Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale
May 13, 2016
I first heard about Nathan Hale's historical fiction series a few years ago. At the time, I hadn't yet overcome my fear of graphic novels, and so I wasn't interested in trying it. A few months later, I heard about them again and thought they might be good for Aaron at some point down the road. And then awhile after that, they popped up again, and this time I knew Aaron would like them (he's really been into comics lately), but I thought I'd like to give them a try too . . . if only I had the time.
And then I remembered: Wait, I have a goal for that: "Read six books with Aaron." That was all I needed; I had the first book in the series checked out the next week.
I admit it's kind of silly that goals grant me permission to read books I might not pick up otherwise, but hey, it works. And I've really been loving this goal in particular because it's helped me become more familiar with the books that appeal to second-grade boys.
This one, I have to admit, was pretty awesome. It stars Nathan Hale (not the author, but the Revolutionary War spy). When the story opens, he is about to be hanged because, spoiler, the British caught him. But first, he takes the reader back in time to various events in the war prior to his untimely death.
The dialogue is, of course, all made up (except for a couple of salty lines from Ethan Allen, leader of the Green Mountain Boys, which are, apparently, the real deal). And the whole account is treated with probably just a little too much humor and irreverence for something as serious as war.
But I really loved it so much. I know I'm an adult, but it honestly made this war come alive for me in a different way than it ever has before.
Take Henry Knox, for example. I've heard his name many times in various books and history texts, but if you had asked me a week ago what he did, or even which war he served in, I don't think I could have told you. Now, of course, it's fresh in my mind because I just read this book, but I honestly don't think I'll ever be able to hear his name again without thinking, Knox the Ox! That's the guy who loves guns!
And that part's true. Henry Knox really was the chief of artillery for the whole army. He really did move sixty cannons across the Hudson River in the middle of December. He really did save one of those cannons from sinking in the icy water when everyone else would have counted it as a loss. And although he didn't have all of the conversations and interactions that are portrayed in this book and probably didn't act quite so much like a ten-year-old boy with a vast number of weapons at his disposal, I have to hope that his exuberant and endlessly optimistic personality were authentic.
Everything about this book was enjoyable, even the acknowledgements at the back of the book, which were also done in a comic strip style. I mean, who even reads the acknowledgements in most books? (Okay, confession, I often do.) But these ones were downright hilarious and had me laughing out loud. (This exchange between the author and one of his baby researchers (don't ask . . . ): Baby: "You need a college degree to get the original documents. Do you have one?" Nathan: "I did a year of art school." Baby: "Wow. I'm sure the job offers just pour in." I just about died.)
I've come such a long way since I read my first graphic novel three years ago (which, interestingly, was also illustrated by Nathan Hale). I've seen how my own kids are drawn to this genre, and because I've tried it out myself, I feel like I can better guide their interest instead of trying to steer them towards other "real" books. And now that I've found a series where we can work in a little history at the same time, I have a feeling we're on our way to more good things.
Have you read any of Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales? Know of any other great graphic novels that we should check out?