fiction favorites…Phoebe the Spy

Phoebe the Spy, by Judith Berry Griffin, illustrations by Margot Tomes

In 1776, the year Phoebe Fraunces was thirteen years old, her father gave her a very dangerous job.  Phoebe was going to be a spy.
“What must I do?” [Phoebe] asked.
Her father put down the candlestick and took her hand in his.  “I want you to do a big job, Phoebe,” he said gravely.  “General Washington has let me know he’s arriving in New York with his household in seven days’ time…and I promised to find him a housekeeper.  I want you to live there and be his housekeeper, Phoebe.  I know you will be a good one.  But your real job will be to watch — to listen — to spy out every bit of information you can.  I want you to find out if there is someone planning to kill him and how he plans to do it.  Your real job will be to save General Washington’s life.”

Phoebe Fraunces and her father, Samuel,  are free blacks, living in New York where Samuel owns the Queen’s Head Tavern.  It is 1776, the Revolution is underway, and Washington is living in constant danger from those loyal to the King.  Samuel’s quiet, steady service in his tavern give him many occasions to overhear hushed conversations, and he has discovered a plot on Washington’s life.  The trouble is:  he doesn’t know the identity of the assassin, nor the particulars of the plan.  Phoebe’s job is to go undercover in Washington’s new home, listening and observing keenly in order to discover the enemy in time. 

Essentially a true story, this is a well-written, exciting account of a brave, competent young girl and the heroic role she plays.   Though my library shelves it as nonfiction, its subject index lists it as juvenile fiction.   Obviously the details of the book are imagined by the author, but the story itself is true.  It is a slim book, and quite nicely suited for early independent readers.  I recall my girls reading this one aloud to me around age 7 or 8.  I love the colonial-era ink drawings by Margot Tomes, as well.  You will recognize her fantastic work if you’ve read the witty Colonial biographies by Jean Fritz, which she also illustrated.  Bonus:  If you’re in NYC, you can visit Samuel’s historic tavern, renamed Fraunces Tavern, on Pearl Street!

Here’s an Amazon linkPhoebe the Spy