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Book Review

Phoebe the Spy by Judith Berry Griffin has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

In 1776, Phoebe Fraunces is 13. She belongs to one of the few free black families in New York. Her father, Samuel, owns the Queen's Head Tavern where leaders such as Washington and Adams eat when they're in town. They trust Samuel, knowing he will keep any secrets he might overhear.

One April morning, Samuel sits Phoebe down to ask for her help. Washington and his family will be staying in town for an extended period, and they have asked Samuel to find them a housemaid. Samuel expresses his concern to Phoebe about something he's overheard in the tavern. He believes someone close to Washington, a man with a "T" in his name, plans to kill the general. He asks Phoebe to serve as Washington's housekeeper and be the eyes and ears for him so he can help keep the general safe.

Phoebe takes care of the general and his family and listens closely to the guests coming in and out of the house. She meets with her father each evening but has nothing to report. She makes friends with the cook's 8-year-old son, Pompey, and enjoys the company and small gifts of a young bodyguard named Hickey. After two months have passed, her father urgently approaches her one evening. He says the general will be leaving New York in a few days. If "T" is planning to act, he will do it soon.

Phoebe is convinced someone plans to shoot the general. She becomes preoccupied with the location of his seat at the dinner table and its proximity to a window. While she is preparing dinner plates, Hickey visits her in the kitchen. She thinks she sees him sprinkling something on the general's peas, but it evaporates, and she can't be sure.

When someone at the table refers to the bodyguard as Mr. Thomas Hickey, Phoebe suddenly understands. Hickey is "T", and he means to poison George Washington. She quickly throws the peas out the window, yelling for Pompey to get her father. The general and his guests look out the window as the chickens eat the peas and fall over dead. Samuel arrives, and he and Phoebe receive the general's commendation. Washington even invites Samuel to serve as his official steward. Hickey is tried and hanged.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Samuel Fraunces asks a dangerous favor of his daughter. He checks on her nightly and assures her that she doesn't have to do anything risky. Washington fights for America's freedom yet still owns slaves. The general demonstrates deep gratitude when Phoebe and Samuel save his life.


The Lord's name is used once in vain.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Slavery: Slavery is alive and well at this time in history. Samuel notes the irony that he is fighting with Washington for freedom, yet it isn't freedom his people will get to enjoy. Phoebe suggests hopefully that maybe the Patriots will free the slaves when they get their own freedom. Her father is not convinced.

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 11


Judith Berry Griffin






Record Label



Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, a division of the Penguin Group


On Video

Year Published





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