Spy Secrets

Books to Share

Henry and Mudge and the Sneaky Crackers by Cynthia Rylant
Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park
Patience Wright: America’s First Sculptor and Revolutionary Spy by Pegi Deitz Shea
Steal Back the Mona Lisa by Meghan McCarthy
The Unbreakable Code by Sara Hoagland Hunter

Books to Show or Booktalk

Geronimo Stilton, Secret Agent by Geronimo Stilton
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
I was a Third Grade Spy by Mary Jane Auch
The Sly Spy by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat
Spy by Richard Platt
Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz


I Spy

Copy the I Spy nametag provided at the end of this program. Clipart copyright © 2010 by the University of South Florida, Florida Educational Technology Clearinghouse: http://etc.usf.edu/clipart.


Kryptos Code Statue

On the grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia is a sculpture entitled Kryptos. The word kryptos is Greek, meaning “hidden.” Created by the American artist Jim Sanborn, the Kryptos sculpture was dedicated in 1990. There are four sections which contain encrypted messages. Three of the sections have been solved. However the fourth section remains unsolved and continues to puzzle code breakers from around the world.

Create your own version of the Kryptos statue using the professional resources listed at the end of this chapter to encrypt a message. Purchase a tri-fold display board and write the encrypted message on both sides. Challenge kids to break the code. Each week release a clue to assist them.  More on Kryptos from Wikipedia.

Rhymes and Poetry

Recite the poem, “My Dad’s A Secret Agent” from Poetry 4 Kids at http://www.poetry4kids.com/poem-131.html.

Stories to Tell

The Navajo Code Talkers (by Megan Clark)

In war, battles are won by more than guns and bullets. Having accurate information can be more powerful and have an even greater impact than the strongest bomb.

One of the keys to having accurate information is for an army to find a way for its soldiers to communicate with each other during the fast moving, and confusing action of a large battle. Thanks to technology, sending messages is easier and faster than it was during the Revolutionary or Civil War. The problem is; the enemy will always be trying to listen in.

In the 1940s, during the Second World War, the United States Marines were fighting the Japanese army on a series of islands in the Pacific Ocean. At that time, one of the best ways for different marine units to communicate was by radio. The only problem was that the Japanese could listen to the radio calls between the American soldiers. Once they overhead what the American soldier’s plans were the Japanese would set traps and ambushes to kill the American soldiers. It soon became extremely important that the Americans find a way to talk on the radio in a special code that the Japanese could not understand.

The answer to the problem came from a very unusual place: the Navaho Indian reservation. The Navahos have lived in the desert southwest of the United States for hundreds of years, long before the Spanish or English settlers arrived. The Navaho people were loyal Americans and most spoke English. They also spoke their own Navaho language, which is very different from other languages. For example, in Navaho a change in a speaker’s tone will change the meaning of a word. Very few people not raised as Navahos can understand this unique language. No one from Japan knew anything about the Navaho language.

In a top secret program, Marines trained a number of Navaho volunteers to communicate on the radio in a special code based on the Navaho language. These men were called “code talkers” because they used their Navaho language to talk “in code” so than when the Japanese listened in they could not understand anything. The Navaho code worked so well that the program was expanded from the original 29 volunteers to include around 400 Navajo code talkers.

The code talkers became very important to the United States Marine Corp as they battled the Japanese army for control of the Pacific. One of the most critical and bloody battles fought in the Second World War was on the island of Iwo Jima. The code talkers sent more than 800 messages during the battle and made not a single mistake. After the war was over, Marine Major Howard Connor said, “Were it not for the Navaho, the Marines would have never taken Iwo Jima.”

Winning the battle of Iwo Jima helped turn the tide of the war in favor of the Americans. In 1945 the Japanese army surrendered, ending more than four years of bloody conflict.

 The Japanese never figured out the new “secret code” the Americans were using.


Spy Mask
  • Mask template
  • White or black construction paper
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Feathers, pompoms, jewels, foam shapes, etc.
  • Glue or tape

A photograph of the completed spy mask craft. The mask has a camouflage pattern.Photo and artwork by Megan Clark


Copy or trace the Spy Mask template provided at the end of the programonto white or black construction paper. Cut the mask out and decorate. Glue or tape a Popsicle stick on one side so kids can hold up their masks to their faces.  Download this PDF file of the Spy Mask Template, cut out the image, and use it to create crafts.

