Note: I received a digital copy of the book for review consideration.
Cloaked in Courage by Beth Anderson, illustrated by Anne Lamelet (Calkins Creek, 2022) tells the unique story of Deborah Sampson, a woman who pretended to be a man and joined the army during the Revolutionary War to help fight for freedom. Subtitled Uncovering Deborah Sampson, Patriot Soldier, Anderson’s book is a high-quality nonfiction picture book for young children.
Cloaked in Courage shows the spirited way Deborah rose about her challenging circumstances and did what women were not expected to do. The best part is, with the author’s extensive bibliography, I know that anything mentioned in this book is also true. I love how there are now so many picture books about independent women of the past. I don’t remember learning about women during the Revolutionary War when I was in school, and now Deborah’s story can be told along with the stories of others who fought in the war.
In fact, I had heard of Deborah Sampson, but only as an adult. Last year I found and read an early chapter book about Deborah Sampson. My daughter and I studied the Revolutionary War, and I was excited to find a book about a woman. While I enjoyed Deborah’s story in that book, I was immensely disappointed that there was no information about Deborah at the end of it. I wondered how much of it was true. The book had been written with dialogue and plenty of action, so it really reflected more as a historical fiction novel.
Cloaked in Courage has a completely different feel. It was Deborah’s story. But it also provides a nice silent refrain about her growth — growing spirit, growing persistence, growing boldness, and growing determination. In fact, with every reread I found more positive character traits to assign to Deborah: integrity, excellence, boundless spirit, and honor.
Deborah Sampson was not privileged in life, but once she decided to move forward she did. Although she was rather quickly discovered to be a woman upon her first enlistment, she tried again. She trained well, improved, fought hard, and volunteered for extra work. She came with her height (an advantage to looking like a young man), her strong work ethic (from her many years of working for others as a servant), and her determination not to give up her own freedom.
Although only a few speech bubbles provide dialog, the story still reads like a story, not a report: “Deborah dug into her flesh, probing for the musket ball.” There is action in the text, and her true story is full of action too. The author did a great job of making this true story fit the right tone needed for children. It’s not always the case that a nonfiction picture book would work well for a read-aloud, but this one would. I’m so excited to recommend it along with my American history lessons (at Line upon Line Learning).