Really just a jumble—but expertly designed as browser bait.


A wide-ranging skulk down hidden byways of spycraft, history, nature, food, archaeology, and more.

The title reflects only the general drift of the contents. Along with quick introductions to codes and ciphers, ninjas, secret agents, tiny cameras, and the like, the authors chuck in spreads on the U.S. president’s armored car, the infrastructure of Rome’s Colosseum, great white sharks, the Rosetta Stone, Krispy Kreme doughnuts and other foods with secret formulas, women who “dressed as dudes” to disguise their sex, and dozens of other tangential, if crowd-pleasing, topics. Readers eager for mentions of, say, Gitmo, QAnon, or the deep state will be disappointed, but there is an interview with an actual CIA agent as well as some lesser-known spy stuff headed by an entertaining account of a “psychic arms race” between the Cold War rivals. The illustrations, a strong point as usual, mix sharply reproduced photos of people, places, and gear with close-ups of children playing spy—the last an invitation to follow the directions for several “tradecraft”-related projects like making invisible ink or setting up a network of secret informants (all in fun, of course). Human figures in the pictures are diverse of age, sex, and race. Each chapter presents readers with an encoded riddle, answers to which are revealed at the end.

Really just a jumble—but expertly designed as browser bait. (index) (Nonfiction. 8-13)

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4263-3912-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: National Geographic Kids

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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A measured corrective to pervasive myths about what is often referred to as the “first Thanksgiving.”

Contextualizing them within a Native perspective, Newell (Passamaquoddy) touches on the all-too-familiar elements of the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving and its origins and the history of English colonization in the territory now known as New England. In addition to the voyage and landfall of the Mayflower, readers learn about the Doctrine of Discovery that arrogated the lands of non-Christian peoples to European settlers; earlier encounters between the Indigenous peoples of the region and Europeans; and the Great Dying of 1616-1619, which emptied the village of Patuxet by 1620. Short, two- to six-page chapters alternate between the story of the English settlers and exploring the complex political makeup of the region and the culture, agriculture, and technology of the Wampanoag—all before covering the evolution of the holiday. Refreshingly, the lens Newell offers is a Native one, describing how the Wampanoag and other Native peoples received the English rather than the other way around. Key words ranging from estuary to discover are printed in boldface in the narrative and defined in a closing glossary. Nelson (a member of the Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa) contributes soft line-and-color illustrations of the proceedings. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Essential. (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-72637-4

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Scholastic Nonfiction

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care.


In 1977, the oil carrier Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into a formerly pristine Alaskan ocean inlet, killing millions of birds, animals, and fish. Despite a cleanup, crude oil is still there.

The Winters foretold the destructive powers of the atomic bomb allusively in The Secret Project (2017), leaving the actuality to the backmatter. They make no such accommodations to young audiences in this disturbing book. From the dark front cover, on which oily blobs conceal a seabird, to the rescuer’s sad face on the back, the mother-son team emphasizes the disaster. A relatively easy-to-read and poetically heightened text introduces the situation. Oil is pumped from the Earth “all day long, all night long, / day after day, year after year” in “what had been unspoiled land, home to Native people // and thousands of caribou.” The scale of extraction is huge: There’s “a giant pipeline” leading to “enormous ships.” Then, crash. Rivers of oil gush out over three full-bleed wordless pages. Subsequent scenes show rocks, seabirds, and sea otters covered with oil. Finally, 30 years later, animals have returned to a cheerful scene. “But if you lift a rock… // oil / seeps / up.” For an adult reader, this is heartbreaking. How much more difficult might this be for an animal-loving child?

Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care. (author’s note, further reading) (Informational picture book. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3077-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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