Virginia Hall was born in 1906 on her family’s farm in Baltimore, Maryland. In school she excelled in languages and hoped to become a government diplomat.
In the 1930s while working as an embassy clerk in Turkey, she lost her left leg below the knee after a hunting accident. Thereafter she wore a wooden prosthetic attached to her thigh. She accepted another clerkship in Italy where she was working when World War II started. Virginia made her way to London and trained with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), which was a secret agency coordinating sabotage, rescue, and spying missions in occupied Europe.
As each episode in Virginia’s life is presented, along with horrific setbacks and obstacles, the author repeats the refrain, “Virginia was Virginia,” accentuating her persistence and valor.
In August 1941 Virginia became the first female SOE agent sent into France. In 1944 she directed nearly 1500 resistance fighters in acts of sabotage. In the Afterword the author tells us:
“For her heroic actions in supporting the liberation of France, Virginia was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. She was one of only three U.S. civilians and the only woman to receive the prestigious honor for service during World War II.”
In 1951 Virginia became one of the first female officers at the CIA. She retired in 1966 and until her death, the author writes, she enjoyed reading spy novels, inter alia.
Good story aside, Gary Kelley’s pastel illustrations are exceptional as always, not only for their realism but for their beauty and ability to engage the emotions of the viewer.
If adults are interested in pursuing her story, they can find an excellent biography by Sonia Purnell: A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, published by Viking, 2019.
Evaluation: This inspiring biography for ages 6 and up has a number of lessons to impart, including the dangers (rather than oft-touted “glamour”) of wartime and the ways in which a disability doesn’t necessarily mean one cannot live a full life making many contributions to the welfare of others. And frankly, even aside from the story, any book illustrated by Gary Kelley is worth perusing for the art.
Published by Creative Editions, an imprint of the Creative Company, 2020