjoyable story, plus I always large families in books! Spying on Spies also sounds really interesting, thanks for sharing!

  6. I amputting both of these on my TBR list. They both sound like books I would really enjoy. Thanks for the heads up.

  7. Friedman is awesome, although yes, it also left me feeling like a slacker.