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Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring
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Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  128 ratings  ·  47 reviews
The true story of Mary Bowser, a former slave-turned-spy who delivered key intelligence secrets during the Civil War. Readers uncover secrets using codes hidden in the book and spycraft materials included.
Hardcover, 96 pages
Published December 13th 2016 by Workman Publishing Company
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Average rating 4.30  · 
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 ·  128 ratings  ·  47 reviews

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Jun 20, 2018 rated it liked it
The story of Mary is very interesting. The interactive ciphers and codes were extremely difficult. It’s unlikely that a reader of the books intended audience could actually solve it.
Alex  Baugh
Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring is the first book in the new series Spy on History that combines an exciting story with interactive materials that invite the reader to solve a mystery.

Mary is a freed slave who has been asked to work in the home of the Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Mary had been freed as a very young girl by Bet Van Lew, a Quaker, who had taken a special interest in her, making sure Mary learned to read and write. Now, Bet was building a network of spies and when
Beyond the Pages
Nov 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What a brilliant book! This would be a wonderful resource for anyone. Not only did this work tell the story of a brave and fearless woman of color, but it also showed the strength of character and conviction of an individual who saw the need for more. The additional aspects of the book related to espionage and coding were bonuses. The real treasure, however, was the story itself, which featured this courageous soul.

Stories like this always appeal to me because they highlight the positive contrib
Becky Loader
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Tony Cliff is one of my favorite graphic novelists, and his bold art is great for the story of a young spy in the Confederate White House.
Mar 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
My 3rd grade TAG class does a unit on codes & ciphers. This is a great mentor text and I look forward to the rest of the series!
I'm excited about this new Spy on History series. I not only enjoyed reading the story of Mary Bowser, but the interactive element is fabulous as well. As the reader digs into the adventures of Mary Bowser as she spies on the Confederate President Jefferson Davis during the Civil War, the book is full of clues and codes for the reader to try to figure out. Materials are even included to help the reader figure things out. And this isn't an easy task. I'm eager to go back and give the clues my ful ...more
Carolyn Woods
Aug 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring tells a story about Mary Bowser, a slave working in the Confederate White House during the Civil War. As part of her duties, Mary sees coded documents on the president's desk. She can read (unusual for a slave) and has a photographic memory, and over time begins decoding the messages she sees and sending information back to the Union. This is based on the true story of Mary Bowser, a former slave who delivered intelligence information to the ...more
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Excellent narrative about the life of Mary Bowser, servant to Jefferson Davis who risked her life to supply Confederate secrets to the Union. The book does an excellent job of sticking to what is known about Mary (very little!) yet crafting an exciting tale. The book is compelling enough on its own, but the author has also added clues, codes, and other puzzles to solve throughout its pages--an effective way to get children interested in the codes involved in the espionage described in the book!
Sarah Sammis
Oct 27, 2017 rated it liked it
If I were still in the target age range, I would find these clues amazingly fun and I'd probably want to collect the entire series (or at least check them all out). As an adult, I found the book rather gimmicky.
Kristi Bernard
Feb 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Mary Bowser was born into slavery but was set free by the Van Lew family of Quakers. Bet Van Lew taught her to read and even sent her to school in Philadelphia. She worked for a few years as a teacher in Liberia. During this time, the state of Virginia claimed themselves as their very own country. They were called The Confederate States of America. Taking action, Bet Van Lew began to create a network of spies in Richmond. When Bet discovered that Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy ...more
Kelley Yaworski
Feb 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I love that this book opens up a topic about heroes that sadly are not a part of common history books. I appreciated the story as an adult and my 7 year old history buff also enjoyed the book. I liked the big font that appeared periodically throughout the book as I used those as opportunities for my child to read to me out loud. I loved that there is an interactive portion with the code cracking but by the end of the book, I was left feeling confused about the spy pieces and the kit. I thought t ...more
Feb 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Mary Bowser and the Civil War Ring is the first book in the Spy on History Series by Enigma Alberti & Toni Cliff. It tells the real-life story of Mary Bowser, an African American spy for the Union. She used her cover as a maid in Jefferson Davis’ house to gain access to top secret documents, which she scanned with her photographic memory and passed on to her connections.

