Action and espionage take center stage in our roundup of nonfiction and fiction titles for children and teens published in 2021.
Code Breaker, Spy Breaker: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars
Laurie Wallmark, illus. by Brooke Smart (Abrams, Mar. 2021, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-4197-3963-7). Ages 8–12.
Wallmark celebrates the lifesaving contributions of Friedman, the creator of the CIA’s first cryptology unit whose story only came to light upon the declassification of her secret papers in 2015. Read our In Conversation between Wallmark and fellow STEM author Sandra Nickel.
Code Name Badass: The True Story of Virginia Hall
Heather Demetrios (Atheneum, Sept. 2021, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-5344-3187-4). Ages 14 and up.
In this biography, Demetrios showcases the life of progressive and disabled Allied spy Hall, known as the Fighting Blade. When she was denied a place with the State Department, Hall became a spy for the British and helped arm and train the French Resistance while organizing sabotage missions.
Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown
Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook, Sept. 2021, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-250-14901-5). Ages 10–14.
In his follow-up to 2012’s Bomb, Sheinkin turns his attention to the Cold War, exploring the world’s closest call with a third world war and neck-and-neck competition between the United States and Russia to build even more destructive bombs. Read our starred review.
Sophia Glock (Little, Brown, Nov. 30, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-316-45898-6). Ages 12 and up.
In this graphic memoir, Glock recounts her teenaged discovery that her parents were agents working for the CIA. Per our review, “Glock’s subtly crafted, emotive graphic memoir explores themes of belonging, identity, and loyalty in a highly specific context.”
Top Secret: Spies, Codes, Capers, Gadgets, and Classified Cases Revealed
Suzanne Zimbler (National Geographic Kids, Apr. 6, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-4263-3912-7). Ages 8–12.
This nonfiction title offers a wide-ranging look at the spy trade, from sleuthing skills, information about cold cases and hidden places, cool disguises, and codes; tongue-in-cheek “How to Be a Spy” activities are included.
The Woman All Spies Fear: Code Breaker Elizebeth Smith Friedman and Her Hidden Life
Amy Butler Greenfield (Random House, Oct. 2021, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-593-12719-3). Ages 12 and up.
Greenfield chronicles the life and contributions of pioneering codebreaker Friedman, who played a major role in decoding messages sent during the world wars and during the Coast Guard’s efforts against smugglers. Per our starred review, “B&w photographs help round out the history, alongside primary sources such as news stories and even Friedman’s own handwritten notes.”
VIP: Lydia Darragh: Unexpected Spy
Heather Alexander, illus. by Jennifer Bricking (Harper, Sept. 7, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-06-288962-1). Ages 8–12.
The Very Important People middle grade biography series continues with Darragh, a midwife, mortician, devout Quaker, and Revolutionary War spy who helped saved George Washington’s army from a surprise attack by the British. Includes full-color illustrations and fun facts, like how to write with invisible ink.
Code Name Danger: Unmasking a Villain
Brian Hawkins, illus. by Anthony Pugh (Jolly Fish, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-63163-523-6). Ages 8–10.
Will Washington plays a secret agent on the hit kids’ book-turned-television show Code Name Danger, but he’s also a real-life undercover spy, juggling filming, missions, and homework. When a villain from the book shows up in real life, will must work with friends and Spymaster Z to uncover the identity of the villain.
Kathryn Lasky (HarperCollins, June 22, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-06-269331-0). Ages 8–12.
Growing up in wartime England, sisters Alice and Louise are part of a small group of spies called Tabula Rasa, who pass unseen through enemy lines “becoming” other people without being recognized. When Louise chooses to leave the agency, Alice must face her most dangerous assignment yet—taking down Hitler—while grappling with the possibility of losing her sister. Read our review.
James Ponti (Aladdin, Mar. 2021, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-5344-1494-5). Ages 8–12.
A group of young spies working for the British Secret Intelligence Service’s MI6 division return for a second adventure in this sequel to 2020’s City Spies. In this installment, 14-year-old Sydney, a surfer from Australia and a field ops specialist, goes undercover on a marine research vessel while the rest of the organization investigates a possible mole.
The Secret Life of Kitty Granger
G.D. Falksen (Carolrhoda Lab, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-5415-9796-9). Ages 11–18.
Sixteen-year-old neurodivergent Kitty Granger accidentally uncovers a Russian spy ring and is approached by secret agents working for Her Majesty’s government with an offer to aid their espionage investigation. With help from a team of fellow spies, Kitty goes up against a prominent, secretly fascist politician.
Spy School at Sea
Stuart Gibbs (Simon & Schuster, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-5344-7943-2). Ages 8–12.
In this ninth book in Gibb’s popular Spy School series, which began with 2012’s Spy School, CIA agent Ben Ripley tracks his nemesis Murray Hill to Central America where he’s about to board the world’s biggest cruise ship for its maiden voyage around the world. Posing as a family with fellow spies, Ben is tasked with finding out what Murray is plotting.
The Spy Who Raised Me
Ted Anderson, illus. by Gianna Meola (Lerner/Graphic Universe, Apr. 6, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-7284-1291-7). Ages 13 and up.
In this graphic novel, Josie Black finds out that her mother, who works for a covert agency, has given her the skills of a superspy: she can infiltrate any building, speak a dozen languages, and fight like a martial arts master. After panicking and running off, she has to figure out who she wants to be, no matter who she was raised to be.