James Ponti, Spies, and Trivia: A Winning Combination, a guest post by Amy Brownlee
If you’re looking for an action adventure to grab the interest of your middle grade readers, the City Spies series by James Ponti is an excellent choice. There are four books currently available with book five, Mission Manhattan, coming out Feb. 6.
My first exposure to Ponti’s work was his Edgar Award-nominated mystery Framed. My fifth and sixth grade literature circle students devoured that book last fall and many of us read the rest of the trilogy, Vanished and Trapped, and wanted more. That was when I ordered the City Spies series, which was an immediate hit in our library.
A parent reported that one fifth grade boy was so excited about reading City Spies that he set his alarm for 6:30 am so he could read before school. When I posted this on Twitter and tagged @JamesPonti, I got this reply:
My lit circle kids went crazy when I showed them, and it only served to increase their love for all things James Ponti.
Fast forward a year to October 2023. I had the privilege of attending my first-ever AASL National Conference in Tampa, FL. To celebrate the upcoming publication of the fifth book in the series, James Ponti hosted a City Spies party one evening during the conference. Librarians could sign up to attend, and I came with two other librarians from my home state of Kansas.
As people were arriving and filling the tables in the hotel ballroom, James Ponti entertained the crowd with the skill of a seasoned stand-up comedian. Once the party officially got rolling, he also told touching stories about his early struggles as a reader and a teacher who made a difference in his life. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, do it.
The main event was a City Spies trivia contest. We teamed up with the people sitting at our table and were in the process of choosing a team name when we noticed someone had pulled up a chair and joined us. It was bestselling middle grade author Alan Gratz!
We named our team Agent 327.12 (the Dewey number for spies) and had so much fun playing the trivia game. The best part is that the Spy Trivia Game slides are posted on Ponti’s website and you can use them with your students or staff for free! You don’t need to have read the City Spies books to play.
The first part of the game shows a middle grade book and you have to name the author. For the second portion, you see the covers of City Spies books that have been translated into different languages and you have to guess the country where that book is sold.
The event was so much fun. We ended up in second place, but the best moment of the evening was when we decided to take a team photo with the librarians gathered around Alan Gratz Charlie’s Angels style.
I left the City Spies party with new friends, some fun book swag, and an even greater love for middle grade authors.
Ponti is married to a teacher, so he works hard to provide great teaching resources for his books. The publisher’s City Spies webpage includes resources like a video book trailer, discussion guide, printable bookmarks, and a wordsearch. There are other excellent resources for promoting the books available on the author’s website, including a video of Ponti reading the first chapter aloud.
My students’ love of Ponti’s spy novels sent me on a mission (see what I did there?) to find read-alikes. Here they are:
Spy School series by Stuart Gibbs
Charlie Thorne series by Stuart Gibbs
Miss Smith’s Spy School for Girls series by Beth McMullen
Supernatural Investigations series by B. B. Alston. Book 1 is Amari and the Night Brothers. These are secret agent stories with a supernatural twist.
I’d Tell you I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter. Gallagher Girls series book 1. For grades 7+.
Alex Rider series by Alex Horowitz Stormbreaker, book 1, is a movie. There is also an Alex Rider streaming series on Amazon Prime. This series is also available in graphic novel format.
Young Bond series by Charles Higson
I,Q series by Roland Smith
H.I.V.E. series (Higher Institute of Villainous Education) by Mark Walden
One last thing: at the City Spies party, James Ponti shared that he’s working on a new middle grade mystery series called the Sherlock Society. Visit his linktree to sign up for bonus content like sneak peeks, a library escape room, and virtual events.
Meet the author
Amy Brownlee is a book lover, presenter, and preK-12 teacher-librarian at a small school district in rural Kansas. She blogs at BiblioBrownlee.weebly.com and is on Instagram and X/Twitter @amybrownlee93. Learn more about her work at about.me/amybrownlee.
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
SLJ Blog Network