World War I Tales: The Pigeon Spy

Written by Terry Deary
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley Louis McNulty

1918, France. The Germans are in retreat but, somehow, in the chaos of war, the American 77th battalion of 200 men finds itself with Germans to left, right and in front of them. Food is running out, they are in a bad way physically and German snipers pick off any man who risks fetching water from the nearby stream.

Things get worse. The advancing Americans don’t know they are there, so when they try to retreat, they get shot at by their own side.

One of the soldiers, 16-year-old Joe Clay, a farm boy from Kansas, is hopeless at everything; he can’t march or shoot. But he knows about homing pigeons, and he has three of them. Can one of his precious pigeons fly back to base with a note tied to its leg to alert the Americans to their whereabouts without being shot down?

I enjoyed this lively story which is based in fact and engagingly illustrated by James de la Rue. There really was a pigeon hero called Cher Ami who managed, in spite of severe wounds, to get back to base with his message and thus saved the battalion from annihilation. Usually, we hear stories of the British experience in World War I, but The Pigeon Spy gives us a different take with this little episode giving an American perspective on the war’s final months. An interesting epilogue gives us the background on Cher Ami’s life.

The Pigeon Spy is obviously written with the forthcoming 1914 centenary of the war in mind. Recommended for children of nine plus.

Elizabeth Hawksley


I thought this book was really good and exciting. The story is fascinating because I never knew that you could train pigeons to take messages and come back home, and I also didn’t know that anyone in the war could be so desperate as to want to eat pigeons. Apart from this, I thought this book was very lifelike. I could imagine myself being Joe and working on a farm and then being sent off to the army. It just seemed so real to me in many ways. I reckon that this book should be for age 9-11. I will remember it for a long while and I think my friends would enjoy it. It teaches me something about history I wouldn’t know otherwise.

Louis McNulty, age 10