Walsh (I Am Defiance) again brings a powerful woman from history to life with this middle-grade adventure featuring 16-year-old Revolutionary War hero Sybil Ludington. Based on true events, By the Light of Fireflies takes on George Washington’s inner spy ring in the heat of the battle between Patriots and Loyalists, spotlighting the role that young Sybil played during an all night, 40-mile ride through colonists’ territory to muster the militia against an impending British attack. In Walsh’s spirited depiction, Sybil is a courageous, quick-thinking Patriot who dreams of growing up to be something more than a farmer’s wife–and realizes that ambition is within her reach through the fight to advance the revolutionary cause.
Sybil’s father, Henry Ludington, is a Loyalist captain in name only and spends his free time helping Patriots spy on the British. When pressures mount, he enlists Sybil and her sister, Rebecca, to help decipher code written with invisible ink on letters bearing crucial information about the British army, its troops, and their planned maneuvers. This opportunity is a dream come true for Sybil, who idolizes Paul Revere and hopes for her own chance to prove her mettle–a chance that emerges when she gets asked to ride all night in a terrifying crusade to save her family and her country. “I didn’t realize it was weird for me to want to be brave or daring or courageous like a man was,” she memorably declares.
Walsh’s easy, flowing prose breathes life into colonial America. Readers will find themselves in the thick of the Revolutionary War as well as eighteenth-century living: Walsh uses period appropriate language (“Mama shook her head bigly”) and detail, such as a family strategy game of “Nine Man’s Morrice in the parlor,” to capture the feeling of the past, and her handling of the long ride is crisp and suspenseful. History-minded young readers will be roused by this stouthearted protagonist’s unflinching dedication.
Takeaway: Middle-grade historical fiction fans will be swept up in the bravery of one young woman’s fight to save her country against a British attack.
Great for fans of: Celeste Lim’s The Crystal Ribbon, Pam Munoz Ryan’s Riding Freedom, Augusta Scattergood’s Glory Be.
Production grades Cover: A Design and typography: A Illustrations: N/A Editing: A Marketing copy: A
Gr 5–8—Sybil Ludington, a young girl growing up in colonial America, wishes she were a boy. Her father, a leader in New York State's early efforts for independence, inspires her with stories about Paul Revere's ride and the night when a cloud of fireflies guided him out of the woods and into safety. As the oldest child in a large growing family, Sybil's future appears limited to marriage and family, doing much the same work she currently does now. But circumstances change. First, one night when she can't sleep, a swarm of fireflies guides Sybil to a young abandoned foal. Fortunately, her parents allow her to keep the horse and she names him Star. Then, the fight for American independence becomes more organized and dangerous. Sybil's father has a bounty offered by the British on his head, so he must elicit the help of Sybil and her younger sister Rebecca to become spies in the colonial network. The girls ride patrols with Star, decode secret messages, and send messages via laundry and lamp light. One night, Sybil rides 40 miles with Star, summoning troops to report for duty before a major battle. She completes the journey, proving that not only men and boys can serve their fledgling democracy. Loosely based on historical writings and a 1907 memoir, Walsh creates a riveting story that reminds young readers that the quest for independence often meant life-threatening dangers for both the colonial militia and their families. The description of secret communication codes, such as invisible ink, and historical facts about the American Revolution, make this a book that young readers will enjoy. VERDICT With short chapters, a suspenseful plot, and a variety of real-life historical characters, this book is perfect for younger readers. Libraries looking to update their historical fiction collections related to the American Revolution will want to consider this title.—Anne Jung-Mathews, Plymouth State Univ., NH