The next book that I read for the 48 Hour Book Challenge (my fourth and last for the day) was Dawn Undercover, by Anna Dale. Dawn Undercover features Dawn Buckle, an 11-year-old London girl who is so ordinary that people never notice her. Her own family seems scarcely aware of her existence. Her teacher doesn't even know her name. It's a big day when another kid notices her enough to ask to borrow her pencil sharpener. Dawn takes self-effacing to a whole new level. She's like the anti-cool girl.
It turns out, however, that being unobtrusive is exactly the right qualification for being a spy. Also, because no one else ever notices her, Dawn has plenty of time to notice details of the world around her. This is another excellent spy trait. A clandestine government agency called S.H.H. (Strictly Hush Hush) swoops in one day and hires Dawn for a special undercover project. Dawn's family (a bit Roald Dahl-esque, if you ask me) is completely unperturbed by having their 11-year-old go off to learn to be a spy, and sees her off cheerfully.
Dawn goes to work for a division of S.H.H. called P.S.S.T (Pursuit of Scheming Spies and Traitors), where she is trained in spying, gets some cool gizmos, gets a new name and identification documents, and goes undercover on a case. I personally thought that that the acronyms for the S.H.H. divisions were a bit too cute (there's also A.H.E.M., P.U.F.F., etc.). But kids might think that they're funny. Many of the spies also attended Clandestine College. The whole naming aspect reminds me a little bit of the Harry Potter books, but with far less subtlety.
Dawn Undercover has a distinctly British flavor, though not so much that it will be confusing to kids. There are references to lorries and nits and crisps, but they meaning should be clear from the context for most U.S. kids. Anna Dale lives in Southampton, England, and I like it that the publishers didn't edit all of the British terms from the American edition.
There were a couple of other things that I liked about the book. Dawn's relationship (and yes, you have to call it that) with her woolen donkey Clop is priceless. She infers advice from his positions and "expressions", and treats him as a trusted friend. I also loved the appendices to the book, with a key to the acronyms, a glossary, a key to Morse Code, and other useful spy info.
Overall, I thought that Dawn Undercover was a fun read. I didn't find it edge-of-my-seat riveting, but I didn't predict all of the twists at the end, either. And I do I like the idea of an 11-year-old girl being trained as a spy and saving the day. The book is likely to appeal to kids who feel ignored or unappreciated, but know deep down inside that they have some unique attribute that could make a difference.
Book: Dawn Undercover
Author: Anna Dale
Age Range: 9 to 12
Time Spent: 3 hours
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.