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Mission Manhattan

Book #5 of City Spies
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About The Book

In this fifth installment in the New York Times bestselling series from Edgar Award winner James Ponti, the young group of spies takes on New York City in another international adventure perfect for fans of Spy School and Charlie Thorne.

The City Spies head to the Big Apple when a credible threat is made to a young climate activist who is scheduled to speak in front of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly. With Rio acting as alpha and a new member in their ranks, the team’s mission to protect a fellow teen takes them on an exciting adventure in, around, and even under the greatest city in the world as they follow leads to the outer boroughs, the UN Headquarters, and even the usually off-limits stacks that extend deep under the main branch of the New York Public Library. Meanwhile, Mother has run into trouble in DC, leading the rest of the crew to help save him from the wrong hands and prevent the entire operation from being exposed!

Excerpt

Chapter 1: The Swarm 1. The Swarm
SPY MISSIONS WERE NOTHING LIKE spy movies. All Cairo had to do was look in a mirror to see that. He was about to go undercover for the first time, and rather than a tuxedo or finely tailored suit, he was wearing a bumblebee costume. It was a padded onesie over a pair of black tights and was very much not tailored.

“This thing’s giving me a wedgie,” he complained, tugging at the seat of his costume.

“It was the best we could do on such short notice,” replied Paris, who wore a matching outfit and was smearing black and yellow greasepaint on his face. “When it comes to spycraft, the bottom line is that comfort takes a backseat to blending in.”

“Maybe so,” Cairo replied. “But right now, my backseat and bottom line are blending in with my underwear.”

Paris laughed. It was a good sign that Cairo was able to joke right before his first official mission. Most people would’ve been too nervous. “Welcome to MI6,” he said. “It’s oh so glamorous.”

They were in Venice, Italy, because the Secret Intelligence Service had gotten word of a potential threat at a global warming demonstration scheduled for St. Mark’s Square. The event was organized by a group of teenage environmental activists known as the Swarm, whose members dressed accordingly at protest rallies.

“You ready?” Paris asked once he’d finished putting on his makeup.

Cairo nodded, gave his costume one final tug, and said, “Let’s get buzzing.”

This was their first time in Venice, and it would’ve been easy for them to get lost because the city was spread across more than one hundred small islands, but they had help navigating its baffling blend of bridges and alleyways. As they stepped out of their safe house, they heard a loud buzzing that sounded as though a massive swarm of bees was overtaking the city.

“What’s that noise?” Cairo asked.

“Vuvuzelas,” answered Paris.

“You mean those plastic horns fans play at soccer matches?”

“The Swarm uses them whenever they march to a rally,” Paris explained. “All we have to do is listen and follow.”

“Helpful,” Cairo said. “Annoying, but helpful.”

As they tried to catch up with the Swarm, the rest of the team was getting ready in St. Mark’s Square, which the Italians called Piazza San Marco. Sydney and Brooklyn were stationed near the security gates through which all the protesters had to pass, while Rio and Monty were backstage, keeping an eye on the speakers scheduled to talk at the rally.

Kat was the alpha, which meant she’d call the shots once the mission got underway. She was positioned on the observation deck atop the bell tower overlooking the square. Four hundred years earlier, this was where Galileo looked to the heavens with his newly invented telescope and discovered order in the universe. Now it was where a fourteen-year-old spy looked across a sea of demonstrators, hoping to figure out which ones were a threat to the others.

“Testing comms, one, two, three,” she said into the microphone hidden in her jacket collar. “Can everyone hear me?”

“Roger that,” replied Sydney.

“Loud and clear,” Brooklyn added.

“All good,” said Monty.

“Good for me too,” answered Rio.

Kat waited a moment before prodding, “Paris, Cairo, are you in range?”

“You’ll have to speak up,” Cairo said, trying to be heard over the noise around them. “It’s pretty loud over here.”

He and Paris had just joined up with dozens of protesters dressed as bees who were making a ruckus as they paraded through the city. In addition to blaring vuvuzelas, some of them pounded drums, while others chanted, “Be-a-triz! Be-a-triz!” in honor of their leader.

“We’re on the Rialto Bridge crossing the Grand Canal,” Paris said, raising his voice. “We should reach St. Mark’s in about ten minutes.”

“What about you, Mother?” Kat said. “I know you can’t answer directly, but if you can hear us, let us know by asking someone a question.”

