How I Became a Spy: A Mystery of WWII London

by Deborah Hopkinson (Author)

Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

From the award-winning author of The Great Trouble comes a story of espionage, survival, and friendship during World War II.

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.

Select format:


Hopkinson has written a cleverly plotted, page-turning mystery that vividly evokes wartime Britain... Fans of puzzles, mysteries, and historical fiction will be delighted by Hopkinson's latest

Kirkus Reviews

Lighthearted cleverness invites readers to play along.

Horn Book Magazine

Red herrings, a poignant Bradshaw family backstory, ciphers to decode, a subplot regarding a young Jewish refugee friend of Bertie's, cameos by real-life historical figures (General Eisenhower and his dog; cipher expert Leo Marks)--there's certainly no shortage of entry points for young readers, and never a dull moment.

School Library Journal

Gr 4-6--This middle grade mystery novel starts with a bang and sends readers on a breakneck journey through World War II London. Bertie Bradshaw is a civil defense volunteer, so he is accustomed to the bombings and fires that have become commonplace in the city. His faithful companion is Little Roo, a small black spaniel that was given to Bertie when her original owner, a librarian, evacuated London for somewhere safer. Bertie's job is to bring others to safety, helping them find the closest bomb shelters and alerting the authorities about fires or other dangers. Bertie's brother, Will, was badly injured, so Will and his mother are living in Surrey until he recovers. One night out on patrol, Bertie runs into an American girl with his bike and ends up with a journal from a young woman, Violette, who has become a spy. It turns out the American girl knows her and wants the journal back. Bertie, however, starts reading the journal and finds it fascinating. The journal describes Violette's training as a spy and includes some codes, which readers have to try to decrypt. This book has some excellent historical information about World War II that focuses on the experiences of Londoners, as well as some commentary on post-traumatic stress. The mystery and code aspect will draw in readers. VERDICT A strong choice for middle grade collections, especially those in need of wartime historical fiction.--Debbie Tanner, S D Spady Montessori Elementary, FL

Copyright 1 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"Ms. Hopkinson slips lots of age-appropriate wartime history and a number of real individuals (including Eisenhower)—as well as practical details about codes and ciphers and how to break them—into this info-packed adventure for sleuth-loving readers." —The Wall Street Journal

Deborah Hopkinson
DEBORAH HOPKINSON is the author of more than 50 books for young readers including Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book; and Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale, an ALA-ALSC Notable Children's Book, as well as the Little Golden Book biographies about Betty White and Dolly Parton. She lives near Portland, OR with her family and a menagerie of pets. Visit her at

DAVE SZALAY is an illustrator, author, teacher, and graphic designer. He lives with his wife and three cats in Richfield, Ohio, near the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date
February 20, 2019
BISAC categories
JUV039060 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Friendship
JUV028000 - Juvenile Fiction | Mysteries, Espionage, & Detective Stories
JUV016150 - Juvenile Fiction | Historical | United States - 20th Century
Library of Congress categories

Subscribe to our delicious e-newsletter!