________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 37 . . . . May 27, 2011


Spy, Spy Again: True Tales of Failed Espionage.

Tina Holdcroft.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2011.
109 pp., pbk. & hc., $14.95 (pbk.), $24.95(hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-222-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-223-2 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Espionage-History-Juvenile literature.
Spies-History-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Todd Kyle.

*** /4



...when France became the 4th nation to make and test nuclear weapons back in 1960, it soon got itself into hot water with the public.

While the USA, the Soviet Union, and China tested their weapons and collected data in remote spots within their borders (the USA shared its data with the United Kingdom), France, on the other hand, conducted 193 of its 210 tests far from home on the Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia.

Talk about an unpopular move! From the early 1960s onwards, France was swamped with complaints and protests from environmental groups, peace groups, and governments too. And things got really nasty when the protesters started showing up at its Pacific Ocean test site.

In 1985, France's secret service found out that the environmental watchdog group, Greenpeace, would be interrupting its next round of tests. Something had to be done.

Part graphics, part information text, Spy, Spy Again is a collection of true stories from all over the world and all eras of history that have one thing in common: they are all about spies or spy agencies that made mistakes. Tina Holdcroft has done an incredible amount of research into often forgotten passages of history, and she learned the arcane details that led to the fatal errors of spy missions that either failed or were exposed. Each story is presented as an introductory text that gives way to a complex graphic story in which important facts are often presented in single words to explain an image or in snippets of invented dialogue (like Mata Hari saying, "I want to be a spy. How hard can it be?" to describe how the exotic dancer changed careers).

internal art      The economy of words and images that Holdcroft uses is such that very complex narratives are presented in just a few pages, making the book ideal for reluctant yet intelligent readers. The material can occasionally be difficult to follow, and more than once the sequence of images, which can move across, down, and diagonally in rapid succession, is unclear. The textual parts are witty, although occasionally the wit is overdone, as in the over punctuation of some with the "mwahaha" diabolical laugh. The illustrations are pure cartoon, with no attempt at subtlety or emotion, yet the visual antics are delightful and the detail and complexity fascinating.

      The stories are wide ranging and not at all repetitive. Particularly enjoyable is the segment, quoted above, about the French sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985, although the absence of any Canadian content (like Igor Gouzenko, the Soviet defector who was almost denied asylum by a disbelieving Canadian government) is surprising.

      The only real drawback to Spy, Spy Again is the physical quality of the book, which is printed on overly glossy paper (albeit FSC certified) that makes the printing quality look poor. According to the author's description, the graphic portions were done in ink, scanned, then coloured with Photoshop, and it does lend a slightly homemade look to the pages; in addition, the print in the text portions looks fuzzy in the way that a home photo printer might produce. But these distractions and the unfortunate stereotyping of German and French accents in some of the "dialogue" (since when is "allo" French for hello anywhere but on a phone?) do not hide the fact that this is an immensely fun and enlightening book that many readers will find absolutely absorbing.


Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and a member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Children's Book Centre.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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