Mother was one of the two adult agents who oversaw the team. MI6 had managed to place him inside Venice’s state-of-the-art Control Room. This was the highly secretive—and somewhat controversial—location where local authorities used a web of sensors, CCTV cameras, and mobile-phone trackers to monitor every person visiting the city. It would’ve caused an uproar if the Italians found out a British agent was running a mission from here, so Mother couldn’t be overheard communicating directly with the others. Instead, he turned to a nearby police officer and asked, “Dov’é il bagno?”

“Seriously?” Sydney said with a laugh. “That’s the best you could come up with?”

“You know what that means, don’t you?” Kat asked.

“Yes,” answered Sydney. “It means ‘Where’s the bathroom?’?”

“True, but it also means that the comms are set and everyone’s in position,” Kat said. “And that means ‘This operation is hot. We are a go!’?”

This was the phrase the alpha said to launch every mission for the City Spies, an experimental team of six covert agents, aged eleven to sixteen, who British Secret Intelligence Service sent on assignments where adults would stand out.

“Chills,” Brooklyn replied. “Every. Single. Time.”

Shy and awkward by nature, Kat had come into her own as the alpha on some recent high-value missions. She’d been surprised by how much she’d enjoyed the role. “We are underway, and the rally is set to start in twenty-three minutes,” she said, taking charge. “That means open eyes and open minds. This is not a typical assignment.”

“And by that, are you referring to the part where we’ve been told to look for zombies?” Rio replied.

There were snickers on the comms.

“Not just zombies,” Kat replied. “I’ll settle for vampires, flesh-eaters, or any undead creatures you may come across. We’re casting a wide net here.”

And that was the problem with the mission. They didn’t really know what they were looking for.

Five days earlier, MI6 had intercepted a partial message sent between criminal syndicates in Kazakhstan and Turkey that discussed an attack in St. Mark’s to be carried out on this date by… the walking dead.

That was literally what it had said.

British analysts probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to it if it weren’t for the fact that the protest was happening at the same time that world leaders would be in Venice for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which was being held across the Giudecca Canal on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.

The threat sounded like a joke but couldn’t be ignored.

“The walking dead?” Mother had asked when the team was given the assignment by his superior. “Are you being serious? What does that even mean?”

“There are several possibilities,” responded Tru, one of only a handful of high-ranking officials at the Secret Intelligence Service who even knew that the City Spies existed. “It’s either a code, a message that’s been garbled in translation from Kazakh to Turkish to English, or the first sign of the zombie apocalypse. Whichever one, we’re going to need someone there to keep an eye on things.”

The City Spies were chosen to be that “someone” for two main reasons. First, because the rally was sponsored for and by young people, it was easy for them to blend in. Second, the team’s official cover was that they were all on student fellowships with the Foundation for Atmospheric Research and Monitoring, a weather research center in Scotland that was actually the headquarters for a covert MI6 operation. The FARM, as it was known, was active in promoting climate-change awareness, which is how Monty and Rio were able to get backstage with the speakers.

“Você está nervosa?” Rio asked Beatriz Santos, the sixteen-year-old activist who was scheduled to give the main address at the rally.

She smiled, pleasantly surprised to hear someone speak in her native language.

“Um pouco,” she replied, admitting that she was a bit nervous. “Você é brasileiro?”

“Eu sou carioca,” he replied, which meant that he was from Rio de Janeiro.

Her eyes lit up and she beamed. “Eu também sou!” she said. So am I.

Although Kat was the alpha, Rio had the most important assignment. He was supposed to get close to Beatriz and watch over her since she was the most likely target of any attack. For him, this was huge, not only because it was rare for him to get such an important responsibility but also because he was a massive fan of hers. He had to fight feeling starstruck as they talked.

“Rafael,” he said, introducing himself with his cover name. “But you can call me Rafa.”

“I’m Beatriz,” she replied.

He laughed. “Yeah, I think I heard that somewhere.”

The chants of “Be-a-triz! Be-a-triz!” were ringing through the crowd, and she gave an embarrassed cringe.

“That must feel incredible,” he said. “People just cheering your name.”

“It’s good for the cause,” she replied. “But I don’t like the attention.”

“Really?” he asked, surprised. “That’s too bad, because you sure get a lot of it.”

In just over two years, Beatriz had gone from unknown concerned teenager to world-famous environmental activist. What started as a one-person protest outside the Brazilian National Congress had grown into a global organization with members in ninety-seven countries. Officially, she was the director of the International Student Coalition to Protect Rainforests, but among her ardent supporters, she was simply known as Queen Bea, which is why they called themselves the Swarm.

“Still,” Rio continued, “you shouldn’t feel nervous about talking to a crowd that loves you so much.”

