________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 4. . . .September 27, 2013


Secret Signs. (Mystery Files).

James Bow.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2013.
32 pp., pbk. & hc., $10.95 (pbk.), $21.56 (RLB.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-1129-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-1125-4 (RLB.).

Subject Headings:
Cryptography-Juvenile literature.
Cipher-Juvenile literature.
Signs and symbols-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Janice Foster.

***1/2 /4



In the Nazca Desert of Peru, shallow lines seem to have been scratched in the dirt. On the ground, they look like random marks. Only when the lines are seen from the air do they appear to be huge drawings.


Secret Signs, by James Bow, is one of eight titles in Crabtree’s "Mystery Files" series. This series reveals fascinating stories and facts behind some of the world’s unusual mysteries. Secret Signs will whet young readers’ fascination with the secrets behind codes, ciphers, rituals, artifacts and more. In this book, readers will get a glimpse at how people throughout the ages have used hidden signs to communicate secret messages to a select audience. They will wonder, as do archaeologists, historians and scientists, about the meaning of structures, designs, artifacts and codes and ciphers used in both ancient and recent history.

     The 12 chapters provide a short glimpse into a variety of topics. The scope of the content of Secret Signs includes military codes and ciphers, mysterious organizations, such as the Freemasons and the Knights Templar, ground drawings found in Peru and England, the pyramids of Egypt, ancient stone structures, such as Stonehenge, Newgrange, and Carnac, crop circles, Pueblo canyon structures and rock carvings and even bank notes. Each two-page spread chapter includes a introductory paragraph that explains the chapter title, clearly written text that provides information on the topic, Mystery File boxes with unusual facts or related stories and bold, colourful photographs with captions. These features will appeal to readers of differing reading levels, and this title is designated as a Guided reading book level Q. A difficult word is defined on the page under ‘Mystery words…’, and there is also a glossary and index.

     Young people are curious about their world. Secret Signs will capture the reader’s attention with its attractive format, the intriguing content, the readability of the text, and the large, interesting photographs. The fact that the topics covered in the book range from ancient times to the present adds reality and relevance to the exploration of these mysterious signs. Posing the possibility of conspiracies and hoaxes adds further interest. Ending the book with the challenge of creating signs that will accurately communicate important messages, such as ‘Danger, radioactive waste’, to future civilizations will leave the reader thinking about the power and danger of signs. The section called “Find Out More” lists book titles as well as websites for further research into this topic.

     Children are intrigued by secrets and trying to solve them. Secret Signs provides a short overview of the different types of signs that exist. It is recommended for any elementary or middle year’s school library.


Janice Foster is a retired teacher and teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364
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