Sybil Ludington believes in the legend of fireflies—they appear when you need them most. But it's not until her family is thrust into the dangers of the Revolutionary War, and into George Washington's spy ring, that Sybil fully experiences firefly magic for herself—guiding her through the darkness, empowering her to figure out who she's supposed to be and how strong she really is—as she delivers her imperative message and warns against a British attack.
By the Light of Fireflies is the captivating tale of a young girl's journey as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a spy, and eventually a war hero, completing a midnight ride that cements her place in history as the "female Paul Revere."
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Inspiration Behind By the Light of Fireflies
It was truly an honor to write this novel about Sybil Ludington, a little known Revolutionary War heroine. She's often known as the "female Paul Revere" but she rode twice as far, was half Paul Revere's age, and completed her own midnight ride all by herself. *Mic drop*
This feat was so spectacular and unbelievable that some people believe her ride was nothing more than a story. But I believe that Sybil accomplished something magical, just like the Sybil in my story believes in the magic of fireflies, and that on April 26, 1777 she truly made a daring ride to warn of an attack by the British.
I also had the opportunity to expand on Sybil's story. She was more than the "female Paul Revere." Sybil was a spy (yes, for George Washington!), a sister (sooo many siblings), a daughter, a friend, and someone who broke the mold for young girls of her time. I hope you enjoy Sybil's story as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Middle grade fiction readers will find By the Light of the Fireflies a fine historical novel based on the life of Colonial girl Sybil Ludington, following Sybil and her family's struggle during the Revolutionary War.
The story opens with the Loyalists to the British Crown coming for her father. They are accusing him of being a traitor to England.
Sybil believes in her father, and in the magic light of fireflies which (legend has it) appear when you need them most. But can they help her family when war swirls around them and they all are endangered?
As Sybil steps into a role she'd never envisioned, young readers receive an action-packed story that captures the environment and atmosphere of the times: "I used my musket to point into the dark forest, my own gaze following the long barrel. I heard Rebecca’s gasp. My gun felt heavy in my hands. I should fire it. It was what Papa told us to do. Fire it and he’d come running. He’d handle the situation, in this case: his capturers. Or worse: his assassins. I quivered. I wouldn’t fire my gun. That felt like hand-delivering a worm to a bird’s nest to be gobbled."
Forced to be assertive and proactive beyond her years and experience, Sybil becomes an inadvertent heroine as she struggles to protect everything she loves from the Loyalists and the evolving battle that engulfs her home.
Revolutionary War history and motivations on all sides come to life in the course of a survey that does an outstanding job of capturing the political and social sentiments of the times.
Jenni L. Walsh is especially adept at capturing the Sybil's first-person observations and emotions: "I pushed us north, toward the hamlet of Stormville. That’d be the point where I turned us south again. I yearned for Stormville. I wanted nothing more than to see that strip of homes. My hands were red. They burned from the cold, from where I gripped the reins and my stick. My jawline hurt, where my teeth had clenched for so long. My legs and back and torso ached from keeping beat with Star. My stomach felt hollow and grumbled for food. My eyeballs even felt as if they’d been rattled to the point of pain."
These drive a story line that personalizes the history in a manner that makes it understandable, realistic, and quite accessible.
Middle grade readers who normally eschew fact-laden historical fiction will find the emotional driving force particularly strong in By the Light of the Fireflies. This approach strengthens the compelling story of a young girl's trials, which forces her into the unexpected role of becoming a female war hero in times where girls and women normally are staid.
A concluding note from the author reinforces the real historical events that receive such evocative, personalized attention in the plot.
--Midwest Book Review
Reviewed June 2021
"Walsh’s easy, flowing prose breathes life into colonial America.... Middle-grade historical fiction fans will be swept up in the bravery of one young woman’s fight to save her country against a British attack." - Publishers Weekly, Editor's Pick
Walsh (I Am Defiance) again brings a powerful woman from history to life with this middle-grade adventure featuring 16-year-old Revolutionary War hero Sybil Ludington. Based on true events, By the Light of Fireflies takes on George Washington’s inner spy ring in the heat of the battle between Patriots and Loyalists, spotlighting the role that young Sybil played during an all night, 40-mile ride through colonists’ territory to muster the militia against an impending British attack. In Walsh’s spirited depiction, Sybil is a courageous, quick-thinking Patriot who dreams of growing up to be something more than a farmer’s wife–and realizes that ambition is within her reach through the fight to advance the revolutionary cause.
Sybil’s father, Henry Ludington, is a Loyalist captain in name only and spends his free time helping Patriots spy on the British. When pressures mount, he enlists Sybil and her sister, Rebecca, to help decipher code written with invisible ink on letters bearing crucial information about the British army, its troops, and their planned maneuvers. This opportunity is a dream come true for Sybil, who idolizes Paul Revere and hopes for her own chance to prove her mettle–a chance that emerges when she gets asked to ride all night in a terrifying crusade to save her family and her country. “I didn’t realize it was weird for me to want to be brave or daring or courageous like a man was,” she memorably declares.
Walsh’s easy, flowing prose breathes life into colonial America. Readers will find themselves in the thick of the Revolutionary War as well as eighteenth-century living: Walsh uses period appropriate language (“Mama shook her head bigly”) and detail, such as a family strategy game of “Nine Man’s Morrice in the parlor,” to capture the feeling of the past, and her handling of the long ride is crisp and suspenseful. History-minded young readers will be roused by this stouthearted protagonist’s unflinching dedication.
Takeaway: Middle-grade historical fiction fans will be swept up in the bravery of one young woman’s fight to save her country against a British attack.
Great for fans of: Celeste Lim’s The Crystal Ribbon, Pam Munoz Ryan’s Riding Freedom, Augusta Scattergood’s Glory Be.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
Print Date: 05/31/2021
Author of I AM DEFIANCE Jenni L. Walsh’s BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES, based on the true story of a hidden Revolutionary War hero, Sybil Ludington, dubbed the “female Paul Revere,” and following a teen girl who braves a perilous midnight ride to warn the troops, with the believed magic of the fireflies to light her way, to Nancy Cleary at Wyatt-MacKenzie, for publication in early November 2021, by Shannon Hassan at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency (world English).
More information coming soon!
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