The Plot to Kill a Queen

by Deborah Hopkinson (Author)

Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

Publishers Weekly calls this utterly charming, deftly crafted mystery about an intrepid young girl's quest to foil a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I "worthy of a standing ovation".

Emilia Bassano is a girl who relishes the music of words. Although she plays the lute and writes poetry, Emilia nurtures a dream: to hear her words come alive on stage. Emilia wants to write soliloquies for heroes and kings and queens of old, fashion fierce villains to make audiences howl, and try her hand at comedy and romance. Most of all, she wants to create unforgettable women characters.

On one of her trips to the theater, an unfortunate series of events leaves her penniless, with no way of watching the show. That is until a boy by the name of Will Shakespeare helps her sneak in to see the play. They realize they're both aspiring playwrights and Emilia convinces Will to join her in her efforts to win a playwriting competition at the palace of Queen Elizabeth I.

However, when Emilia accidentally uncovers a plot to kill the queen, she is given the job of traveling to the castle where Mary Queen of Scots is being held captive, to discover who is responsible for the plan to murder Queen Elizabeth--and to thwart it! Can Emilia and her friends stop the plans of a disguised murderer on the loose?

This delightful mystery is a marvel of incisive wit and extraordinary craft from the beloved, award-winning author Deborah Hopkinson.

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Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

A 13-year-old stumbles upon a royal murder plot in this standout historical novel from Hopkinson (Race Against Death), written in three acts and set in 1623. The literary curtain opens as lute player and aspiring playwright Emilia Bassano--one of many characters based on 16th-century historical figures--sneaks away from court disguised as a servant boy to see a public performance, and encounters theater hopeful William Shakespeare. This act of daring persuades Emilia's guardian, Queen Elizabeth's spymaster, to send her on a mission to gather intelligence at Sheffield Castle, the court of the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots. Under the alias Emily Hughes, free-roaming Emilia spies on Queen Mary's court and encounters a plot against Queen Elizabeth. Breaking down elements of drama and spycraft, this carefully researched, jam-packed read offers insight into layers of historical power and influence while humorously rendering asides on feminism and social issues of the period. It's a bustling theatrical romp worthy of a standing ovation. Extensive back matter includes historical notes, a timeline, and one-act play "The Princess Saves the Cakes." Characters read as white. Ages 8-12. (Oct.)

Copyright 2023 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Praise for The Plot To Kill A Queen:

* Breaking down elements of drama and spycraft, this carefully researched, jam-packed read offers insight into layers of historical power and influence while humorously rendering asides on feminism and social issues of the period. It's a bustling theatrical romp worthy of a standing ovation. — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Praise for We Must Not Forget:

* Inspiring and moving. — Booklist, starred review

Hopkinson has created a rich resource for teachers, librarians, and students. — The Horn Book

An important and timely book that spotlights the untold stories of survivors of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust. — School Library Journal

Praise for We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport:

A Sydney Taylor Notable Book

* Historical context, personal stories, and letters are seamlessly integrated in this history of frightened refugee children in a new land and their brave parents' making 'the heart-wrenching decision' to send their children away with strangers to a foreign country. Well-crafted, accessible, and essential. — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

[A] moving tribute to the organizers of the Kindertransport and to the courage of the children involved. Generously illustrated with black-and-white photographs, the book is extremely well researched and a valuable contribution to Holocaust literature. — Booklist

Praise for D-Day: The WWII Invasion that Changed History:

* Hopkinson has compiled a comprehensive and absorbing overview... this insightful title, chock-full of primary sources, is a strong purchase. — School Library Journal, starred review

Hopkinson is particularly adept at directing attention to the stories behind the heroic stories. — Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

How does an author sequentially chronicle multiple, rapidly developing, and simultaneous events and maintain not just coherence, but suspense? Hopkinson employs her signature kaleidoscopic style effectively here: synthesizing complex events into a compelling narrative arc, and sampling myriad voices to add texture and color to the story, while never losing sight of the bigger picture. — The Horn Book

