A Spy Called James

The True Story of James Armistead Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent

Illustrator: Floyd Cooper

Binding: Hardcover

Imprint: Carolrhoda Books - Lerner Publishing Group

Age 7+

Picture Books

The true story of James Armistead Lafayette-a slave who spied for George Washington's army during the Revolutionary War-told for the first time in picture book form.

Near the end of the American Revolution, there were actually two double agents in Lord Cornwallis' camp near Yorktown, VA One of them was Benedict Arnold, who was notorious. The other was James Armistead Lafayette, who was successful - and a slave.


Anne Rockwell is an author and illustrator of more than one hundred works of fiction and nonfiction for children over a career that spans six decades. She rs the author of Hey, Charleston!: The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band which was a Junior Library Guild Selection and was awarded a Moonbeam Children's Book Bronze Medal. She is also the author of Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth, which won a Coretta Scott King honor for R. Gregory Christie's illustrations. She lives in Stamford, Connecticut. Visit her online at

Floyd Cooper is a Coretta Scott King Award winner and the illustrator of Ruth and the Green Book. Floyd received a degree in fine arts from the University of Oklahoma. He lives in Easton, Pennsylvania.


With a compelling story and appealing artwork, this inviting foray into American history will catch the attention of many readers.


Rockwell’s detailed yet accessible text is perfectly matched with Cooper’s exceptional oil paintings in this picture book biography. Using a muted color palette and done in a grainy style, the art imparts a sense of historical drama in each spread and expertly draws readers into James Lafayette’s remarkable story.

School Library Journal

Rockwell’s succinct, second-sixth grade non-fiction read-aloud concerns James, an enslaved man living in Virginia during the American Revolution and his work as a double agent. James’s spying and misinformation were key in the pivotal loss General Cornwallis took at Yorktown. Floyd Cooper’s artwork is sensational and atmospheric, starting with the striking image on the cover. He excels at depicting light and capturing meaningful facial expressions. His illustrations expand upon Rockwell’s interesting and well-pitched narrative. In one memorable spread, James savors the moment where Cornwallis realizes who has deceived him. The afterword examines some of the fascinating tidbits researchers have gleaned about James, who adopted the last name Lafayette in honor of the revolutionary commander essential in his attainment of freedom (“Hamilton” tie-in!). Two points will likely lead to questions and spark discussion: 1) that slave owners could send enslaved men to fight for the Revolutionary Army in their place with the promise of freedom; and 2), that Black people could and did own slaves. After his own liberation, James owned land and slaves himself. Includes bibliography.


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