“I’m not too worried about the speech in the piazza,” she said. “But there are people across the water who do not love me so much. It’s important that I don’t make any mistakes that might give them an excuse to ignore what I have to say.”

After her speech Beatriz was scheduled to take the five-minute boat ride across the lagoon to San Giorgio Maggiore so she could address the world leaders at the UN conference. It would be an intimidating audience that included the US president and the British prime minister.

“How do you keep calm when you have to speak to a group like that?” Rio asked her.

“I think of the bees,” Beatriz said.

“The ones who dress up and chant your name?”

“No,” she replied. “The ones who pollinate a third of the food we eat. They are essential to feeding the world. Thinking about them reminds me that even if you are very small, you can still be very important.”

Rio flashed a charmer’s smile and said, “Você vai fazer fántastico.” You’ll do fantastic.

She held up both hands with her fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, the crowd continued to fill the piazza.

“In case the incredibly loud buzzing didn’t give it away, the Swarm just arrived at security gate number one,” Sydney informed the others.

Fences had been erected so that anyone entering the square had to pass through a series of metal detectors and magnetometers, as well as get patted down by officers in black jackets that read POLIZIA on the back.

“I can even see our busy little bees,” Sydney added once she spotted Paris and Cairo enter the pat-down area. “Bumble One and Bumble Two.”

“Make sure to get photos of them both,” Kat said.

“To document the mission?” Brooklyn asked.

“No, for future blackmail opportunities.”

“Gotta love Kat,” Sydney said as she snapped some pictures. “Always thinking ahead.”

“You’re all hilarious,” Paris responded. “Besides, compared to the others, I think we look pretty good.”

“Keep telling yourself that,” Sydney said. “But you may be mistaking this for our mission in Egypt.”

“Why do you say that?” Paris asked, confused.

“Because you’re swimming in ‘da Nile,’?” she joked, eliciting more laughter on the comms.

“You walked right into that one,” Rio said.

“All right, that’s enough,” Monty said, laughing with them. “Loose is good, but this mission is important. We need to focus.” Monty was the other adult with the team. She was the director of FARM and was backstage gathered with the parents and advisors who’d accompanied the speakers.

“All kidding aside, I’m wondering if more of us should’ve worn costumes,” Brooklyn said. “We would’ve blended in better.”

“Why’s that?” asked Monty.

“So many people are wearing them,” she responded. “In addition to all the bumblebees, there are people dressed as endangered animals, environmental superheroes, and even some with giant papier-mâché heads of the world leaders. It looks like Halloween at security gate two. Right now, the police are trying to figure out how to deal with two creepy bird-people pushing a giant globe.”

“What’s the problem with it?” Sydney asked.

“It’s too big to fit through the metal detectors,” she replied.

“What do creepy bird-people even look like?” Cairo asked.

“They’re wearing black cloaks, black hats, motorcycle boots, and white masks with big round eyes and long beaks.”

“Those aren’t bird-people,” Paris said. “They’re plague doctors.”

“What?” asked Brooklyn.

“In the Middle Ages, doctors wore outfits like that when they treated patients who had the plague,” Paris said. “They packed the beak with herbs and flowers to counteract the smell, which is what they thought carried the disease.”

“They may not be birds, but the masks are still super creepy,” Brooklyn responded.

“That’s what people in the Middle Ages thought too,” Paris answered. “They freaked out when they saw one of the doctors arrive in their neighborhood because it meant someone nearby had the plague and was sure to die. It was like a real-life grim reaper.”

There was a beat, then Kat said, “The walking dead!”

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

City Spies Book 5: Mission Manhattan

By James Ponti

About the Book

The City Spies head to the Big Apple when a credible threat is made to a young climate activist who is scheduled to speak in front of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly. With Rio acting as alpha and a new member in their ranks, the team’s mission to protect a fellow teen takes them on an exciting adventure in, around, and even under the greatest city in the world as they follow leads to the outer boroughs, the UN Headquarters, and even the usually off-limits stacks that extend deep under the main branch of the New York Public Library.

Discussion Questions

1. As Mission Manhattan opens, readers are told that from Cairo’s perspective, “Spy missions were nothing like spy movies.” Do you think he’s probably correct? Based on what you’ve observed in films and television shows, how are spies generally depicted? In what ways are these portrayals unlike the City Spies and their experiences?

2. While sharing his discomfort in his disguise to do mission work, Paris—“who wore a matching outfit and was smearing black and yellow greasepaint” on his face—tells Cairo, “‘When it comes to spycraft, the bottom line is that comfort takes a backseat to blending in.’” (Chapter one) Based on what you’ve observed from past missions and the one they are partaking in, why is blending in so critical for mission success?

