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Friday, March 30, 2012

Book Review: Toliver's Secret by Esther Wood Brady

TITLE: Toliver's Secret 
AUTHOR: Esther Wood Brady 
PUBLISHER: Random House Children's Books
DATE OF PUBLICATION: October 19, 1993 (first published 1980)
FORMAT: Paperback, 176 pages
GENRE: Juvenile Fiction, Historical Fiction
ISBN: 978-0679848042

When her grandfather is injured, 10-year-old Ellen Toliver replaces him on a top-secret patriotic mission. Disguised as a boy, she manages to smuggle a message to General George Washington. 


I read this book aloud to my children. It is an historical fiction adventure set in New York in the 1700s.

Ten year-old Ellen Toliver is a meek and mild girl, who is often bullied by another girl named Dicey. Grandfather encourages Ellen to stand up for herself and talk back to Dicey, but Mother is against the advice reminding Ellen that her late father would not approve because he wanted his daughter to be ladylike. Grandfather huffs that Ellen can still have pretty manners while being bold when she needs to be!

Ellen's grandfather hides a silver snuffbox containing a secret message about the British inside a loaf of bread. It should be a simple task for him to deliver the bread to a friend in Elizabeth-town, who will ensure the message gets to General Washington. However, when Grandfather falls and sprains his ankle, he needs to find someone else he can trust to deliver this important message. He turns to his granddaughter, Ellen, and asks whether she would disguise herself as a boy to carry out this errand. But he warns her that it will be dangerous, because spies are often hanged! Not that they would do that to a child, but they would go after the person who sent her on the mission...her Grandfather.

Ellen sees this as her chance to stand up and be bold and to make her grandfather proud of her! She agrees to the assignment, which is very simple: Just walk down to the docks and get on a farmer’s or oysterman’s boat to Elizabeth-town, find the Jolly Fox Tavern, and hand the bread over to Mr. Shannon who runs the tavern. Mr. Shannon will welcome Ellen and take care of her for the night and ensure that she gets back to the dock to catch a boat first thing in the morning. Of course, things do not go as planned! Some boys steal the loaf of bread, and Ellen must chase them down to retrieve it, which causes her to miss the farmer’s boat to Elizabeth-town. Instead, she must ride with the Redcoats and carry the bread right under their noses! What Ellen does not realize is that the boat is going to Perth Amboy instead of Elizabeth-town, taking her about ten miles too far! Her journey to Elizabeth-town is fraught with adventure and mishaps.

We really enjoyed this book! We thought it was a great adventure, and it is nice to see a heroine who is not afraid to take some risks.



  1. This sounds like a fun read. How nice to have a little girl save the day.

    1. Hi, Dana. It is an especially good book for girls to read :)


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