a little adventure with sarah emma edmonds


It’s always fun and exciting when something you’ve read sparks your imagination and makes you want to learn more.  

That’s what happened when I read Carrie Jones’s new picture book biography about Civil War nurse and spy Sarah Emma Edmonds. When I studied American history in Hawai’i eons ago, I learned a lot of names and dates that I couldn’t really relate to. I certainly never dreamed that one day I’d live near a real battlefield site, meet people who like to don period garb to participate in battle re-enactments, and be steeped in heady historical richness that would actually mean something. 

I had heard of female Confederate spies, but knew very little about the ones spying for the Union army. Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender (Carolrhoda Books, 2011) is a provocative introduction to the feisty Canadian teenager who fled her home country, assumed the identity of a man (calling herself Frank Thompson), and then served in the Second Michigan Infantry, first as a field nurse and then as a spy under the command of Major General George B. McClellan. 

Sarah Edmonds in female and male garb.

Jones’s tightly woven narrative emphasizes Edmonds’s skill as a master of disguise. An adventurer at heart, Edmonds was motivated by a deep sense of patriotism to her adopted country because she was able to forge a new life, far away from her abusive father who hated that she was a girl and who tried to force her into an arranged marriage.

Steely, brave, clever and highly adaptable to whatever circumstances came her way, Edmonds assumed various guises, as an African American male slave, an Irish peddler woman, and a black laundress. She infiltrated enemy lines many times and returned with valuable information for the Union army. When she contracted malaria, she chose to recuperate in a private hospital in Illinois to avoid blowing her cover. After learning that she was listed as a deserter, she reclaimed her identity as a woman and returned to nursing, with no one the wiser.


Further reading revealed that much, if not most, of Sarah’s exploits took place on Virginia soil. She participated in both the First and Second Battles of Bull Run, The Peninsula Campaign, Vicksburg, Fredericksburg, Antietam, Williamsburg and Yorktown in her various capacities as field nurse, postmaster and spy. When I read that she nursed wounded soldiers at an army hospital in the Old Stone Church in Centreville, I had to see the place for myself. I’ve lived in Virginia for 30 years and might never have heard about the church (only 10 minutes away) if I hadn’t read Carrie’s book. 

Old Stone Church circa 1860’s (Library of Congress photo).

The Old Stone Church was first built by Methodists in 1854, and used as a hospital by both the Union and Confederate troops. It was destroyed by soldiers during the war, but rebuilt with original materials in 1870. The Union army marched from Centreville to meet Confederate forces in the First Battle of Manassas/Bull Run (1861), and later took the same route, right past the church, as they retreated from the Manassas battlefield.  

Today, the Old Stone Church is the Anglican Church of the Ascension.

I tried to imagine the fort situated behind the church to the south, where nearby camps housed 40,000 Confederate soldiers in log huts during the winter of 1861-1862. I didn’t want to think about the wounded men in that hospital of long ago, but I was glad to be able to see where Sarah, as Frank, once nursed them. 

Sarah’s is a thoroughly captivating story, and Carrie has made it accessible to older picture book readers with an easy, conversational style. The book begins with Sarah’s childhood in Canada, where she was already “pretending” to be a boy to please her father, and ends with Sarah as a female nurse. We see how Sarah was able to transform a troubled beginning into a life of courageous service using her cunning, resourcefulness and inner strength. The text also incorporates quotes from Sarah’s memoir and includes an Author’s Note and bibliography. Paired with Mark Oldroyd’s powerful and evocative acrylic paintings (stunning character portraits!), this book (which earned a PW *starred review*), will likely spark interest in espionage and girl heroes and perhaps spawn some new Civil War buffs. Just in time for the 150th Commemoration of the Civil War and a wonderful read for Women’s History Month.

Thanks, Carrie, for writing this cool book and getting me to the church on time ☺. I love when history comes alive, don’t you?

written by Carrie Jones
illustrated by Mark Oldroyd
published by Carolrhoda Books, April 2011
PB Biography for ages 7-11, 32 pp.
Cool themes: Civil War, spies and espionage, nursing, feminism, gender discrimination, courage.

♥ Carrie Jones official website and blog.

♥ Learn more about Sarah Emma Edmonds here. Scroll down to read her riveting first-hand account of the Battle at Bull Run.

♥ See also Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss and John Hendrix (Abrams, 2011).

*Spread posted by permission, text copyright © 2011 Carrie Jones, illustrations © 2011 Mark Oldroyd, published by Carolrhoda Books. All rights reserved.


Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.


soup of the day: girl, hero by carrie jones


Hi. My name is Wayne and I want ya to listen up.

My little missy,Carrie Jones, has a new book out this month.

It’s called, Girl, Hero, and if ya know what’s good for you, you’ll get yourself a copy and read it.

          GIRL, HERO by Carrie Jones (Flux, 2008)
          Young Adult, 312 pp.