  • Paratrooper template
  • Plastic shopping bags (the smaller the better)
  • Yarn cut into 8 inch pieces
  • Black poster board
  • Markers or crayons
  • Decorating items such as buttons, stickers, felt, foam, etc.

A photograph of the completed paratrooper craft, with a white plastic bag for parachute.

Photo and artwork by Megan Clark


Copy and cut out the paratrooper template provided at the end of this program from black poster board. Let the children color and decorate the paratrooper. Punch holes in the paratrooper’s hands and knot one piece of yarn in one hand and another piece of yarn in the other. Tie the other ends of the yarn to the handles of the plastic bag. Let the children throw the paratrooper high up in the air and watch the bag inflate. The paratrooper will float heroically to the ground. Download this PDF file of the Paratrooper Template, cut out the image, and use it to create crafts.

Games and Activities

Master of Disguise

Have the kids walk slowly across the room in front of a group of judges with a number taped to their shirts. Give the kids a number of items they can use to try to alter their appearance. Set a specific amount of time for them to create a disguise. Have them walk across the room a second time and have the judges try to guess who is who.

Disguise suggestions: large coats, hats, sunglasses, small pillows, rulers, mustaches, hair gel, different colors of foundation makeup, Kleenexes, eyeliner, etc.

Hidden Messages (by Megan Clark)

Set up a number of stations around the room. Split the kids into teams. Tell the kids that at each station a secret code has been hidden in one of the objects. It’s their job to locate the code as quickly as possible and decipher the code if needed. Give pencils and paper to each team to use in deciphering the codes. If possible, have a volunteer time each team to see which team can complete the challenge the quickest.

For each station include a variety of everyday objects along with the objects containing messages. The number of objects you include will depend on how many kids will be participating. If possible give each team a pair of small tweezers to use for station #5 and #6.

For Station #1 the message will be hidden in a newspaper. Decide on a message ahead of time. Then take a section of newspaper and choose an article. Find the first letter of your code and use a pin to prick a hole in the letter. Find the next letter in your code and prick that letter. Continue doing this until your code is written. Make sure to give paper and pencil to the team so they can decipher the message.

For Station #2 the message will be hidden in an empty soda can. Create a code and a key. You can use different pictures to represent letters of the alphabet or create an alternate alphabet. Whatever code you choose, write the coded message on a small piece of paper. Roll it up and place in the empty soda can. Hide the key in a magazine or another object.

For Station #3 provide a number of clothing items including a pair of shoes. Using a piece of foam that is the same color as the inside of the shoe, make a false insole. Create your message and put it inside the shoe. Then place the false foam insole inside the shoe on top. Hide the key to your message inside the sleeve of a jacket.

For Station #4 take a wide rubber band and stretch it around an old book or magazine. The farther you stretch it (without it snapping) the better. Carefully write your code or message on the stretched rubber band with a pen. Make sure to write the letters close together. Then remove the rubber band and place it with the other objects. The team will have to stretch the rubber band in order to read the message.

For Station #5 include a straw with the items. Write a code on a long, narrow piece of paper. Tightly roll it up and push it down inside the straw.

For Station #6 include a large pen with the items. Write a short code on a narrow piece of thin paper. Tightly roll it up. Unscrew the top of the pen and push the rolled paper into the hollow part. Screw the pen back together.

Trove of Trash (by Megan Clark)

If possible, give each kid a pair of latex free disposable gloves. Split them into teams. Tell the kids that they will be investigating suspects by going through their trash. The clues they need to solve each of the mysteries can be found in what the suspects threw away.

Prepare the trash bags ahead of the program. Obtain a number of trash bags and put the items for each case in a separate, new trash bag.

Case #305 DVD Thief

The local public library has been troubled by the theft of DVDs from their collection. A witness claimed they saw a man stealing the DVDs. From the witness’ description, library staff members make a possible identification of the suspect as 28 year old Donald Viper Defoe. Upon questioning, Defoe claims that was not at the library on the morning of July 6th, and furthermore that he doesn’t even own a television set. After obtaining his resident information you and your team set up surveillance of the apartment. The following morning, Defoe carries a bag of trash and throws it into the apartment garbage bin. As the trash is now public property, you and your team are able to recover the bag as evidence.

Your team must examine each item and determine if the item can reveal any clues as to the guilt or innocence of Defoe in the DVD theft.

