Great Illustrated Books

One Dead Spy

By Nathan Hale

Amulet/Abrams, 2012
Pages : 128
Suggested Ages: 9-12
ISBN: 9781419703966

September 22, 1776, Manhattan, New York -- the day Captain Nathan Hale is to be hanged as a spy. A delay (the British Provost has misplaced the orders) gives Hale a chance for “last words” -- words that will make the history books:  “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”  

But more than that, in this history told in illustrated panels, the delay allows a buzzard to interrupt the hanging and Hale to be swallowed up by the “Big Huge Book of American History.” There he sees long into the future of the not-yet-born nation setting the stage for this series by a modern Nathan Hale (a coincidental name), author and graphic artist.  

In this first volume, Captain Hale gives us a detailed account of the beginning years of the American Revolution – the battles, the struggles, and the personalities – in a captivating storyteller’s voice and character-filled panels sure to hold kids’ interest page by page, incident by incident.  Interspersed are scenes that return to the gallows -- where an easily-distracted British officer and a bumbling hangman – both who love a good story – decide not to stop Hale’s narrative with something as trivial as a hanging. Not quite yet, anyway.

Figures often skimmed over in other books about the Revolution are all here, fleshed out: Henry Knox, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, Stephen Hempstead, Benedict Arnold, and others. Details of battles, intrigue, strategies add depth to the story.

“A little more biographical info about…” section follows.  It includes paintings of the characters, along with thumbnail biographies that will lead readers to more research, a mini comic about Crispus Attucks, and a “correction baby” section, where the author confesses to have used just a bit of “artistic license.”

Here’s history with an emphasis on story; history that is fun, nail-biting suspenseful, and satisfying to read.

Take a page from Nathan Hale’s (the author-artist’s) book:  have students do some follow up research on any of the historical figures or events that interest them in One Dead Spy and then create their own four-page comic about them or it.  Circulate their books among their classmates.  

Reviewed by : LLW

Themes : U.S. History; Battles and War; Graphic Novels; Massachusetts; New York City

If you love this book, then try:

Hale, Nathan. Big Bad Ironclad! Amulet, 2012.

Fleming, Candace. Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Schwartz & Wade, 2011.

Stead, Rebecca. Liar and Spy. Wendy Lamb Books, 2012.

Critics have said

"The self-aware qualities of the book are sure to secure an audience. The way the graphic novel format invigorates American history will appeal to a variety of readers, even those not already committed to graphic novel storytelling."

"An innovative approach to history that will have young people reading with pleasure."
Kirkus Reviews

"Readers interested in American history will enjoy these graphic novels... Comic panels of varying sizes enhance the real-life events and support the stories�� over-the-top humor... the writing is accessible and entertaining; author Hale��s style gives readers an insider-y, you-are-there-type scoop."
Horn book