World War II Tales, 1: The Apple Spy

Written by Terry Deary
Review by Marion Rose

This is another in Terry Deary’s series of World War II stories based on true events. The Apple Spy features the discovery and arrest of three German spies who land in the remote Scottish village of Port Gordon in 1940. This must have been the most exciting thing ever to have happened to Port Gordon, and Deary makes good use of all the twists and turns of the real event in this exciting adventure for children of age 7+.

The story is told from the viewpoint of a young girl, Marie Bruce, who, with her brother, Jamie, plays an important part in the action. Deary skillfully evokes what life in the war was really like for children in the 1940s: ‘Snow White didn’t live in war time like we did. We would have eaten a barrel full of apples,’ Marie reflects, referring to food shortages. Details of the time are beautifully integrated into the story: Jamie’s short grey trousers flap about his legs, the station name signs have all been removed to confound any German spies, a soldier’s steel-studded boot strikes a spark at a tense moment. We smell the soot, feel the draughts and see the old-style locomotive with its corridors and faded brown blinds, as one escaping spy flees to Edinburgh pursued by the children.

The plot is pacey, the language level age-appropriate yet expressive, and the black and white illustrations by James de la Rue add clarity as well as humour.

If I were forced to find a duff note in this otherwise immensely enjoyable read, it is the stereotyped teacher with her ‘mouth wrinkled like a breakfast prune’ who appears on page one. Beware alienating older women who buy books, I say!