Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender: The True Story of a Civil War Spy


Sarah Emma Edmonds started pretending at a very early age. Her father only wanted sons, so Sarah pretended to be one. Unlike most kids, though, Sarah never really stopped pretending. In 1861, during the U.S. Civil War, Sarah pretended her way into the Union Army, becoming a male nurse named Frank Thompson. Being a nurse didn't quite satisfy "Frank," though. She wanted to keep her fellow soldiers from getting hurt. So when the Union Army needed a spy, she leapt at the chance. While still pretending to be Frank, ...

See more details below
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (9) from $3.11   
  • New (5) from $14.84   
  • Used (4) from $3.11   
Note: Kids' Club Eligible. See More Details.
Sending request ...


Sarah Emma Edmonds started pretending at a very early age. Her father only wanted sons, so Sarah pretended to be one. Unlike most kids, though, Sarah never really stopped pretending. In 1861, during the U.S. Civil War, Sarah pretended her way into the Union Army, becoming a male nurse named Frank Thompson. Being a nurse didn't quite satisfy "Frank," though. She wanted to keep her fellow soldiers from getting hurt. So when the Union Army needed a spy, she leapt at the chance. While still pretending to be Frank, Sarah also pretended to be a male African American slave, a female Irish peddler, and a female African American laundress. She slipped behind enemy lines time after time, spied on the Confederate Army, and brought back valuable intelligence to the Union. Sarah was not only good at pretending; she was also very brave. Later in life, Sarah Emma Edmonds wrote a book to tell her story. She explained, "I am naturally fond of adventure, a little ambitious, and a good deal romantic." She was also truly a great pretender.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Jones makes a confident departure from her bestselling YA novels with an entertaining and powerful Civil War–era story about living by one's own rules. Realizing she would never satisfy her father's desire for a son, teenage Sarah Emma Edmonds fled from Canada to America where she assumed the identity of Frank Thompson. Edwards then joined the Union Army, first as a male nurse, then as a spy, passing herself off as a slave and, later, as an Irish peddler: "She was a woman (Sarah) pretending to be a man (Frank) pretending to be a woman (Bridget)." In Oldroyd's full-bleed spreads, characterized by strong cross-hatching and angular shapes, Edmonds's eyes twinkle with her secret knowledge, while Jones delivers her story with the assuredness of a natural storyteller. Ages 7–11. (Apr.)
School Library Journal
Gr 1–4—The cover portraits cleverly introduce the book's topic. The front shows a person in a Civil War Union uniform, winking, with one hand hidden. The back presents a rear view of the same figure but now her fingers are shown to be crossed. Below the uniform, a skirt and parasol are displayed. As a teenager in the 1850s, Edmonds ran away from her abusive father and native Canada to come to the United States. Being on her own, she found it safer and easier to dress as a man. When the Civil War began, she is quoted as saying that patriotism was her primary impulse for enlisting in the Union army as "Frank Thompson," then working as a nurse and a spy. Her practice at pretending served her well as she once again changed her name and took on various new identities behind enemy lines. Using an informal, conversational style, Jones succeeds in keeping the complicated narrative at a level appropriate for young readers. Based on Edmonds's own writings as well as secondary sources, the book presents a believable account of the woman's actions. While some speculation is included as to her motivations, the text makes clear what is known and what is not. The illustrations portray Edmonds's feelings through her expressions and provide a visual context for readers. Employing a palette heavy on blues, yellows, and greens, with white outlining for emphasis, the pictures are impressionistic with realistic details. An unusual heroine, Edmonds will capture readers' attention.—Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780761353997
  • Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/2011
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 1,428,009
  • Age range: 7 - 11 Years
  • Lexile: 780L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 11.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Carrie Jones

Mark Oldroyd lives in the small town of Battle in England. Mark is well known for his atmospheric, detailed illustrative style and his beautiful sense of color and composition.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 21, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A fascinating story of Sarah Emma Edmonds

    Sarah Emma wasn't really a boy, but she pretended to be because she wanted to please her father. He was really mean to her and "she thought if she were a boy he might like her." It wasn't going to happen because he was abusive and nothing she could do would ever change the way he felt about her. Sarah was really, really good at pretending and eventually that talent would come in mighty handy, but in the meantime she'd have to put up with that big old accusing finger pointing at her. She knew that being a "pretend boy" would never make him happy so when she was a teenager she decided to run away. Being a runaway teen from Canada wasn't going to help her eat and so she started selling Bibles. It wasn't safe for women to roam the countryside in the 1850s so she decided to pretend again. This time she "bought men's clothes and cut her hair." Sarah, or Frank Thompson as she was now known, began her new life in the United States. Soon the Civil War began to roil around the country and in 1861 she thought to herself, "What can I do? What part am I to act in this great drama?" She pensively put her hand to her chin and decided that she would try to join the Union only to be rejected for being "too small." There was no doubt she would try again. Finally, when she was able to enlist Sarah became a nurse in the Second Volunteers of the United States Army. They were headed to the South where the fighting was fierce. As Sarah stood outside a tent watching someone being operated on, she once again grew pensive. There was a great need for someone to spy because a Union soldier had just been captured. Sarah was still Frank, but she was also a great pretender. Could she possibly pretend enough to get the job? If she got it, would she be able to help the Union ferret out the "plans of the Confederate Army?" Sarah later wrote her biography and snippets of it are interspersed throughout the text, adding a nice touch to the tale. For example, when asked about her pretending to be a soldier, she states: "I am naturally fond of adventure, [I am] a little ambitious, and a good deal romantic--but patriotism was the true secret of my success." The story is well written and kept my interest from the first page to the last. The artwork was detailed, expressive, and captured the emotional nature of this "great pretender." The little real life twist at the end was surprising and will bring a smile to the young reader's face. In the back of the book is a selected bibliography, a photograph of Sarah posing as Frank, and a brief biographical sketch and conjecture as to her motivation for pretending to be a man. Quill says: This is a fascinating story of Sarah Emma Edmonds, who pretended to be a man during the Civil War.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 29, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    fascinating story

    My children and I recently read Carrie Jones's book, Sarah Emma Edmonds was a Great Pretender. I have to admit that I wasn't overly enamoured by either the writing nor the illustrations. However, the story of Sarah Emma Edmonds is fascinating.

    Born in the mid 1800's, Sarah was born a girl, which was enough of a strike against her. At the age of 16, she ran away to the States. Unable to support herself selling door to door as a woman, she disguised herself as a man. When she heard that the Union Army needed recruits, she signed up. She became a male nurse in the army and later went on to have a successful career as an army spy, all under the guise of her male persona, playing numerous characters, including both male and female, caucasian and African-American. The story prompted our family to learn more about the courageous young woman.

    Disclaimer: A complimentary copy was provided by Lerner Publishing Group.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)