3. Early in Mission Manhattan, readers learn that the City Spies have been sent to Venice, Italy, to the site of a protest organized by teen environmental activists. Beyond the intentions of the teen activists known as the Swarm, how does learning that young people can find ways to be seen and heard about causes they are committed to make you feel? What do you see as the biggest hurdles young people face while speaking up about things to which they are committed?

4. At the beginning of the mission, Kat is given the distinction of the mission alpha, which means she is charged with decision making for the team. Based on what you’ve learned about Kat from earlier books, what are the greatest skills Kat brings to this role? What might be the challenges she will face?

5. Consider the City Spies mission “go” phrase—“‘This operation is hot. We are a go.’” Why is getting to make this proclamation as a member of the team so thrilling, and what does it suggest about the person getting to do so?

6. During earlier assignments, Rio has often felt that his unique skills aren’t always noticed or appreciated by the City Spies team. However, in this case, “Although Kat was the alpha, Rio had the most important assignment. He was supposed to get close to Beatriz and watch over her since she was the most likely target of any attack. For him, this was huge, not only because it was rare for him to get such an important responsibility, but also because he was a massive fan of hers.” (Chapter one) How does Rio’s work on this mission really change things for him? What are some of the ways his experiences in his former life as a street performer and illusionist become critical for the overall outcome of this current mission?

7. Based on what you learn through reading Mission Manhattan and on your impressions of the City Spies throughout the series so far, how would you describe each member of the team? Are there ways in which you believe they have grown and changed in their time together?

8. As they share their nervousness due to lack of time to prepare for the Washington DC leg of this mission, Monty tells the team, “‘You all have the skills, and more importantly, you all have the right instincts. What’s the Motherism? The essential part is that you trust your heart. When the time comes, you’ll know what to do.’” (Chapter seventeen) What do you believe makes Monty, Mother, and the rest of MI6 so confident in the abilities of the City Spies team?

9. Why do you believe MI6 has chosen to continue to keep knowledge of the City Spies’ existence and work a secret? How does Rio’s choice to reveal what the team does to Beatriz Santos potentially jeopardize this? Do you see any ways this could inadvertently put them in a position of danger? Are you surprised by MI6’s ultimate reaction to Rio’s actions regarding Beatriz?

10. While discussing Beatriz Santos during their visit to the Brazilian embassy, and focusing on how she’s recovering from the attempted attack on her in Venice, Beatriz’s advisor, Dr. Ferreira, tells Monty, “‘She’s put on a brave face and tried to act like it was nothing, but I know that it’s shaken her. . . . I encouraged her not to make this trip, but as you can tell, my advice went unheeded.’” (Chapter eighteen) What does learning that Beatriz is struggling with what happened indicate? What can be gleaned from the knowledge that she is unwilling to allow her fears to get in the way of her mission?

11. In his most recent MI6 performance review, Mother is described as “meticulous” by Tru. “Cool” and “calm” were two other descriptions given about him. (Chapter nineteen) Thinking about what happens to him in Mission Manhattan and what he’s endured and experienced in earlier City Spies books, how would you describe Mother? What are the greatest trials you feel he has faced? How has he handled those challenges? Are there ways in which his experience during this mission might change him?

12. Readers learn, “As one of the most recognizable faces in the environmental movement, Beatriz was a polarizing figure. For those who supported her rainforest campaign, she was a hero, their Queen Bea. But to people who thought she was an extremist, Beatriz was a spoiled brat repeating simplistic views about a world that was more complicated than she understood.” (Chapter nineteen) As Beatriz attempts to further explain the complicated position of being famous and people wanting her to act her age, Rio witnesses this challenge she faces firsthand. Considering Beatriz’s explanation and what you observe in Mission Manhattan, do you see her position of celebrity as one that you’d want for yourself? What do you see as the greatest benefits and challenges to this level of fame?

13. Given what you learn from the novel about the main branch of the New York Public Library, what’s your favorite feature of the library? If you had a chance to visit the facility, what would you want to visit first and why?

14 Brooklyn and the team visit her former foster mother to hide out as they are being sought by the authorities. There, Mrs. G tells Brooklyn, “‘Like I said, Sara, some things never change. . . . You’ve always been on the edge of trouble.’” (Chapter thirty-five) In your opinion, is this a fair assessment of Brooklyn? Why or why not?

15. For Brooklyn, what are some ways in which the return to her former home of New York City for the team’s final leg of the mission might feel complicated? How does her local knowledge ultimately help them stay safe and achieve their goals?

