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About The Book

A New York Times bestseller!
A GMA3 Summer Reading Squad Selection!
“Ingeniously plotted, and a grin-inducing delight.” —People
“Will keep young readers glued to the page…So when do I get the sequel?” —Beth McMullen, author of Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls

In this thrilling new series that Stuart Gibbs called “a must-read,” Edgar Award winner James Ponti brings together five kids from all over the world and transforms them into real-life spies—perfect for fans of Spy School and Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls.

Sara Martinez is a hacker. She recently broke into the New York City foster care system to expose her foster parents as cheats and lawbreakers. However, instead of being hailed as a hero, Sara finds herself facing years in a juvenile detention facility and banned from using computers for the same stretch of time. Enter Mother, a British spy who not only gets Sara released from jail but also offers her a chance to make a home for herself within a secret MI6 agency.

Operating out of a base in Scotland, the City Spies are five kids from various parts of the world. When they’re not attending the local boarding school, they’re honing their unique skills, such as sleight of hand, breaking and entering, observation, and explosives. All of these allow them to go places in the world of espionage where adults can’t.

Before she knows what she’s doing, Sara is heading to Paris for an international youth summit, hacking into a rival school’s computer to prevent them from winning a million euros, dangling thirty feet off the side of a building, and trying to stop a villain…all while navigating the complex dynamics of her new team.

No one said saving the world was easy…

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to

City Spies

By James Ponti

About the Book

Sara Martinez is a hacker. She recently broke into the New York City foster care system to expose her foster parents as cheats and lawbreakers. However, instead of being hailed as a hero, Sara finds herself facing years in a juvenile detention facility and banned from using computers for the same stretch of time. Enter Mother, a British spy who not only gets Sara released from jail but also offers her a chance to make a home for herself within a secret MI6 agency. Operating out of a base in Scotland, the City Spies are five kids from various cities all over the world. When they’re not attending the local boarding school, they’re honing their unique skills, which allow them to go places in the world of espionage where adults can’t.

Discussion Questions

1. As chapter one opens, readers meet Sara, a twelve-year-old hacker from Brooklyn waiting to learn her fate in Kings County Family Court. What are your predictions about the circumstances that have brought Sara to this place? Give examples from the text that led you to these conclusions.

2. Randall Stubbs, the public defender assigned to Sara, tells her, “‘It doesn’t matter what you were trying to do. All that matters is what you did.’” Do you agree with Stubbs’s assessment? Does knowing what inspired Sara’s actions make a difference, even if she ultimately broke the law? Explain your answers. Can you think of any examples where understanding someone’s intentions is as important as knowing the outcome?

3. Sara explains that it would be challenging to trust someone whose name you don’t really know. Gerald Anderson responds by saying, “‘It all depends on the situation . . . but my friends and colleagues, and I do hope that’s a group you’ll soon consider yourself to be a part of, they all call me Mother.” Are you surprised to find out that this is his nickname? Why might Mother be inclined to have his friends and colleagues call him by this moniker? What are some of the traits often associated with mothers that Mother might demonstrate?

4. Mother tells Sara that “‘Only fools and liars speak with certainty about things beyond their control.’” What do you think he means by this? How might you apply this advice to your own life?

5. Describe Sara. What are three things you find most interesting about her? Is she someone you could see yourself befriending? How do you think others who don’t know her well might view her? Explain your answers.

6. Consider how each City Spies member contributes to MI6. Why do you think they’re so eager to work there? What about their past experiences make them well suited for the job? Do you think there are different expectations put on them based on age? Do you think that’s fair or unfair? Explain your answers.

7. When Sara, Sydney, and Mother visit Sara’s former foster home to retrieve her things, Sara takes it upon herself to lock the Clarks on the roof as payback. Mother states, “‘That wasn’t part of the plan.’” Sara tells him that as the “alpha,” she gets to be in charge now that they’re operational. What are some of the lessons Mother learns about Sara from this practice mission? Does this foreshadow anything that happens later?

8. The Clarks will no longer have foster children under their care, and they are also being investigated by the New York Office of Children and Family Services. Mother tells Sara, “‘I know you’re not familiar with it, but this is what justice feels like. This is what we’re all about.’” Do you think justice is important to someone like Sara? Do you think there can be more than one form of justice? Explain your answers.

9. Sara’s new team initiates her first test. Why do you think the others find this necessary? What does Sara ultimately prove to them?

10. Though a part of her will always be Sara, how does transitioning to her new identity as “Brooklyn” allow Sara to reinvent herself? Can you think of any other benefits to this new identity? What would your code name be?

11. After meeting Olivia in Sydney, Australia where she’s about to be expelled from school, Olivia tells Mother, “‘You don’t have to be part of a group to understand that they’re being mistreated. Justice doesn’t require a membership card. Just a sense of right and wrong.’” Do you agree with this statement? Can you think of some creative ways you can fight for what you believe to be right? Share your ideas with others.

12. Discuss Kat’s reaction to Sara’s arrival. Do you think Kat’s behavior is appropriate? Why might this change be difficult for her?

13. Consider the individual City Spies: Which character did you like the most or the least? For what reasons? Whom did you feel was most similar to you? Explain your answers.

14. Mother tells his team, “‘You can’t look out if you stand out.’” Consider these “Motherisms,” or little sayings that Mother invents to help his team remember key spycraft principles. Can you think of any other useful tips that might assist the City Spies? What do you think are the biggest dangers? How can they work to try to avoid them?

15. Which parts of Sara’s life can you relate to? Which feel unique to her? What do you predict will be the most interesting changes in her life as she joins Mother and continues to assist the team?

