Having just finished several non-fiction books on various aspects of World War II, I welcomed the chance to read this historical fiction story set in 1944 London. It turned out to be time well spent.spy.jpg

Thirteen-year-old Bertie lives with his dad, a caretaker of a boardinghouse for single policemen. His mom and brother are somewhere else, not entirely made clear until later in the story. Danger is in the air with the Nazi’s much too frequent bombing of the city. Bertie is a civil defense volunteer, a so-called messenger. He warns others of danger and points them to safety. On most missions his trusty spaniel, Little Roo, is by his side.

Bertie’s first person narration is compelling and realistic. A red notebook full of codes and a bicycle collision with an an American girl his age gets the story rolling. She takes off and soon after Bertie finds an unconscious woman  He drapes his coat over her and goes to get help. A short time later he returns and she’s gone along with his jacket.

The coded notebook turns out to be the key to the mystery. One that will lead right to D-Day. The thirty-three chapters fly by as Bertie tries to figure out the messages with help from his friends David and Eleanor, the American girl he encounters at the start of the tale. Adventurous and always page turning, How I Became a Spy, weaves a fictional story together with real events of the time. It will entertain young readers while sneaking in a little bit of history. My favorite type of writing.




  1. Spaced throughout the book are four practice pages teaching readers how to decipher codes. They’re a creative way to learn about secret messages while the characters are trying to do the same.
  2. The details about life in London during this time are excellently portrayed. Food shortages and air raids are an ever present worry.
  3. Bertie, Eleanor, and David are a trio that fit together with perfection. You’ll remember them long after closing the book.
  4. The SOE (Special Operation Executive), was a British organization I knew nothing about. Its focus was on espionage and sabotage and was retired in 1946.
  5. The author provides many resources: References to the SOE manual, an insightful Q & A, and a listing of terms and historical figures noted in the story are included.


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. He certainly never expected that a strong-willed American girl named Eleanor would play Watson to his Holmes (or Holmes to his Watson, depending on who you ask).But when a young woman goes missing, leaving behind a coded notebook, Bertie is determined to solve the mystery. With the help of Eleanor and his friend David, a Jewish refugee–and, of course, his trusty pup, Little Roo–Bertie must decipher the notebook in time to stop a double agent from spilling the biggest secret of all to the Nazis.From the author of The Great Trouble, this suspenseful WWII adventure reminds us that times of war call for bravery, brains and teamwork from even the most unlikely heroes.


Deborah Hopkinson is the author of more than 50 books for young readers including picture books, middle grade fiction, and nonfiction. At schools and conferences she helps bring history and research alive. Her work is well-suited for STEM, STEAM, and CCSS connections.

Forthcoming titles include D-DAY:The World War II Invasion that Changed History, What is the Women’s Rights Movement? and Under the Bodhi Tree. She also contributed to a young adult collection, Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All (Spring 2018). 

Deborah’s recent nonfiction includes DIVE! WWII Stories of Sailors and Submarines in the Pacific, named an Oregon Spirit Award Honor Book. Courage &  Defiance, Stories of Spies, Saboteurs and Survivors in WWII Denmark, won a 2017 Oregon Book Award, and Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, was a Robert F. Sibert Award honor book and YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction finalist.

Deborah’s picture books include Ordinary Extraordinary Jane AustenSky Boys, How They Built the Empire State Building, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor book and Apples to OregonFollow the Moon Home won the Green Earth Book Award, while Steamboat School was named winner of a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. Deborah’s middle grade novel, A Bandit’s Tale was a recommended title for the Charlotte Huck Award.The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London,  the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel won the  OCTE Oregon Spirit Award.

Deborah received a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts and an M.A. in Asian Studies from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. She lives near Portland, OR with her family and a menagerie of pets. Her husband, Andy, is a winemaker and artist; her son, Dimitri, is a photographer and landscaper; her daughter, Rebekah, is a teacher and chalk artist, and her toddler grandson, Oliver, is simply extraordinary!

(For more about Deborah’s books and appearances, visit her website)


I received an ARC in exchange for  my honest review.

Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.



About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
This entry was posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to HOW I BECAME A SPY

  1. Joanne R. Fritz says:

    Wow! You make this sound exciting! I’m always impressed that WWII continues to inspire books and films, even now that kids are so many generations removed from it. I like the fact that the author included practice pages for learning to decipher codes.

  2. Ooh, this sounds good. I’ll see if my library has it. Thanks.

  3. Happy Birthday, Greg! Sending lots of good wishes your way on your special day! Thank you for all you do for the MMGM group–your efforts are much appreciated. Best, June :0}

  4. I just ordered this book and am so excited about reading it! Your review makes me even more interested! Sounds like it is exciting, but contains a lot of history. Excellent review.

  5. And have a very Happy Birthday and an amazing year! Hope you do something fun today!

  6. Janet Smart says:

    This sounds like a good one, Greg. And having a dog in it adds to its appeal.

  7. Happy Birthday to you, Greg. Thanks for the review. This sounds like a terrific book. I will be looking for it.

  8. This sounds great! Thanks for your review.

  9. I have read a lot of her picture books, as well as The Great Trouble, a historical fiction book that I loved. Your review made me very curious and I will definitely be checking out this book. My students love reading books set during WW2. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  10. Pingback: The 2019 Golden Cup Awards | Always in the Middle…

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