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Nonfiction Monday: One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy
By Nathan Hale

Amulet (ABRAMS)

ISBN: 9781419703966
Grades 3-6
In Stores August 1, 2012

*Best New Book*

Find it at:
Schuler Books | Your Library

Through my side gig of professional reviewing, I’ve read a lot of nonfiction graphic novels. In terms of quality, let me tell you, the pickings are slim. Some do a decent job, but there are plenty of bland offerings that seem to say “Hey, it has pictures, it has word bubbles – what else do you want?” Enter One Dead Spy (the first of the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series) to blow them all out of the water. Full of thrilling moments, engaging historical information, and boundless creativity, this is what graphic novel nonfiction for kids should be.

Nathan Hale (you know, the “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country” guy) was America’s first spy. His role in the American Revolution was cut short, however, due to the fact that he wasn’t very good at his job. Captured by the British and sentenced to be hanged, Hale is magically given the power to see all of American history. He is able to put off his execution by telling his story and, along the way, the story of the American Revolution.

One Dead Spy has an informality that makes everything accessible. It’s easy to fall into the trap of talking about history in a overly reverent way – “pay attention, youngsters, this is important!” – but Hale’s approach is never pretentious. There’s plenty of humor and amazing moments that nicely ratchet up the tension. Hale has a knack for picking out the parts of the war that highlight just how high the stakes were at this key moment in history.

The book approaches accuracy in a different way. Hale presents the facts to the best of his ability, and makes a point of mentioning when he has taken liberties. Back matter includes biographical information and an illustrated bibliography and a page where you can contact Hale’s team of baby researchers if you notice an error. Yeah, it’s pretty wild. This unique approach makes back matter feel more like “bonus scenes” – here’s guessing kids won’t skip over it.

The use of color is well-considered, with shifting schemes for flashbacks, helping readers. The artwork is bold and clear – well-suited for the small panels. It’s a visually appealing book that will draw young readers.

I’ve seen plenty of completely stale graphic nonfiction. One Dead Spy is anything but. Interesting and entertaining, you best get your hands on this fast.

Review copy from the publisher.

Be sure to check out the Nonfiction Monday roundup at A Curious Thing.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. This sounds great. Your review makes me think it is similar to “How They Croaked”.

  2. I have GOT to get this – it would be a wonderful book to read as a class in social studies.

  3. Hi Travis, this sounds like an amazing book indeed. I like how graphic novels are being increasingly used for nonfiction. Times have changed, indeed. I love your review, it has definitely made me more interested to find this book. Thank you for sharing.