Today’s featured picture book biography is Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Brooke Smart.

About the Book

Elizebeth Friedman was brilliant at cracking codes, but her story has been unknown for years because her work was classified. When her papers were declassified in 2015, the general public learned that during the years around World Wars I and II she uncovered spy rings, took down smugglers, and created the first cryptology unit for the CIA (at the time called the OSS).

How did Elizebeth Friedman become a code breaker? It started with a gift for languages.

After she finished college, an eccentric, wealthy man hired her to look for hidden passages in Shakespeare’s writing, ones that would give clues to who the true author was. From there, her interest in codes blossomed.

In addition to the fascinating story of Elizebeth Friedman, the book has enough back matter to satisfy the curiosity of future cryptographers. It includes information about “Codes and Ciphers”, a “Crack the Code!” activity, an entire page of information about “Cryptography Today,” a “Timeline”, “Selected Bibliography”, and historical “Notes.” There are so many pages that it flows out into the end papers.

Top Secret:  Do you see those ribbons of letters on the cover? Laurie Wallmark reveals (in an interview) that those are messages written in code! The coded ribbons can also be found in some of the illustrations. Can you figure out what they say? The back matter may help.


Regular blog readers may be wondering how does cryptology relate to STEM? Actually it can be considered a form of applied mathematics. Code breakers look for patterns, a skill that is also useful in science (NGSS Crosscutting Concept). According to the book, when Elizebeth was assembling people for her code-breaking unit:

“She couldn’t find enough people trained in cryptology, so she hired mathematicians, physicists and chemists. She knew scientists could think analytically, a skill needed for code breaking.”

All in all, Code Breaker, Spy Hunter is a perfect choice for future spies, budding STEM enthusiasts, and up-and-coming historians alike. Examine a copy today!

Related Activity Suggestions:

  1. Check out the Code Breaker, Spy Hunter book page, where you’ll find a trailer, cool activity sheets, and more.
  2. Visit Wrapped in Foil blog for The Clothesline Code picture book about two ingenious Civil War spies who devised a code using the pattern of clothes drying on a clothesline (also with a flag code activity suggestion).
  3. To celebrate Women’s History Month, find more biographies of Women in STEM and Women Who Count at Science Books for Kids.

About the Creators:

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark has written picture-book biographies of women in STEM fields ranging from computer science to mathematics, astronomy to code breaking. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Cook Prize Honor, and Parents’; Choice Gold Medal. She is a former software engineer and computer science professor. She lives in Ringoes, New Jersey. You can find her website at
On Twitter: @lauriewallmark
Facebook: @lauriewallmarkauthor
Instagram: @lauriewallmark

Brooke Smart loves telling stories through her illustrations, especially stories about brave women from history. She has always loved to read, and growing up she could be found nightly falling asleep with a book on her chest. Illustrating books as a professional artist is a lifelong dream come true. She is living the busy, tired, happy, wonderful dream in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, their three kids, and their naughty cat named Sunshine. Learn more about her at
Instagram: @bookesmartillustration


Reading age : 7 – 11 years
Publisher : Harry N Abrams Inc; Illustrated edition (March 2, 2021)
ISBN-10 : 1419739638
ISBN-13 : 978-1419739637

Disclosure: This book was provided by Blue Slip Media for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.