Book Review: How I Became a Spy by Deborah Hopkinson

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I think it would be cool, but I’ve never had the spirit or the smarts to be a spy, so when I read the advanced reader copy of Deborah Hopkinson’s newest book, How I Became I Spy: A Mystery of WWII London (coming February 12th, 2019), I felt that I had reached a new goal while following the story of Bertie Bradshaw, a young boy living in WWII London.

Summary: Penguin Random House states, “Bertie Bradshaw never set out to become a spy. He never imagined traipsing around war-torn London, solving ciphers, practicing surveillance, and searching for a traitor to the Allied forces.” This middle grade novel practically sells itself –“historical fiction by Deborah Hopkinson,” “WWII,” “mystery,” and “solving ciphers” are the book talk keywords here. Students are going to love this one!

What I Loved: I love that Deborah Hopkinson, once again, gives us a real-life peek into history. This time it’s explanations of ciphers and codes, the appearance of actual figures, such as Leo Marks and Dwight D. Eisenhower from WWII reality, and the Special Operations Executive (SOE) that make the story engaging and believable. The SOE organization, with headquarters at 64 Baker Street, trained men and women to become secret agents. In the story, Bertie, his dog Little Roo (LR), his Jewish-refugee-friend, David, and a mysterious American girl are all caught up in the action. There’s a young girl missing — an agent — and Bertie must hide her secret notebook, translate it, and inform the right people before a double agent ruins the Allies’ plans.

Why You Should Read This: How I Became a Spy is an action-packed spy thriller for middle schoolers, or anyone who likes puzzles, Sherlock Holmes, London’s crowded streets, war stories, or doggie heroes. And…

if you ever wanted to be a spy…this book might just help get you started.

Happy reading!

Book Review: The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

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Caleb Franklin narrates the story of how he and his brother, Bobby Gene, met Styx Malone and got into the “biggest trouble we’ve ever gotten into in our lives.” The first page is one of those excellent leads we talk about in English class. You know when you read the first page, the story isn’t going to let you go until you finish. I love the line, “It all started the moment I broke the cardinal rule of the Franklin household: Leave well enough alone.” (p. 1)

Styx Malone lived in the woods near the Franklin house in Sutton, Indiana. He was a 16, a loner, and quite extraordinary. Caleb was drawn to Styx the moment he laid eyes on him. Caleb didn’t want to be ordinary. He spent his time dreaming of what was out there in the world, while Styx lived it. In the back woods of Indiana, one could get stuck in the ordinary of each day (like Mr. Franklin), but Caleb and Bobby Gene decided that hanging out with Styx Malone could get them places — maybe even Indianapolis, or beyond.

Styx Malone showed the brothers what it was like to live: how to talk so that you get what you want, how to act cool, how to pull off the impossible. The boys spent the summer learning about the Great Escalator Trade — a way to trade small things for bigger ones, all the way up to items that could make dreams come true. Caleb liked the stories Styx told, and being with Styx made him feel extraordinary, but it also got him grounded, and eventually changed his life — and his family’s lives — forever.

Kekla Magoon tells amazing stories, and The Season of Styx Malone is no different. The adventures, the fun, the trouble — many twists and turns in this tale of teen friendships and family issues kept me reading and wondering what would happen next. Since Ms. Magoon grew up in Indiana, I felt a connection to her and the story of small town life vs. big city dreams. I, too, once dreamed of living in a big city like Indianapolis, or Chicago, or New York City. One quote that stuck out for me, especially as a writer, was, “A happy ending depends on where you stop the story.” (p. 117) Kekla Magoon stopped this story at the perfect point — making The Season of Styx Malone an extraordinary must-read.

Published in 2018 by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books