The Clothesline Code by Janet Halfmann


Right in time to celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day January 29, 2021 and Black History Month, we have  The Clothesline Code: The Story of Civil War Spies Lucy Ann and Dabney Walker* by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Trisha Mason, releasing February 1, 2021.

About the Book

This book reads like a spy thriller for kids. During the Civil War in early 1863, escaped slaves Lucy Ann and Dabney Walker decided to help others become free by spying for the Union army. Their plan was for Lucy Ann to sneak into Confederate territory to learn military secrets, then signal to Dabney. He would take the information she gathered to the Union army. But how could they pass the intelligence without alerting the Confederates what they were up to? They would be killed on the spot if they were found out. Without giving up too much, the couple devised a code using the patterns of laundry on a clothesline, which allowed the signals to be hidden in plain sight.

Included in the back matter is an extensive, detailed “Afterword”and “Reference for Quotes.” It reveals how deeply the author did her research.


Oral histories have suggested that slaves may have signaled to one another using quilts hung on clotheslines, but historians have questioned this because of lack of written evidence. For this book, Halfmann has done the research into primary documents to prove that this is a true story.  Although based on facts, Janet writes in the “Author’s Note” that she did imagine some scenes to make the story more readable.

Leafing through the pages, educators may wonder whether this is a picture book or a chapter book. The quantity and density of the text, plus the fact that the story stands well without the illustrations, pushes it into the chapter book side to me. However, the publisher identifies it as a picture book.  What do you think?

In any case, The Clothesline Code is will excite young historians and budding secret agents alike. Investigate a copy today!

Related Activities:

  1. Explore codes

What is more fun than sending a secret message to your friend in code?


  • Paper
  • Colored pencils, markers, or crayons
  • Copy of the International Code of Signals (below or at Wikimedia)
  • Ruler (optional)

Lucy Ann and Dabney Walker devised their clothesline code based on a flag code that Dabney knew. Using the International Code of Signals, draw the flags to spell out your name or a secret message. See if others can figure out what you wrote.

Want more? Melissa and Doug have a collection of six kid-friendly codes to try.

Or challenge yourself, and devise your own code.

2. Read some other books by Janet Halfmann for Black History Month

Author Janet Halfmann has an astute eye for discovering lesser-told stories that will excite young readers. Previously we’ve reviewed her chapter book, The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls (review), which is a finalist for a Cybils award in the Elementary Nonfiction category, in addition to Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School (review) which has received numerous awards, including the 2019 Carter G. Woodson Honor Award from the National Council for Social Studies.

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Reading age : 6 – 11 years
Publisher : Brandylane Publishers, Inc. (February 1, 2021)
ISBN-10 : 1951565576
ISBN-13 : 978-1951565572

Disclosure: The book was donated electronically for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Don’t forget to check out Multicultural Children’s Book Day January 29, 2021  #ReadYourWorld and stop by here for more diverse books.

2021 ALA Youth Media Winners Announced #Kidlit

Social media is all abuzz with the 2021 ALA Youth Media award announcements.

Turns out I have picked three of the picture book winners to review this year.

The 2021 Randolph Caldecott Medal

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade – review

Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award

RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Frank Morrison.- review

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann – review

Congratulations to all the winning authors and illustrators.

Nonfiction picture books did well this year! Yay!


#Nonfiction Monday #Kidlit: Ocean Waves for All

Today we are featuring the nonfiction picture book, Ocean! Waves for All by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by David Litchfield. This book is part of the Our Universe Series published by Henry Holt and Co.

As with the other books in the series, Ocean! is narrated in the first person. The tone is lighthearted and conversational, including words like ‘bro’ and ‘righteous’.

Dude, I am Ocean.

The tone might be light, but the facts are deep. For example, did you know that more people have visited space than the deepest parts of the ocean?

David Litchfield’s illustrations are as big and vibrant as the ocean itself. They are packed full of emotion and creativity. To coincide with the first person voice, the ocean has a floating face with eyes, nose, and mouth.

The back matter includes a note from the author, a discussion about how the ocean is really global — the names don’t reflect real boundaries, “Ocean by the Numbers,” a Q-and-A with Ocean, a list ways to be a friend to Ocean, and “Sources.”

Overall, Ocean! represents a new “wave” of picture books that push the boundary between fiction and nonfiction in interesting ways. Get on board and check out a copy today!


Check out this interview with the author and illustrator. They are energetic and fun.

Note:  Stacey’s latest, Mars! Earthlings Welcome (Our Universe, 5)  comes out February 23, 2021.

Growing with Science Blog has a week of Ocean science books and activities for kids.

Want more information? Try our growing list of Children’s STEAM books about the ocean at Science Books for Kids.


Reading age : 4 – 8 years
Publisher : Henry Holt and Co. (May 5, 2020)
ISBN-10 : 1250108098
ISBN-13 : 978-1250108098

Disclosure: The book was provided by my local library. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Looking for more children’s nonfiction books? Try the Nonfiction Monday blog.

Let The Marketing Journey Begin

So excited and a bit intimidated. Starting out the New Year with a journey to reveal my new picture book, How to Build an Insect  illustrated by Anne Lambelet, to the world. It’s coming out April 6, 2021, which suddenly seems right around the corner!

First step was to add the cover image to my Twitter accounts. Here is the new header for @RobertaGibson.

What do you think? Does it catch your eye? Any suggestions?

I just made a to do list with over 20 items on it. Next, I have to update my website. Wish me luck!

Regular followers:  Would it be helpful for you if I posted about some of the steps in the marketing process like this? 


(*Amazon Affiliate Link – Preorder is now available)

Or preorder at Lerner.