Now, I’m not one to brag, but I just happen to be in this book. Seems a girl named Liliana, just starting high school, writes me a pack of letters because she’s got no one else to turn to. Her ma’s got a new man who worships the bottle. Her pa is up to some un-cowboy things. Her best friend, Nicole, sets her sights on some shallow goals. And don’t even ask me about Lili’s brother-in-law. Any man who beats on a woman is a sorry excuse for a human being.

Right about now you’re probably wondering, "How’s that girl gonna see her way clear so she can ride off into the sunset?" Make no mistake. No young person should have to walk around in those boots. But this is the real world. And any book about a young person who has only herself to depend on, and who, in the end, becomes her own hero, is a book worth reading.

Most of you know me from the big screen. I’ve been on both sides of the law and ridden some pretty steep trails. Today, because I love my little lady, I broke new ground and stepped into the kitchen. During the writing of Girl, Hero, I had to remind Carrie over and over again to cowboy up and write. Friends, she’s got true grit and done me proud. 

         It took three chefs from the alphabet soup kitchen,

                   three cans of designer tomato soup,

               and three whole boxes of alphabet pasta.

That’s what ya need to make celebration soup for book #3. 

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

Well, what are ya waiting for? Slurp hearty, and tip your Stetson to my girl!
            Today’s Special: Western Tomato Grit

**See Carrie’s website for reviews and an excerpt of Girl, Hero.

  Click here to visit the alphabet soup gallery!

thought for the week


“In the every day there are so many amazing surprises, so many ways to look at things. I love that. There’s always a temptation to write in broad strokes, hoping to define something universal, but the beauty in life, I think, comes from individual reactions and values and what they tell us about character, and what they tell us about ourselves. Sometimes those come from surprising angles. 

For example, my Grammy Barnard would cry over the beauty and miracle of a ripe, good-looking tomato. That says a lot about her. Our reactions to her tears tell us a lot about ourselves. That’s something really specific, but it creates much broader strokes about values and the human condition. I think that as writers we have a responsibility to examine the specifics and the surprises as a way to touch the universal.” 
                              ~ Carrie Jones, author
                                    (from the 2008 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market)

we just love her, that’s all


At a recent liter-rally held right here in the alphabet soup kitchen, thousands of fur-clad supporters (okay, four) growled their overwhelming support for an author they can’t help but
love — Carrie Jones (


Indeed, the name of this illustrious kayaking cowgirl, who has been known to consume 100 fudgsicles an hour while writing young adult novels with very strange titles resembling repair manuals, is also on the minds and lips of every card totin’ voter in the kidlit blogosphere today.


Why? Because her books are tastier than the best tomato soup — her first novel, Tips on Having a Gay Ex-Boyfriend (Flux, 2007), recently won the Maine Literary Award for Children’s Fiction. Her second novel, Love (and Other Uses for Duct Tape), released just a month ago, is already stacking up good reviews and creating serious buzz among those in the know.                          

       Cover Image   Love (and Other Uses for Duct Tape)   

And if that wasn’t enough, Ms. Jones has two more books coming out this year — another novel called Girl, Hero, in August, and a nonfiction picture book published by David Godine in the fall. Bloomsbury will release Need, a fantasy containing elements of magical realism, in early 2009.

Now, Carrie’s fabulous books are only part of the reason she is so loved and admired in these parts. Awhile ago, I awarded Carrie a ROAR for Powerful Words, because, "she is unafraid to voice her political convictions while wearing two different shoes in public. She is so wise, yet vulnerable, highly intelligent and irresistibly quirky."

Little did I realize that she would decide to run for the Maine State Legislature! Read her "Message of Hope," more about her life, and the issues she will work on if elected as delegate for Maine District 38 here.  

So, as part of Women’s History Month, we celebrate and salute all that is Carrie Jones. Keep your eye on her, folks. This rising star is skyrocketing to the moon!        
(Thanks to Tori Winning

 for creating the awesome Carrie buttons!) 

soup of the day: love (and other uses for duct tape) by carrie jones

Happy Birthday hugs and three big cheers for Live Journal’s Carrie Jones (

)!! Love (and Other Uses for Duct Tape), published by Flux, is officially out today!! This anxiously awaited sequel to Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend (Flux, 2007), follows Belle during the final months of her senior year. Just when things were getting better, all kinds of changes throw her off kilter. Find out how it all goes down for Belle, Tom, Emmie, Dylan and Bob. 

On her website, Carrie confesses that she wrote this story using the Alison McGhee method of writing and writing and writing — out of order. Carrie’s editor, Andrew, deems it a sexy way of writing. Cowboy boots and a puppy were also involved. That’s all I can say. You gotta read the book!

     Love (and Other Uses for Duct Tape) by Carrie Jones
                       (Flux, 2008), young adult
So come on, gather round, dip your spoons, and sing Happy Birthday to a very sexy author! SLURP SLURP SLURP!
                  Duct tape, in lieu of crackers, is optional

*This post was brought to you in living color by alphabet soup’s official sponsor, Earth’s Best, who makes the best dang organic alphabet pasta in the world. I just hope Cawwie knows that her beloved Grover has been moonlighting . . .