16. Trust is a critical component in the City Spies family. How does Robert’s choice to finally tell his new siblings the truth about his actions regarding Clementine help them better understand him and change the way they perceive him? From your perspective, do you think he is treated fairly? Explain your position.

17. Considering the conclusion of Mission Manhattan and what is learned about Clementine, what do you predict will happen in the next installment of City Spies?

Extension Activities

Venice—For part of the mission, the City Spies go undercover in Venice, Italy, a magical and unique city beloved by people everywhere. First, using library and internet resources, have students begin to discover what makes Venice so special.

According to interest, have students select one of the following aspects of Venice to research:

o Transportation options

o Unique topography/islands/canals/bridges

o Environmental challenges to the city

o Venetian masks

o History of government

o Artisan creations (glass and lace)

o Famous Venetians

o The Doge’s Palace

o St. Mark’s Square

Allow students to work with one another and share their findings in a manner of choice.

Climate Protests—During their time in Venice, the City Spies go undercover at a climate change rally. Read the following article from Reuters to learn more about a recent climate protest in Venice: https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/italian-climate-change-protesters-turn-venices-grand-canal-green-2023-12-09/

After a discussion, have students investigate other examples and types of climate protest activities that have transpired elsewhere as forms of statement activism. Allow students to discuss or debate their favorite findings and debate the need and appropriateness of such forms of protest.

Climate Activists—In Mission Manhattan, much of the City Spies’ mission is to protect Beatriz Santos, a young climate activist from Brazil, inspired by the work of environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Using a variety of research resources, dig deeply to learn more about Thunberg and other young people doing work to bring awareness to climate change and other global concerns. Be sure to consider what their work entails and what sort of outcomes have transpired from their efforts.

Embassy Row—As the mission takes the City Spies to Washington DC and into some of the embassies found there, they find themselves quickly learning about the role embassies have throughout the world, as well as in the United States. Have students learn more to consider the following:

o What are the main functions of embassies?

o What’s the difference between an embassy and a consulate?

o Does the home country or the embassy’s country own the land on which the embassy sits?

o In the United States, what are some of the unique features of the embassies along embassy row?

Ask students to dig further into the topic by watching the following video by the National Museum of American Diplomacy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOs5H39dlRA

After conducting individual research and watching the video, offer an opportunity for a group discussion, making connections to what readers learned from Mission Manhattan and these additional resources.

New York Public Library—During their time in New York, part of their mission takes the City Spies to the New York Public Library. While NYPL is an extensive public library system with ninety-two branches, the most famous (and the location of the mission) is the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, commonly known as the main branch, on Fifth Avenue and Forty-Second Street in Midtown Manhattan. To begin, use the NYPL’s website, https://www.nypl.org/locations/schwarzman, to learn more about this New York City treasure. Next, have students explore this article in Time Magazine to discover the history and wonder of the Rose Reading Room: https://time.com/4518303/renovated-new-york-public-library-reading-room/, and be sure to learn a few more unusual facts about the library here: https://untappedcities.com/2023/05/22/new-york-public-library/

After they read and investigate, have readers share their most interesting discoveries about NYPL with the group.

United Nations—As the City Spies work on their case, they become more intimately knowledgeable of the role the UN has on the world. Have readers begin by watching this short video by CBS on the United Nations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaAmfiJtV4I

Next, ask students to research further to understand the following:

o What is the United Nations?

o What was the rationale for developing it?

o Where and when was it established?

o How many countries are active participants in the work of the UN and how many languages are designated as official?

o What other interesting facts can you find about the UN?

After they complete their research, have students share their new knowledge with their peers.

This guide was created by Dr. Rose Brock. Rose is an associate professor in the Library Science Department in the College of Education at Sam Houston State University and holds a Ph.D. in Library Science, specializing in children’s and young adult literature.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Author

Elena Seibert Photography

James Ponti is the New York Times bestselling author of four middle grade book series: The Sherlock Society following a group of young detectives; City Spies, about an unlikely squad of five kids from around the world who form an elite MI6 Spy Team; the Edgar Award–winning Framed! series, about a pair of tweens who solve mysteries in Washington, DC; and the Dead City trilogy, about a secret society that polices the undead living beneath Manhattan. His books have appeared on more than fifteen different state award lists, and he is the founder of a writers group known as the Renegades of Middle Grade. James is also an Emmy–nominated television writer and producer who has worked for many networks including Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, PBS, History, and Spike TV, as well as NBC Sports. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. Find out more at JamesPonti.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Aladdin (February 6, 2024)
  • Length: 432 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665932479
  • Ages: 8 - 12

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