The Double Helix

The mystery deepens and the action intensifies for 12-year-old Cruz Coronado and his friends in this exciting third book of the Explorer Academy Series.

Cruz, Emmett, Sailor, and Bryndis continue their studies at sea and travel to exotic locations around the world. A mysterious person alerts Cruz to impending danger while he and a few trusted pals explore ancient ruins in Petra, Jordan to search for another piece of the puzzle his mother left behind. Worst of all, now his father has gone missing, which prompts Aunt Marisol, his number one protector, to leave the ship in search of him. Who is the new professor who takes her place? Does the new technology this professor introduces help or hurt Cruz’s quest? And why is Nebula determined to stop Cruz before he turns 13? The clock is ticking as Cruz’s first teen birthday draws near…a milestone that will change his life forever. 

The action intensifies as Cruz tries to figure out a way to save his father without giving in to Nebula’s demands. Back in Hawaii, Cruz’s best friend, Lani, tries to track down Cruz’s father. Readers will enjoy seeing more of the smart, gutsy girl who isn’t afraid to jump into danger. As Lani investigates, she must decipher clues that Cruz’s father has left behind. The chapters jump back and forth between multiple perspectives—Cruz, Lani, and the bad guys. This increases the suspense and reinforces the idea that Nebula will do anything to get what they want.  

Even though Cruz is on Orion, the academy’s ship, Nebula is still able to get to him. Cruz should be safe aboard the ship, but several times someone tries to kill him. Cruz has no idea who to trust, but he’s determined to solve the clues that his mother left behind. However, Cruz is unaware of the fact that Nebula needs him dead before his thirteenth birthday. The reason for this is not revealed, but it adds another layer of mystery to the story.  

The Double Helix’s mystery becomes more complex, which will keep readers intrigued. With danger around every corner, new gadgets, and the introduction of archaeology, The Double Helix will keep readers on their toes. The story packs in interesting science. For instance, when the explorers learn about archaeology they also learn about the lucrative and illegal business of looting archaeological sites and selling cultural objects to private collectors. While The Double Helix educates readers, the lessons are brief and are well- integrated into the story, so they never feel like a lecture.    

The Explorer Academy Series is perfect for science-loving readers who want to see smart teens solve problems. The diverse group of characters are intelligent and likable because they are not perfect. However, Cruz makes a dangerous mistake when he goes off alone on an archaeological field trip and falls into a hidden ancient well. The conclusion ends in a cliffhanger that will have readers eagerly reaching for the next book in the series, The Star Dunes. 

Sexual Content 

  • When a girl’s hand brushes Cruz’s hand, “he felt a tiny shock go through him.” 

Violence 

  • While at a Halloween party, Cruz is blindfolded. Someone grabs him. “Another hand was on his neck, this one sliding around to his throat. As the glove tightened, Cruz’s pulse began to race. He thrust his elbow straight back as hard as he could. . . the attacker’s grip loosen[s].” Cruz escapes. 
  • Someone pushes a rock off a cliff intending to hit Cruz, but someone pushes him out of the way.  
  • In the previous book, the bad guys kidnap Cruz’s father. Cruz meets with the bad guys, intending to give them what they want. At the last minute, Cruz changes his mind and tries to run. “Cruz tried to pull away, but the man in the cap was too strong. He began to bend Cruz’s arm back, pushing him to the ground. Pain shot through Cruz’s wrist. His knees buckled. . .” Someone helps Cruz escape. 
  • Someone pushes Cruz into an ancient well. Cruz “felt a jolt, and suddenly, Cruz was falling. . . Skin was scraping rock. Falling. . . A point punctured his spine . . .Cruz hit the unforgiving ground with a bone-crushing thud. Pain shot through his shoulder.” He’s stuck in a well with no way out. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • During a Halloween party, when a zombie grabs a girl, she says “Bloody undead.” 
  • Dang is used once. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Many of the archaeological objects have carvings of ancient gods. 

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter:  How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars

In 1943, the CIA intercepted messages from Mexico and South America that were believed to be disguised war information. A team of ciphers was able to decode these messages and they discovered that a secret Nazi spy ring was sending the messages. These decoded messages were the evidence needed to arrest thirty-three German spies in what is now known as “the greatest spy roundup in history.” This team of ciphers was led by Elizebeth Smith Friedman, a renowned cryptanalyst. Elizebeth’s work as a spy and her incredible accomplishments were kept secret, until recently. 