16. How do Mother’s interventions profoundly impact and change the lives of each of his charges? Do you think being part of a team influences their behavior? What makes someone a good teammate? Explain your answers.

17. Why is learning that Mother is looking for his wife, Clementine, and his children important? What do you think motivates Clementine’s behavior? Why does she not want Mother to continue his search?

18. Describe some of the specific ways in which Umbra exercises its power. In your opinion, what makes this organization so dangerous? How does learning that they tried to kill Mother impact the City Spies? In what ways does this change their mission?

19. Sydney believes fighting injustice as a member of MI6 is an incredible opportunity and jumps at the chance to help train Brooklyn (Sara). What are the most important skills Sydney and the others can offer Brooklyn? What does Brooklyn ultimately prove to each of them? Explain your answers using examples from the text.

20. Considering the novel’s conclusion, what do you predict will happen in the next installment of the City Spies series?

Extension Activities

1. Father Hurricane. Using the internet and library resources, find more information about the amazing contributions of Father Benito Viñes, the Jesuit priest who was the first person to successfully predict hurricanes. What are you most surprised to discover about him? What do you think Sara would have been most interested to learn?

2. Origin Cities. Each City Spy takes the name of their hometown as their code name. Your teacher will divide the class into five groups; each group will pick one of these cities and create an informational poster or travel brochure that includes important landmarks and historical facts. If interested, a sixth group can do the same for Kigali, which is where Paris lived before immigrating to France.

3. Spy Books. In City Spies, Mother mentions that he likes author Roald Dahl; in addition to being a writer, Dahl was a spy. With your classmates, study Dahl’s experiences and then discuss other famous spies in history. Brainstorm a list of qualities that make them good spies. List obstacles they encountered, and how they handled them. Would you make a good spy? Explain your answer.

4. Rainmakers. Rainmaking is a key plotline in City Spies. Research and investigate the different ways that people have attempted or succeeded at manufacturing rain. After looking more closely at this topic, stage a class debate in which you discuss the positives and negatives of trying to control nature.

5. Meteorology. Weather plays a central role in City Spies; the spies live in a weather station and compete for a weather-based prize. Research the basic elements of meteorology, and try your hand at measuring weather over a specific period of time. How will you interpret your results? What conclusions can you draw from them?

6. Table Magic. Rio is a talented magician, and much of magic relies on science. After exploring the topic, learn and practice some basic tabletop magic tricks that rely on science. Consider magnets or mathematical probabilities. Which components do you find most difficult to execute? Which are easiest? Does the experience impact your view of magic?

7. Stavros Prize. The schools in City Spies are competing for the fictional Stavros Prize, offering scientific solutions to environmental issues. Compete for your classroom Stavros Prize in a virtual science fair where you try to imagine green solution ideas. Consider studying real-life students who’ve come up with potential solutions for things like removing plastic from the ocean to inspire your own project.

8. Write Your Own Motherism. “Motherisms” are short sayings in rhyming phrases that Mother created to help the spies sharpen their craft. Write a few of your own Motherisms for life, school, hobbies, etc. Then turn them into posters to be hung in your classroom.

9. Speak to the Environment. Sydney gives a short speech about the environment at the Global Youth Summit on the Environment. She’s given a strict time limit of one minute, forty-five seconds. The length makes it harder for her to cover all that she wants to discuss. Write your own 105-second speech about the environment, and deliver it to your classmates. Think about whether you’re looking to inspire, educate, or alarm. What did you find most challenging? How did you work to keep your words concise and focused? What tone did you use? What was your goal?

10. Classroom Dossier. In the back of City Spies is a dossier of the main characters. Using the same format, write your own dossier description for your favorite character. When you’ve finished, combine your work with your classmates’ to make a classroom dossier that you can revisit for future books in the series.

11. Cover Story. Everywhere they go, the City Spies have to come up with cover identities. Create your own fake identity with a complete backstory. Include paragraphs to explain your process and why you’ve chosen these features and history.

This guide was created by Dr. Rose Brock in collaboration with James Ponti. Rose is an assistant professor in Library Science Department in the College of Education at Sam Houston State University and holds a Ph.D. in Library Science, specializing in children’s and young adult literature.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit or

About The Author

Elena Seibert Photography

James Ponti is the New York Times bestselling author of four middle grade book series: The Sherlock Society following a group of young detectives; City Spies, about an unlikely squad of five kids from around the world who form an elite MI6 Spy Team; the Edgar Award–winning Framed! series, about a pair of tweens who solve mysteries in Washington, DC; and the Dead City trilogy, about a secret society that polices the undead living beneath Manhattan. His books have appeared on more than fifteen different state award lists, and he is the founder of a writers group known as the Renegades of Middle Grade. James is also an Emmy–nominated television writer and producer who has worked for many networks including Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, PBS, History, and Spike TV, as well as NBC Sports. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. Find out more at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Aladdin (March 10, 2020)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534414938
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 750L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Awards and Honors

  • Pacific Northwest Young Reader's Choice Award
  • Maud Hart Lovelace Award Nominee (MN)
  • Kentucky Bluegrass Award Master List
  • Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Starred Intermediate Title
  • Young Hoosier Book Award (IN)
  • Texas Lone Star Reading List
  • Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award Master List (IL)
  • Volunteer State Book Award Nominee (TN)
  • Virginia Readers' Choice Award List
  • Sunshine State Young Reader's Award (FL)
  • Nene Award Nominee (HI)
  • Massachusetts Children's Book Award Nominee
  • Black-Eyed Susan Book Award Nominee (MD)
  • Nevada Young Readers' Award
  • New York Public Library Best Books for Kids
  • Rhode Island Middle School Book Award Nominee
  • Club Tome IT List

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More books from this author: James Ponti

More books in this series: City Spies