Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales
by Nathan Hale
Vol. 1: One Dead Spy 978-1-4197-0396-6. 128 pp.
Vol. 2: Big Bad Ironclad 978-1-4197-0395-9. 128 pp.
Published by Amulet Books, 2012
Recommended for grades 5-8
“I regret that I have but one life to live for my country.”
And with his famous last words, Nathan Hale, spy for the American War of Independence was hanged. With his death he became a martyr for our country and a symbol of resistance. That wasn’t the end of Nathan Hale though. Did you know that before being hanged, he was gobbled up by a gigantic Big Huge Book of American History where he gained knowledge of our country’s entire future? With his traveling companions The Hangman and a straight-laced British soldier, Nathan Hale regales tales of true American history with a touch of humor along the way in Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, written and illustrated by another Nathan Hale (illustrator of Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack). The first two volumes—One Dead Spy and Big Bad Ironclad—were published by Amulet Books.
In One Dead Spy, we’re introduced to the main character of the series, the real American spy Nathan Hale, whose exploits we see in the first volume. He’s the hero of the series and admittedly wasn’t the best spy. The best spies are never caught. He’s joined on his adventures with the Hangman (the comedy relief) who will eventually hang him, and a British soldier (the straight man) who was there to witness to Nathan’s execution. When Nathan begins to tell the tale of his youth and how he became a spy, they jump into history itself and see America’s past, present, and future at any point in time and the millions of people who helped to shape our country. In One Dead Spy, we learn about the life of Nathan Hale and how he became a spy, and how America was able to fight the British with barely enough troops with the aid of other important figures in American history including Henry Knox, Thomas Knowlton, Ethan Allen, Crispus Attucks, and more.
In Big Bad Ironclad, Nathan and his companions journey to the American Civil War, where the North and South were in competition to make the best ship covered in iron. Along for the adventure are the true stories of heroism, adventure, and derring-do from important men like William Barker Cushing, John Ericsson, Gideon Welles, Stephen Russell Mallory, Gustavus Fox (humorously portrayed in the book as a fox), and more.
Nathan Hale has a great grasp of creating engaging historical adventure and humor. Previously, he has been known mainly for the artwork in the excellent Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack books, but in this series he really shines as a creator. The character of The Hangman is a riot and acts with innocent glee when looking at American history, saying silly phrases like “Give me a sandwich or give me death!” or making comments that will make most 5th graders howl with laughter (such as talking about potties on an ironclad ship). He’s purely in the books for laughs as the simple-minded pun-throwing comedy relief, and he’s going to be the breakout character in the series.
The stoic British soldier is the counterpoint to the Hangman. He’s uptight, serious-minded, and righteous in his cause to fight against the revolution. He’s the disbeliever of the group in America’s progress and loves to hear the parts of American history when the British win. Also, he’s ready to send Nathan Hale to the gallows, so Nathan had better keep on telling tales of American history or else it’s curtains for him!
The books have two-color illustrations—they are done in grey tones with each volume featuring a different color to highlight the text balloons and background colors. Red is used in the first volume—possibly to show the human blood and sacrifice that it cost our country to earn its independence—and blue is used in Big Bad Ironclad to possibly showcase the battles on water.
The books have a lot of interesting facts about American history that are neither boring nor dry. I’m not a historian by any stretch of the imagination, but I found the history of Nathan Hale, from his youth to his capture as a spy, compelling. The war to create ironclad warships was equally fascinating and should capture the interest of boys and girls looking for a fun way to learn history. The books are also well researched, and each volume includes a works cited page, short biographies of some of the people featured in each volume, as well as a humorous claim that the series was researched by babies.
With Nathan, the Hangman, and the British Soldier, the mix of humor, adventure, and historical facts makes this an engaging historical series, and I can’t recommend it high enough for all libraries. I’m looking forward to seeing the next volume as soon as possible.