For as far back as I can remember I have been fascinated by spies. As a child I got all decked out in gear to play ‘secret agents’ with my little brother. And the games I made up and the stories I enjoyed often had themes of concealed identity.
That same fascination followed me to adulthood where I have especially enjoyed reading about actual spies throughout history. It’s not the flashy big name fictional spies that call to me so much as the covert individuals who made personal sacrifices to change the course of history. I especially love hearing of the women and people of color that we are only now discovering their stories.
I compiled a list of my favorite books about spies for every age level—from the very youngest readers through adults. I hope you find something to enjoy here!
Disclaimer: Some of these books I received free from publishers to review. The post contains Amazon Affiliate links which means if you purchase through the link I will receive a small compensation and no additional cost to you.
Spy Guy: The Not So Secret Agent : This adorable story follows a child trying so hard to learn the secrets of spying. With so many fun little details and a wonderful ending, this one was a big hit with me and my kids.
Lyric McKerrigan, Secret Librarian: This girl has my dream job—a secret agent librarian who saves the world by knowing just the right book to use at just the right time! It is so much fun and has been reread many times at my house. It’s silly and comical, but also a great celebration of the power of books. Graphic novel style illustrations that include clever bookish hints pair perfectly with a quick, engaging text to make this an entertaining read!
The Secret Life of Spies is a beautifully designed new children’s book and I loved sharing these fascinating true stories with my 7 year old. I am a big fan of this style of oversized nonfiction with pockets of information spread throughout the page and engaging illustrations. I was particularly happy to see such a diverse inclusion of spies around the world. Some were individuals I have previously read about like Mary Bowser, Nancy Wake, and Hedy Lamarr but many of them were brand new to me.
Natan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale: This is my 9 year old’s favorite series! Through graphic novel format it brings history alive and is a very popular pick among elementary schoolers.
The Spy on History series takes a really creative, engaging approach as readers can read a narrative of her story while also doing a lot of their own sleuthing along the way. There are clues, codes, ciphers, and more! Very well executed and geared towards ages 8-12.
The City Spies series is engaging and exciting for a wide range of ages. Independent reading about ages 8 and up but also makes a great read aloud and is amazing on audio. My kids and I both loved this one!
Spies, Lies, and Disguises is a middle grade level (about 9 years old and up) nonfiction that reveals all kinds of undercover operations that took place during WWII. To suit the age level it has a more conversational, casual tone and breaks down into smaller and engaging sections, but it is still packed full of great information.
I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You: I read the start of the Gallagher Girls series in high school (and finished it in college when the later books came out) and thought it was so much fun! A great book for transitioning from middle grade to young adult novels as the content is still very tame.
The Secrets of Mary Bowser is an adult historical fiction novel about a formerly enslaved woman who received an education and then returned to slavery undercover as a spy for the Union reading notes and eavesdropping in the Confederate president’s home. There are not a lot of facts of Mary’s life recorded, but I thought the author’s interpretation was wonderfully depicted and felt plausible and honest. I listened to the audiobook (which was very well done!) but also checked out the physical copy so I could read all the insights and historical notes at the end.
Need to Know: This adult novel is unique in that it was more of a psychological thriller rather than an action story. It also had a heavy family/motherhood aspect. The author worked as a CIA analyst herself and I felt like it showed in how well she understood all the dynamics. I had issues/mixed feelings on a couple aspects but overall really enjoyed it and had a hard time putting it down.
A Woman of No Importance: This is an amazing nonfiction story of a spy who helped win World War II. When referring to her the Gestopo said: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.”
The Librarian Spy: Emotional story inspired by real people who made great sacrifices to help others in a painful time of history.
The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone is a nonfiction about a woman who made a real mark on history. It also provided some interesting insight into the beginnings of the FBI and CIA.
And as a bonus: Our favorite spy themed game! Spy Alley was a favorite in my family of origin and now is a big hit in my own family as well! My 7 year old can understand and play well and it’s still plenty of fun for the adults.