Adapted from Friedman’s personal memoirs, Code Breaker, Spy Hunter utilizes watercolor illustrations and simple vocabulary to recount the amazing story of a previously unacknowledged figure. The story is told in a linear narrative detailing the most significant moments of Friedman’s career as well as some lesser-known fun facts from her personal life. For example, during dinner parties she hosted with her husband, a fellow cipher, they challenged their guests with the coded address of the restaurant.  

The book retells Friedman’s story in a way that is easy for younger readers to navigate while not compromising or minimizing important details to Friedman’s story. Although the book features small font and some particularly text-heavy pages, its colorful, minimalist illustrations help readers maintain a consistent understanding of the story. It is important to note that the book assumes that readers already have a basic understanding of both World Wars. If there are young readers who are not yet familiar with these historical periods, parental guidance will be needed. 

In Code Breaker, Spy Hunter, readers will receive an insightful and important education on an overlooked historical figure. Elizebeth’s story of small beginnings teaches that hard work and positive relationships are the keys to success.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Anna Strong and the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring

Travel back in time to the American Revolution in this thrilling third book of the Spy on History series. Discover the secret Culper Ring, a network of American spies fighting against the British redcoats. Meet historical figures like George Washington and the soon-to-be-infamous Benedict Arnold. Also meet Anna Strong, an unsung heroine who found ingenious ways to communicate top-secret messages to her fellow spies—helping to free the American colonies from British rule.

Your mission: Decode Anna Strong’s hidden message and discover the secret assignment she undertook for the Culper Ring. There are clues embedded in the book’s text and illustrations, plus spy craft materials, including a cipher wheel in an envelope at the beginning of the book. 

Anna Strong and the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring allows readers to step back into history and play the part of a Culper spy. The story focuses on Anna and her role as a spy during the Revolutionary War. Even though Anna was often fearful, her bravery allowed George Washington to receive important wartime intelligence that was critical in winning the war. Focusing on Anna allows the reader to see how the war affected men, women, and children.  

Anna’s story is fast-paced, full of suspense, and jam-packed with historical information. In addition, the book’s format is visually appealing. Every page has a graphic element, including pictures that are drawn in black, white, and red. Plus, most of the pages have a quote set apart from the other text. These quotes are printed in large fonts and help break up the text. The graphic elements are essential because hidden in the pictures and text are clues and codes. Readers will use a cipher wheel, a pigpen code, and other methods to decipher Anna’s letter to Caleb Brewster, another spy. 

Readers will enjoy using the spy tools and finding clues throughout the story. However, the lack of direction makes this task difficult. The first page of the book has a map of the Culper Spy Ring. The top of the map has a coded question that is easy to miss. Without the essential question, the clues are just a collection of random words. Parents may want to read the answer key that appears at the end of the book so they can assist young readers in finding and understanding the clues.   

Anna Strong and the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring will appeal to readers who love ciphers, history, spies, and mystery. Plus, it gives recognition to many of the spies who helped win the American Revolution. The well-written story will keep readers’ attention and the hidden clues will make them feel like they are a part of history. Readers who want to learn more about women’s role in the Revolutionary War should also read Susanna’s Midnight Ride by Libby Carty McNamee. If you’re looking for more historical facts about the Culper Spies, George Washington’s Spies by Claudia Friddell will give you the inside scoop.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • British soldiers knock on Anna’s door in the middle of the night. Anna and her children watched as “one of the soldiers stepped behind her husband and roughly bound his hands.” Anna’s husband was arrested and taken prisoner on a prison ship. 
  • Anna goes to see her husband on the prison ship. When she gets there, the ship smelled “of death. The eyes of the prisoners were sunken, and their faces were taut with hunger.” When Anna sees her husband, “his hands and feet [were] in iron shackles, she saw the same look of starvation and mistreatment beginning to hollow his features.” 
  • Nathan Hale was spying for George Washington. When he got caught, “Nathan was identified as a spy within days and executed almost immediately after he was captured.”  
  • Benedict Arnold was sent into a battle where he “received a terrible leg wound.” 
  • One night, a British soldier is caught sneaking around outside of Anna’s house. Caleb, Anna’s friend, sees him and, “Just as [the soldier] began to dismount from his horse, Caleb burst from the hedge. . . Anna heard a series of thumps as Caleb struck the man, blow after blow.” Anna was afraid Caleb “was going to kill him” but the soldier runs off.  
  • John André, a British soldier, was captured. “André was charged and hanged as a spy.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • One of the spies would go into the city and, when passing the British checkpoints, he bribes the solders with liquor. 
  • When a group of patriots took over a fort, the men helped “themselves to the fort’s liquor stores.” 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Spy Files: Codes and Ciphers

Sneak into the secret lives of spies with this fascinating series about the world’s security services—with agent profiles, information on technology, and events that changed the world. Codes and Ciphers is packed full of interesting information beginning with the difference between a code and cipher, and how they were first developed.  