Such major figures as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley get plenty of attention, but more is given to the experiences of the soldiers who waded ashore under fire or parachuted behind enemy lines. Hopkinson weaves their personal accounts with those of observations by Ernie Pyle and others to bring the invasion vividly to life... An attractively packaged, engrossing history that will appeal to readers fascinated with military strategy. — Kirkus Reviews

With thoroughness and clarity, this title brings D-Day into focus by breaking it down into components and focusing on human voices and perspectives... provides a wealth of information clearly presented alongside many black and white photos, resulting in an engaging read even for those who may not be interested in a book about military history. The complexity of the historical task undertaken, the challenges of the terrain, and the courage required of those involved is conveyed by the author without hyperbole and by allowing the participants to tell their own stories. Highly Recommended. — School Library Connection

Praise for Dive! World War II Stories of Sailors & Submarines in the Pacific:

* Hopkinson crafts a gripping narrative... Fascinating World War II history for history buffs and browsers alike. — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

* Readers wait anxiously alongside crew members amid silence and dangerous heat and oxygen levels as the submariners narrowly escape enemy detection or brace for depth charge explosions that rattle bones, fray nerves, and signal possible death... With a fascinating blend of submarine mechanics and tales of courage, readers will dive in deep. — Booklist, starred review

* It's an appealing, engrossing package for readers fascinated by heroism and military strategy. — The Horn Book, starred review

The real appeal, of course, is danger and heroism, and in drawing liberally from first-person accounts by surviving veterans, Hopkinson often emulates the tone of Greatest Generation memoir... And kudos to Hopkinson, whose eagle eye even located the contingent of women nurses evacuated by sub from the Philippines. — Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

A riveting narrative nonfiction selection for middle school collections. — School Library Journal

The diverse individual stories... make the history come alive. — School Library Connection

Praise for Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark:

A Sydney Taylor Notable Book

An NCTE Orbis Pictus Recommended Book

A Bank Street Center for Children's Literature Best Children's Book of the Year selection

A Cybils Award Finalist

"[A] spirited, inspiring, and extremely well-researched book... ideal for both classroom use and independent reading." — Booklist

"With numerous pictures and illustrations accompanying the text, this is a fascinating look at a little-known corner of WWII." — Publishers Weekly

Praise for Titanic: Voices from the Disaster:

A Sibert Honor Book

A YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist

An ALA Notable Children's Book

An IRA Teacher's Choice

A Kirkus Reviews Best Young Adult Book of the Year

A Horn Book Fanfare Book

A Cybils Award Finalist

An affecting portrait of human ambition, folly and almost unbearable nobility in the face of death. — The Wall Street Journal

A meticulous recounting of the disaster... Hopkinson's reporting is so rich with information that it will be equally fascinating to young readers and adults alike. — Los Angeles Times

* Hopkinson knows precisely what's she doing in her coverage of the Titanic disaster... [A] fine book. — The Horn Book, starred review

* Fascinating... A thorough and absorbing re-creation of the ill-fated voyage. — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

* Riveting. — Publishers Weekly, starred review

* An absorbing and richly satisfying read. — School Library Journal, starred review

Praise for Up Before Daybreak:

* Rarely have the links between northern industry, southern agriculture, slavery, war, child labor, and poverty been so skillfully distilled for this audience. — Booklist, starred review

* Superb nonfiction writing. — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

* Excellent. — School Library Journal, starred review

Praise for Shutting Out the Sky:

A Jane Addams Peace Award Honor Book

An Orbis Pictus Honor Book

An ALA Notable Book

A Sydney Taylor Notable Book

* Nonfiction at its best. — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

* [A] fascinating read. — School Library Journal, starred review

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
Scholastic Press
Publication date
October 20, 2023
BISAC categories
JUV014000 - Juvenile Fiction | Girls & Women
JUV016040 - Juvenile Fiction | Historical | Europe
JUV030050 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | Europe
Library of Congress categories
Great Britain
Spy fiction
Historical fiction
Spy stories
JUVENILE FICTION / Historical / Europe
16th century
Elizabeth, 1558-1603
JUVENILE FICTION / People & Places / Europe
Walsingham, Francis

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