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100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

Review: City of Spies by Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan

City of Spies
By Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan
Illustrated by Pascal Dizin
First Second Books (Roaring Brook)
ISBN: 9781596432628
Grades 5-8
In Stores April 27, 2010

Take a look at the cover for City of Spies. Remind you of anything? Yes, I too had visions of Tintin as soon as I laid eyes upon it. Skepticism soon followed. But while the homage is clear, this isn’t a weak attempt at read-alike status – it stands on its own. A throwback graphic novel mystery, City of Spies is page-turning entertainment.

It’s June, 1942. World War II is in full swing, and Evelyn is about to enter a whole new world. Sent away by her womanizing father for the summer to live with Aunt Lia in Manhattan, Evelyn is out of her comfort zone and unhappy, creating comics to comfort herself. Aunt Lia, a struggling artist unprepared to take care of a child, isn’t thrilled about the arrangement either. Evelyn soon meets Tony, who shows her the ropes. An innocent game of spot the spy turns into something much larger – an honest to goodness mystery right in their “German town” neighborhood, complete with important packages, secret codes, and hot pursuits. It slowly becomes clear that the information at the center of this mystery is of the highest importance. Nuclear importance.

The plot is nicely paced, slowly building tension as Evelyn and Tony dig deeper and learn more.

There are a number of adult characters who play important roles. It’s nice to see that many of them, especially Brendan Hughes, a cop with bigger ambitions, move beyond rote types and into more round characterizations.

The pen and (digital) ink illustrations are colorful, precise, and charming, serving the story well. Layouts mainly consist of small panels (again, Tintin comes to mind), with the occasional splash to set the scene.

I love it when a book exceeds my expectations. This one did it. City of Spies is an engaging effort and a pleasant surprise.

Review copy from publisher

Also reviewed by Good Comics for Kids.

Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Wow, this looks great! Thanks for the review. I’m also a fan of good ol’ Herge, so I’m gonna seek this one out.

  2. This looks really cool–I’ll try it on my Tintin loving son! Thanks.

  3. This one also exceeded my expectations and I was most surprised by how the supporting characters were all so fleshed out (especially the aunt and Brendan, the cop). I’d easily recommend this to any MG mystery lover; I think they would fall hard for it.