While readers learn about Mary’s covert activities, they’re given their own mission: find where Mary hid her (fictional) secre
Lisa Kizer
Jan 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Both my son and myself rated this as a 3. He lost interest after a while with the story but loved the spy/code sheets that came with the book. I read further into the book but also felt like it lost a lot of its appeal the further into the story. Its as if you start out thinking the story/book is going to be more in a cartoon format with lots of pictures or short blurbs on what was going on and instead it is all prose. The story about Mary Bowser itself was interesting just not this format - som ...more
Esther Filbrun
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-review
I admit: I spent way, WAY too long reading this book. It's not only a fascinating historical story, but a very well-done mystery. I think I spent about three hours yesterday working on figuring out the mystery--and I did get it, which was fun, even though I didn't decipher all the clues! All around, very worthwhile book. ...more
Good story; DIY code-cracking might be challenging for younger readers. Not really suitable for library use due to the envelope of several code-cracking tools (red plastic, code wheel, vellum with cut-outs, etc). I am sure the pieces will be easily lost and that the envelope holding them will not stand up to repeated use.
Candance Doerr-Stevens
I enjoyed learning about the Civil War spy, Mary Bowser. Although I realize that her journals were lost and thus very little record exists of her life, I wish the book would have been longer and gone into more detail of her life and friendship with “Bet”. Perhaps other books will go into more detail. My interest in her life has definitely been piqued.
Amanda Walz
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is AWESOME! I feel like a need to share it with everyone. :)

Not only does it share about Mary Bowser and how she was a Civil War spy, there is a mystery in the book that you have to figure out. They even give you tools to help. So very cool!
Oct 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent account of Mary Bowser, a little known slave, who worked in Jefferson Davis' White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA during the American Civil War. Unbeknownst to anyone Mary spied for the Union and was never caught. ...more
Such an interesting story and so well told!
Mary was a spy who worked as a maid in Jefferson Davis' household. The book tells her story as she gathers information and finds the key to the confederate cipher.
Tonya Collins
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. When I was a young girl, I was a Nancy Drew bluff. This book had me interacting with the book and discovering clues. The book was just pure fun.
Jan 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: childrens-lit
Not only was this book educational on the events and prejudices of the period, it was also fun to do the 'spy' activities which makes one feel more immersed in the story. ...more
Jessica Kuznarsky
Mar 09, 2020 rated it liked it
My 4th grade class picked this as our read aloud. They liked collecting the clues and deciphering the codes - there were many. I thought the book was ok.
Mar 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: jfic, historical
I really liked the inclusion of the ephemera and the codes/clues in the book, but they weren't fully explained/integrated into the narrative. ...more
Mar 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was contacted by the publisher because I was lucky enough to get a review copy of this on Netgalley, and they asked if I wanted a finished copy. Of course I jumped at the chance.

The book itself is bound together well, has a cut out on the front so you can see through the character inside (which is a gorgeous full page illustration). The interactive elements are easy to use and really add to the story and imagination as you read this book. In the back some pages are stuck together and you have
Mar 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
First I would like to state that I received this book through the Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank the author for giving me this opportunity and honor in being able to read this book. When I received this book I began reading it at once. . I thoroughly enjoyed this book. You are pulled into the book from the first pages. I really enjoyed the storyline & characters. The author has brought us a great plot. I really enjoy the authors writing style. I would ...more
Mary Louise Sanchez
I enjoyed the interactive aspect of this first book in the series for children, Spy on History. The reader uses clues and provided tools to solve the mystery of where slave/spy, Mary Bowser, hid her diary.

Mary Bowser was a slave working for Jefferson Davis in his southern White House during the Civil War, but unbeknownst to him, she was a spy and a literate one who read his correspondences on his desk as she dusted it daily.

I need to reread the short biography before I can crack the seal on th
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great, challenging interactive mystery! Fascinating story that, sadly, seems to have been overlooked in many history books. Not any more! I highly recommend this book. It comes with spy tools to help solve the mystery. I still have not solved it (it is truly challenging), but I will keep trying!!! The book is really well-done and thought-provoking. I have never read a book like this before, and I can't wait for the next book in the series! Huge fan!! ...more
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a fun book- the story is good but what makes it exceptional are the clues you are supposed to figure out in order to decode Mary's letter- and let me tell you THERE ARE A LOT. I didn't get through all of them and many of them are not ones that are obvious. The story itself is an easy read- but the codes make it much much more challenging. ...more
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is amazing! It not only tells the story of an unsung hero during the Civil War, it's also a puzzle for the reader to figure out! Mary Bowser was born a slave but freed and educated by her Quaker owner. She went to Libya to teach to other freed slaves for a while but returned to the US to marry her sweetheart, Wilson. This book picks up less than a year after Mary's wedding as her former owner, Bet, recruits Mary to be a spy for the Union as a maid in the President of the Confederacy's ...more
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