The best spy novels for kids: espionage escapades and covert adventures

Who am I?

All my books, for adults and kids, include the theme that things are seldom what they seem. I link this to the slow realization when I was young that my family had an uncommon history. Novels featuring spies go deep into this theme, as a good spy is always manipulating their environment and presenting versions of themselves that may or may not be true. When my own children were little, we read so many of these novels. That reading is what inspired the Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls series.

I wrote...

Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls

By Beth McMullen,

Book cover of Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls

What is my book about?

Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls follows twelve-year-old Abigail Hunter's journey at an elite boarding school. Her world transforms when she discovers her mother's a super spy and the school is much more than it seems. When her mother disappears with valuable information, Abby is forced into the world of espionage. Under the tutelage of terrifying upperclassman Veronica, Abby learns spy craft and forms an unlikely alliance with diverse friends. Together, they undertake a high-stakes mission while tackling the challenges of school life.

This gripping novel blends spy thrills with relatable themes of friendship, self-discovery, and empowerment. Abby's adventure is laced with humor, intrigue, and heartwarming moments, making it an engaging read for middle-grade readers, who will cheer on this budding young spy.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Greetings from Witness Protection!

Why did I love this book?

This novel exists in that sweet spot of funny, exciting, and poignant. Middle grade authors know how hard it is to hit that mark!

Jake Burt packages a coming-of-age story that feels authentic in a thrilling action-oriented page turner. I especially appreciated Nicki, the snarky, street-wise protagonist. An ordinary girl, she finds herself in extraordinary circumstances and rises to the occasion using her quick wit and being bold and brave even when that’s scary. This is a novel I wish I’d written!

By Jake Burt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Greetings from Witness Protection! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nicki Demere is an orphan and a pickpocket. She also happens to be the U.S. Marshals best bet to keep a family alive.

The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation's most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two. Adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be just what the marshals need.

Nicki swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she'll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies,…

Liar & Spy

By Rebecca Stead,

Book cover of Liar & Spy

Why did I love this book?

I love how Georges and Safer are relatable. Their friendship has ups and downs and tensions that resonate for young readers.

Middle school is challenging! The realism extends to Georges’s family and the challenges he faces at home. But this story is driven by the mystery of Spy Club and Mr. X. Important themes of friendship, empathy, and self discovery are flawlessly woven into the expert storytelling. I read this in one sitting!

By Rebecca Stead,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Liar & Spy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Georges moves into a new apartment block he meets Safer, a twelve-year-old self-appointed spy. Soon Georges has become his spy recruit. His first assignment? To track the mysterious Mr X, who lives in the flat upstairs. But as Safer becomes more demanding, Georges starts to wonder: what is a game and what is a lie? How far is too far to go for your only friend?

Winner of the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize and shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal.

'A joy to read' Independent

'Rebecca Stead makes writing this well look easy' Philip Ardagh, Guardian

'Exactly what I would…

How I Became a Spy

By Deborah Hopkinson,

Book cover of How I Became a Spy

Why did I love this book?

This is a work of historical fiction about World War II and I felt totally immersed in the moment.

13-year-old Bertie, his friends, and his rescue pup get busy learning ciphers and solving puzzles amid the falling bombs in order to find a missing woman. The author weaves in historical figures and events that add to the authentic feeling of this action-packed read. This is one of my favorites!

By Deborah Hopkinson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How I Became a Spy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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…

Spy Runner

By Eugene Yelchin,

Book cover of Spy Runner

Why did I love this book?

I am so in for this combination of mystery, history and intrigue set during the Cold War. I feel like this pivotal period is untapped as a setting pulsing with paranoia, propaganda, high-stakes politics, and general unease.

Young Jake stumbles into a world of espionage and must rely on his bravery and resourcefulness to navigate his newfound circumstances. I’m a sucker for a ‘things are not as they seem’ novel and this one delivers. Yelchin is a beautiful writer and the art adds to the dark, moody vibe of this book.

By Eugene Yelchin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Spy Runner as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's 1953 and the Cold War is on. Communism threatens all that the United States stands for, and America needs every patriot to do their part. So when a Russian boarder moves into the home of twelve-year-old Jake McCauley, he's on high alert. What does the mysterious Mr. Shubin do with all that photography equipment? And why did he choose to live so close to the Air Force base? Jake's mother says that Mr. Shubin knew Jake's dad, who went missing in action during World War II. But Jake is skeptical; the facts just don't add up. And he's determined…

City Spies

By James Ponti,

Book cover of City Spies

Why did I love this book?

This novel ticks all the boxes! A diverse cast of characters from different backgrounds and different parts of the world are brought together in a secret spy society and embark on an engaging international adventure to save the world.

I’m an avid traveler so the global setting of this fast-paced series appeals to me as does Ponti’s deft hand at weaving a mystery. We get clues enough to stay glued to the page but not so many we figure out the ending too soon. The ‘family’ dynamics of the spy kids grounds the story. Readers might recognize their own sibling interactions in the pages. 

By James Ponti,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked City Spies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times bestseller!
A GMA3 Summer Reading Squad Selection!
“Ingeniously plotted, and a grin-inducing delight.” —People
“Will keep young readers glued to the page…So when do I get the sequel?” —Beth McMullen, author of Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls

In this thrilling new series that Stuart Gibbs called “a must-read,” Edgar Award winner James Ponti brings together five kids from all over the world and transforms them into real-life spies—perfect for fans of Spy School and Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls.

Sara Martinez is a hacker. She recently broke into the New York City foster care…

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