by Selene Castrovilla
Publisher: Calkins Creek Books
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
Awards & Honors
A Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the Year, 2010.
Praise for Upon Secrecy
“I love the way Castrovilla gets inside the heads of real life characters and brings them to life. Right away we are pulled into the story of espionage and the different factions of the Revolutionary War become so real. Upon Secrecy will have you on the edge of your seat – even though you know how it ends! Castrovilla is definitely one of my new favorite historians for children.”
— Jelly Mom Book Reviews
Upon Secrecy by Selene Castrovilla, illustrated by Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson, $17.95 Paging students and teachers studying the American Revolution: Here’s a lively, obscure story that will make you sit up. Castrovilla’s slim book about the Culper spy ring may look like a picture book, but the text would be a great supplement for high school history classes. How these double agents deceived the British and aided the revolutionaries is as fascinating for its imaginative technology, including an invisible ink called “sympathetic stain.” The research behind both text and illustrations is impeccable. Ages 8 and up.
— The Denver Post
Selene Castrovilla’s book takes kids inside the Revolutionary War, as members of George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring eavesdrop on the British, write secret messages, and fend off highway robbers to deliver them. The gripping narrative keeps the tension alive, while period details and historically accurate illustrations give young readers an up-close experience of the war.
George Washington needs trustworthy, quick-acting spies if America is to rout the British from New York. He directs Major Benjamin Tallmadge to recruit a group of spies, later called the Culper Spy Ring. The Ring’s pivotal member is Robert Townsend, a writer for a loyalist newspaper and a native New Yorker. Who could be more perfect?
Selene Castrovilla’sUpon Secrecy, illustrated in rich detail by Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson, tells the story of the Culper Spy Ring, which conveyed messages relating British activities and plans between Townsend and Washington. With the help of fellow spies Austin Roe, Abraham Woodhull, and Caleb Brewster, Washington thwarted British plans for attacking the French, America’s allies. The French fleet arrived safely, well before the British realized they were duped by false, planted information.
This engaging, well-written book addresses the emotions of the persons involved as well: George Washington’s frustration, Townsend’s guilty conscience at his involvement, and the trepidation of the other spies. One caution for teachers and parents: the book subtly implies Divine direction and promotes nationalism. Properly presented in context with the ideology of the period, however, this is unlikely to prove a problem.
Pre-teens in particular will benefit from the history lessons in two books from Calkins Creek, a Honesdale, PA publisher. Both are by Selene Castrovilla. By the Sword ($17.95) is about the Revolutionary War and the adventures of a young teacher who sacrifices his career to join George Washington’s army, engaging in the Battle of Long Island. Beautifully illustrated by Bill Farnsworth, it is a great way for a young reader, aged 7-10, to learn about the Revolution while being entertained by a first class story. Her other book, Upon Secrecy ($17.95) deals with the end of the Revolutionary War as the French fleet is soon to arrive and bottle up the British at Yorktown. Keeping it a secret, yet knowing of their arrival is essential to Washington and trusted spies aid him. Illustrated by Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson, this too is history at its best for the younger reader.
— Book Reviews by Alan Caruba
I am constantly surprised by how after so many years of learning the Revolution there can still be significant stories that escaped me. Selene Castrovilla highlights one of those tales in her new picture book for middle grade readers, Upon Secrecy… I have no idea why we take so much interest in outright myths like Betsy Ross’s flag or repeats of stories we know by heart (Paul Revere’s ride, the Tea Party, the Delaware Crossing, etc.) when something as stirring as the Culper Spy Ring remains under reported. Kudos to Castrovilla for finding a way to bring a bit of their story to light for younger readers and to Calkins Creek for recognizing something wonderful when they saw it.
— Colleen Mondor, Eclectica Magazineit.
You Say You Want a Revolution?
The American Revolution gave birth to a new country, but now, more than 200 years later, so many stories of this incredible time in history are yet untold. Most of us know about Paul Revere, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and perhaps even Molly Pitcher, but what of the smaller, yet equally important roles played by American Patriots?
Enter author/researcher Selene Castrovilla and her two incredible American Revolution picture books: By the Sword￼￼ and Upon Secrecy.
By the Sword: A Young Man Meets War￼￼ tells the true tale of Benjamin Tallmadge’s first wartime experiences during the battle of Long Island, where Washington’s troops were just barely able to escape their ruthless British and Hessian adversaries. Upon Secrecy￼￼ relates Tallmadge’s later involvement with Washington’s Culper Spy Ring. It was Tallmadge and a “Loyalist” Quaker spy named Robert Townsend who were able to trick the British into defending New York City against an attack that never came; this ruse, in turn, kept the British from attacking landing French troops who had come to General Washington’s much needed aid.
I love both books for a number of reasons. First, they provide just enough information to set the scene for the reader. Each then tells one really good story, within the context of the larger conflict. The language of the stories is well-crafted, full of literary devices, and with an eye for accuracy. We can feel the urgency of the situations. But what’s best of all, in my opinion, is that both stories, while complete in themselves, are followed up with a number of historical notes, time lines, and related resources. Therefore when students ask questions about details in the story, the teacher is armed with some answers. Questions such as What happened to him after the war? and If the spy ring was a secret, then how did the author write about it? and Is this story totally true? are easily answered. At the same time, however, the author provides some pointers on where to go next if the reader wants to discover more on each book’s topics.
I’ve always used a number of picture books in my introduction to the American Revolution to help students visualize the clothing, setting, and lifestyle of the period. In this area these books don’t disappoint. Illustrators Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson (Upon Secrecy) and Bill Farnsworth (By the Sword) visited libraries, historical sites, and costume shops. Period portraits were consulted for illustrations depicting actual people. Paintings for both books were then reviewed for accuracy by scholars specializing in this era.
— Teach With Picture Books