I couldn’t put this book down, and it’s been a while since that happened! How I Became a Spy by Deborah Hopkinson, published in 2019, gives us a gripping middle-grade mystery about World War II.

Thirteen-year-old Bertie starts volunteering as a bicycle messenger for the civil defense organization. It’s early 1944. The Germans are bombing London, and Bertie’s trying his best to help people survive.

With his dog in the bike basket, he runs into a pedestrian by accident. No one is hurt, but he notes that the pedestrian is a girl with an American accent. After she leaves, he picks up a notebook she left behind. Then his dog locates an unconscious woman in the dark alley nearby. When he returns with help a few minutes later, she’s vanished.

Mystery ensues. Who is the woman? And what about this notebook? He discovers it’s the diary of a spy sent to France, half of it written in code.

The American girl shows up. Together with a Jewish boy who is a refugee from the Holocaust, they set out to crack the codes, knowing that the diarist has set a deadline of a few days away when something big will happen. What’s at stake? Spies and counter spies are all angling for the big secret: advance notice of the date for what we now call D-Day. Can the three kids help keep the secret safe?

It’s a great setup for a story, and it’s well researched. The tale brings wartime London alive through Bertie’s eyes, complete with historical information that most middle graders may not know.

Five stars: * * * * *

Published 2019 by Alfred A. Knopf

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@Barrie Summy

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