Monday, December 29, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Top Secret Files: World War II Spies, Secret Missions, and Hidden Facts from World War II by Stephanie Bearce

This is an entry in a new series focusing on, well, "Spies, secret missions, and hidden facts" in major wars. Other titles include World War I, the Civil War, and the American Revolution.

The chapters are "Secrets" which talks about training for various groups of spies, Churchill's Secret Army, Camp X, etc. "Spies" focuses on specific spies, with a pretty decent variety. Included are Nancy Wake, Christopher Hutton, Noor Inayat Khan, Moe Berg and Joan Pujol Garcia (a man, in case you didn't know) and Josephine Baker. "Special Missions" talks about specific sabotage and undercover missions like "Operation Dynamo" and "Camouflage California". "Secret Weapons" includes both successful and unsuccessful weapons from both the Axis and the Allies and "Secret Forces" includes the various groups of Native American code talkers and the Russian Night Witches, female bomber pilots.

Each chapter ends with projects and activities, including fingerprinting, creating a fake identity card, making a spy rocket, and testing out your own balloon flour bomb. Back matter consists of a bibliography, both books and websites, and a brief note on the author. The book is 117 pages and available only in paperback, in a smaller chapter book format. The layout includes lots of photos, illustrations, captions, and sidebars of information and the book is colored in sepia/orange tones.

I'm kind of torn on this one. On the one hand, it has lots of exciting stories, told in a way that's interesting but not ghoulish or over-dramatic. There was more diversity than you usually see in this type of book and I was especially interested to note that the Night Witches were included, as I'd just been reading about them. The projects and activities mostly look fun and interesting. I do frequently purchase nonfiction in paperback format and these are very affordable. On the other hand, I found several typos (sorry, I marked them and now I can't find them again but I know they are in there) and slim paperbacks like this don't sit well on the shelf - they tend to get squished into the back and disappear. As I'm updating the history section soon, I'd prefer to focus on titles that give a more balanced overview of the war; this focuses more on "cool and heroic things people did".

Verdict: These would certainly circulate well (until they fall off the back of the shelf) and if you're looking to add to your history collection some factey titles with a nice diversity of stories and characters these aren't a bad choice. Hopefully the typos will be taken care of if the books go into another printing.

ISBN: 9781618212443; Published 2014 by Prufrock Press/Sourcebooks; Review copy provided by the publisher

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