Clue items to put in the trash include:
  • A sticker with your library’s stamp on it
  • A cable bill for Donald Viper Defoe
  • A MapQuest printout for directions to your library
  • A newspaper with today’s date (date of the your program)
  • An overdue library notice
  • Various everyday items that contain no clues
Case #306 Sibling Rivalry

The library grounds have been vandalized with spray paint and littered with trash. The police apprehended a 17 year old female named Fanny Fiction at the crime scene. She claims that her brother (age 8) was the real culprit and that he had left the scene a few minutes earlier. The trash left by the vandals has been collected and brought to you for analysis.

Your team must examine each item and determine if the clues point to the guilt of the sister or to the guilt of the brother.

Clue items to put in the trash include:
  • A spray paint bottle
  • A tissue with a lipstick blot
  • Scented lotion
  • A driver’s permit (the name is illegible)
  • A handwritten note: Pay Lisa back-$50.00
  • Various other items that contain no clues

Case #307 Home Sick

Someone has been pulling a prank on the public library. The prankster rings the backdoor and then runs away when the library staff comes to answer the door. On July 1st after the prank occurred 20 times in a 45 minutes period, the library staff posted a volunteer at the back door, hoping to catch the prankster in action. Unfortunately, the prankster struck again just as the volunteer, Stephanie Child, was returning from the bathroom. However, Child did catch a glimpse of a fleeing teenage boy getting into a truck. As the truck roared by, the teenager in the vehicle threw some trash out of the window and into the street. This trash has been recovered and brought to your team for analysis.

A member of your team has already established the identity of the teenage boy in the truck. Upon questioning Greg Graphic, age 17, claims that he has never been to the library, and that on the day in question he was home sick with a violent case of the flu.

Your team must examine each item in the trash and determine whether or not Greg is lying—or telling the truth.

Clue items to put in the trash include:

  • 5 empty candy wrappers
  • A movie stub with the date July 1st
  • 2 empty chip bags
  • Letter from the library about overdue materials
  • A postcard reminder from the doctor’s office that a yearly check up is due
  • Various other items that contain no clues
Hidden Messages

Set up stations where kids can read and write hidden messages. Using the methods listed below, prepare messages kids can read. Then have the kids create their own hidden messages.

Paper Indention
  • 2 sheets of thin white paper
  • A sharp pencil

Paper indention is a technique that is still used today by law enforcement. To write a hidden message place two sheets of thin white paper on top of each other. Find a hard flat surface to write on. Make sure there is nothing underneath the two pieces of paper. Grip the pencil firmly and press down hard to write the hidden message. Then dispose of the top sheet of paper.

To read the hidden message, take a sharp pencil and tilt it on its side. Keeping the pencil tilted at all times, carefully shade the area where the hidden message is located. The writing will show up in white.

Magnifying Lenses


  • Newspaper, magazine, or prepared note with tiny font size
  • Wax paper
  • Cup of water
  • Eyedropper or spoon

Prior to the program create a hidden message in a tiny font size on a word processor, or obtain a newspaper or magazine with tiny print. Place a piece of wax paper over the message. Fill the cup with water. Using an eyedropper or a spoon, carefully place a drop of water on the wax paper. Now look at the message through the drop of water. Voila! The letters will be magnified.

Invisible Ink
  • Water
  • 2 sheets of paper
  • Newspaper
  • Pencil

Take the first piece of paper and carefully wet it. Place it on top of the newspaper. Put the second piece of paper on top of the first piece of paper. Take a pencil and write a secret message on the paper. Press down hard on the pencil as you write. Take off the top sheet of paper and throw it away.

As the paper dries, the message will vanish. To make the message appear again, carefully wet the paper with cold water.

Web-Based Activities

Central Intelligence Agency Kid’s Page
This government web site includes information and games for kids.

This article lists different I Spy extension activities.


Navajo Code Talkers by Andrew Santella
This fascinating juvenile nonfiction book takes a look at the invaluable service of the Navajo Code Talkers in World War II.

Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing by Paul B. Janeczko
This book is an excellent how-to book for learning to create and write different codes.

Navy History and Heritage Command - has a detailed summary of the Navajo Code Talker’s Dictionary. It includes the letter of the alphabet the word stood for, the Navajo word, and the literal translation.

National Geographic Kids - has an article written for kids about the spying activities of Harriet Tubman during the Civil War.

I Spy Nametag

Download this PDF file of the I Spy nametag, cut out the image, and use it as a nametag or in other crafts.

Spy Mask Template

Download this PDF file of the Spy Mask Template, cut out the image, and use it to create crafts.

Paratrooper Template

Download this PDF file of the Paratrooper Template, cut out the image, and use it to create crafts.

Page last modified: February 15, 2012