Plenty of work for sharp eyes and active intellects in this history-based series opener.


From the Spy on History series , Vol. 1

Using a provided packet of helpful tools, readers can search for clues along with a historical spy in the house of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.

Fans of ciphers and hidden clues will find both in abundance, beginning on the copyright page and continuing to a final, sealed-off section of explanations and solutions. Fictionalized but spun around actual figures and events, the tale centers on Bowser, a free African-American who worked undercover as a maid in Davis’ house and passed information to a ring of white Richmond spies. Here she looks for the key phrase that will unlock a Vigenère cipher—an alphabetic substitution code—while struggling to hide her intelligence and ability to read. As an extra challenge, she leaves the diary in which she records some of her experiences concealed for readers to discover, using allusive and sometimes-misleading clues that are hidden in Cliff’s monochrome illustrations and in cryptic marginal notations. A Caesar cipher wheel, a sheet of red acetate, and several other items in a front pocket supply an espionage starter kit that readers can use along the way; it is supplemented by quick introductions in the narrative to ciphers and codes, including Morse dashes and dots and the language of flowers.

Plenty of work for sharp eyes and active intellects in this history-based series opener. (answers, historical notes, biographies, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7611-8739-4

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Workman

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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An inventive introduction to a fascinating historical figure.



Another collaborative effort by the team that created The Poet King of Tezcoco: A Great Leader of Ancient Mexico (2007) chronicles the life of a controversial figure in pre-colonial Mesoamerica.

The indigenous woman who would serve as Hernán Cortés’ interpreter and companion was born in the early 1500s as Malinali and later christened Marina. She is now called La Malinche. Besides serving as translator to the Spaniard, she also gave him advice on native customs, religious beliefs and the ways of the Aztec. While Marina’s decision to help the Spanish in their often brutal quest for supremacy has led to many negative associations, others see her as the mother of all Mexicans, as she and Cortés had the first recorded mestizo. Although many of the details surrounding the specifics of Marina’s life were unrecorded, Serrano strengthens the narrative with quotations by her contemporaries and provides a balanced look at the life of a complicated, oft-maligned woman. Headers provide structure as events sometimes shift from the specific to the very broad, and some important facts are glossed over or relegated to the timeline. Reminiscent of pre-colonial documents, the illustrations convey both Marina’s adulation of Cortés and the violence of the Spanish conquest, complete with severed limbs, decapitations and more.

An inventive introduction to a fascinating historical figure. (map, chronology, glossary, sources and further reading) (Nonfiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-55498-111-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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Sometimes overloaded with dry detail and better read as a forest adventure then a Holocaust narrative


From the Holocaust Remembrance series

A Jewish boy in the Netherlands spends World War II in hiding in this retelling of real-life events.

Walter, a 5-year-old German boy, doesn’t understand why his family flees to the Netherlands. It’s not an unpleasant life for the first few years. Even after he’s barred from attending school, he joyfully helps the local farmers with their work. The Underground is very helpful, spiriting first his grandmother and then his sick sister away to safer hiding spots. Constantly aided by the Underground and their helpful neighbors, Walter’s family moves time and time again. For over a year they live in a hidden village in the woods, in barracks built into the hillside, eating almost nothing. Through a mix of retrospective first-person narration (ostensibly in the form of stories told to a granddaughter) and wartime letters, readers see the eight years Walter spends whispering in secret bolt holes. Walter never understands Nazi anti-Semitism, and it’s neither explained nor shown in any detail; he scarcely encounters a single Nazi during the war, and anti-Jewish laws are mostly absent here. A one-paragraph author’s note lightly contextualizes the history (without identifying the tale as a biography of Ze’ev Bar, formerly Walter Bartfeld), though it does not provide any further information about the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

Sometimes overloaded with dry detail and better read as a forest adventure then a Holocaust narrative . (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77260-061-2

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Second Story Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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