A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Lots of World War II history. What life was like during World War II on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Words and phrases in Latin with translations, especially Latin names of animal species. Some scientific principles briefly explained, and a description of a self-extinguishing candle. A couple of examples of segregation and its affect on Black community members. Some real historical aspects of spy craft and skills like code breaking and going undercover. An author's note explains some of the real historical events in the book as well as what's fictional.
When serious trouble comes, trust and rely on your loved ones and community to have your back. Let each person contribute according to their strengths. Speak out when you see something wrong, and stand your ground when you know you're right.
Positive Role Models
Narrator Stick is a good model of curiosity and courage. She wants to be a scientist and an FBI agent, and is constantly experimenting, observing, and reading to learn as much as she can. She also bravely stands up for what's right, including turning away an angry mob. She and her friends model communication and teamwork, each contributing their individual strengths to help each other and solve problems.
All characters are White except two. Best friend Rain's mother is White and her father, from the Caribbean, has dark skin. The man who captains the daily mail boat and ferry is Black. Racism, segregation, and prejudice are explored through negative examples that show their impact on individuals and communities.
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Violence & Scariness
Violence includes a fistfight with punches, a cut above the eye, and mention of blood dripping. A parent punishes their child by beating him with a switch until he cries. A villain is shot and dies but nothing's directly described. Guns and sticks are brandished a few other times. Villains and bullying characters use verbal threats and intimidation. Some scary, large-scale historical events like ships sinking, bodies washing ashore, people disappearing in large numbers, and structures collapsing in the impact of sound waves from offshore explosions. Distress over an absent parent missing during wartime. A scary description of being afraid of the dark.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Kids see teens kissing. An older teen kisses another teen "on the face." Some talk about dating and marriage.
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Products & Purchases
Pepsi Cola mentioned several times. Cheerwine soda mentioned once.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
An adult with breathing problems smokes a pipe; it's clear no one likes it. An adult asks about beer at a party.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Island of Spies is a World War II mystery by Newbery Honor recipient Sheila Turnage (Three Times Lucky), about three sixth graders witnessing little-known historic events from their home off the North Carolina coast. Violence includes a teen shooting and killing an adult in self-defense, a brief fistfight that mentions blood dripping from a cut, a parent giving corporal punishment by beating with a switch, and danger from buildings collapsing during wartime offshore activity. There's no gore and nothing's directly described. There's also some scariness from large-scale historical events like ships being torpedoed, families being separated, mention of bodies washing ashore, and large numbers of people being sent away or disappearing in Europe. There's grief and tension from a missing parent. Big kids see older teens kissing and hear them talking about dating and marriage. An adult asks about beer at a party, and an adult with breathing problems smokes a pipe.
Is It Any Good?
This is a fun, entertaining story that will keep kids engaged while they learn a lot of little-known history and about life in the Outer Banks of North Carolina during World War II. Island of Spies narrator Stick and her two best friends are well developed, realistic characters, each with their own quirks and strengths, who readers will find easy to root for.
Author Sheila Turnage creates a vivid place and time populated with colorful characters, while they aren't a focus of the story she doesn't shy away from showing how racism and prejudice affect the characters and community. Sometimes the foreshadowing of events is a little heavy-handed for the mainly light tone of the book. At just over 380 pages, it's best for strongly independent readers who will savor story as it unfolds.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.