Reviews /


Authored by David Long
Illustrated by Terri Po
Published by Faber & Faber

Tagged , ,

A shadowy place awaits. Espionage and secrets, sabotage and lies, great feats of daring and egregious acts of treachery during the Second World War.

David Long is the author of some very popular books, many of which you will find in the classroom. Spies promises to be just as well liked. Made up of twenty-seven stories, each one focuses on a particular man or woman (or pigeon) who worked undercover risking their lives. Those, who without their efforts, would have meant many more deaths, a longer war, or even the defeat of the allies. It also includes the stories of those who worked for the enemy, which I actually found the most fascinating.

Some of the stories include Witold Pilecki who broke into a concentration camp. Double agent Harry Cole whose traitorous actions resulted in multiple arrests and deaths. There’s the heart-racing tale of Norwegian Claus Helberg, the glamour of Josephine Baker, who passed on military gossip she overheard to the resistance and Margery Booth, another entertainer who gets close to the enemy while risking her life. But despite the excitement and glamour, this book doesn’t glamourise war. It’s very sensitive to the horrors and sacrifices that people made.

In fact, many of the stories end in great sadness: either in death or how some heroes were not acknowledged as such in their lifetimes, just like Booth. Of course, there were also those who never spoke of their actions or even accepted medals like Jeannie Rousseau. I had not realised how many women worked undercover, were parachuted behind enemy lines, or how dangerous and important it was to be a radio operator. The fighting and dangerous missions were most certainly not only carried out by the men.

The artwork and overall design makes for a beautiful book. Terri Po’s illustrations capture some of the stories’ most memorable moments. I especially loved the decision to “redact” certain words on the very opening pages. Despite being a lovely object, it is large and weighty. The stories are perfect for reading to the class, so I hope if there’s a paperback planned, it will be similar in size to the smaller paperbacks of David Long’s Survivor and Rescue books.

I did think the tagline ‘The most thrilling stories from around the world…’ was a little misleading as most were either in Europe or featured Europeans. However, ‘thrilling’ is definitely the right word to describe every story. After finishing each one you want to read the next straightaway. I loved that the later stories followed on from the Second World War and made me think about all the spy stories that have yet to be declassified or talked about by those involved.

Spies will hook readers of all ages from nine years and up and it is the perfect companion to a WW2 topic. A spy story a day will have children on the edge of their seats while also telling them of the sacrifices people made, some very young, of their bravery, and determination.