Codes and Ciphers uses a fun format that breaks up information into small, manageable parts. Each two-page spread changes topics and each page has only one to three short paragraphs plus photo captions. Each page has illustrations including historical photos, drawings, and illustrations of spy technology. Plus, some pages have an infographic titled “Top Secret” which gives additional information on spying. While the format will appeal to many readers, the large font and short paragraphs don’t allow each topic to be explored in detail. Readers who want to learn more in-depth information about codes and ciphers should check out Top Secret by Paul B. Janeczko. 

The wide range of spy information, which includes a lot of historical stories such as information on the World War II Navajo Code Talkers, is extremely interesting. Plus, readers will learn how to make their own codes, ciphers, and invisible ink. The book ends with a two-page glossary and an index. Codes and Ciphers will entertain readers and introduce many interesting facts. Spy-loving readers who want to add a little spy humor to their reading should sneak to the library and search for the Mac B. Kid Spy Series by Mac Barnett. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy

Created by the founding executive director of the International Spy Museum, who is also a former operative in the CIA’s Clandestine Service, this is the official handbook for kids who dream of one day becoming a spy or working in the intelligence field.

Have you ever wondered what spies really do? What kind of training is involved? Do you have to go to a special school or take a polygraph test? How do you live your “cover?” How does your work life affect your relationships with your friends and family? Is there danger involved?

This fascinating, fact-filled book answers these questions and more while providing a historical timeline, definitions of key terms, suggestions for further reading, an index, quizzes, and exercises to see if you have the right spy stuff. 

The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy is packed full of interesting information about the spy world and it explains why spies are important. “Every country wants to know what other countries—both friends and enemies—are doing and how it might affect their national interests.” Readers will learn about the world of spies through fun infographics that include spy terms, job descriptions, true stories, and quizzes. Readers will also learn about common spy myths and what a spy’s life is really like.  

Readers will also learn about other jobs within the spy world, such as people who create spy science and technology, a case officer, and an intelligence analyst. In addition, the book explains what qualities spies need and what steps to take in order to become a spy. While a spy’s life isn’t as exciting as James Bond portrays it, readers will still enjoy learning about dead drops, listening devices, and ciphers. After taking the quizzes, readers will know if a spy’s life is for them.   

The book’s conversational tone and graphic elements give the story an interesting flair. Every page has some type of graphic element including black and white illustrations, “Spy Speak” glossaries, lists, and/or bold red titles. Breaking up the text with these graphic elements makes the reading more enjoyable and presents facts in a way that makes them easy to remember. Even though the book’s topic is serious and the importance of intelligence gathering is highlighted, the book will not fail to entertain readers interested in the world of spies.  

As a former CIA operations officer and the founding executive director of the International Spy Museum, Peter Earnest uses his knowledge to teach readers about becoming a spy. By the end of reading The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy, readers will have a better understanding of the spy world and if they have what it takes to go undercover. Readers who want to jump into the exciting, but the fictional world of a group of young spies should read the City Spies Series by James Ponti.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • A timeline titled “How Long Have Spies Been Around?” includes spies who were executed for espionage. For example, “Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in the United States for espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. . . The Rosenbergs were members of an atomic spy ring whose espionage helped the USSR develop its own nuclear bomb.” 
  • “A defector from Russian intelligence dies of radiation poisoning in London.” The defector believed the Russian president planned his assassination. 
  • Sometimes countries kill enemy leaders. “This is called targeted killing, rather than assassination.” 
  • In order to stop terrorist attacks, President Bush declared “war on terror. . . Armed drones have also been used to attack terrorist strongholds and kill terrorist leaders. The terrorists also rely on their own intelligence capabilities and covert tradecraft to plan and carry out their deadly activities.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • When the KGB suspected that one of its operatives was working for the British, they gave him a truth serum.  

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

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