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The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill

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Hazel Kaplansky is a firm believer in the pursuit of knowledge and truth-and she also happens to love a good mystery. When suspicions swirl that a Russian spy has infiltrated her small town of Maple Hill, Vermont, amidst the fervor of Cold War era McCarthyism, Hazel knows it's up to her to find a suspect… starting with Mr. Jones, the quietly suspicious grave digger. Plus she's found a perfect sleuthing partner in Samuel Butler, the new boy in school with a few secrets of his own. But as Hazel and Samuel piece ...

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The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill

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Hazel Kaplansky is a firm believer in the pursuit of knowledge and truth-and she also happens to love a good mystery. When suspicions swirl that a Russian spy has infiltrated her small town of Maple Hill, Vermont, amidst the fervor of Cold War era McCarthyism, Hazel knows it's up to her to find a suspect… starting with Mr. Jones, the quietly suspicious grave digger. Plus she's found a perfect sleuthing partner in Samuel Butler, the new boy in school with a few secrets of his own. But as Hazel and Samuel piece together clues from the past and present, the truth is suddenly not what they expected, and what they find reveals more about themselves and the people of their cozy little town than they could ever have imagined.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Chelsey Philpot
…a thought-provoking yet gentle exploration of what happens to a community when "a whisper becomes a rumor becomes a fact"…The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill is as much a painting of small-town life during the McCarthy era as it is a tribute to the great girl detectives of children's literature.
Publishers Weekly
Blakemore (The Water Castle) sets her story in a seldom-explored era in middle-grade fiction: the autumn of 1953, the height of McCarthyism. Hazel Kaplansky is a smart, awkward, and fervent fifth-grader who grows obsessed with sniffing out Communism in her small Vermont town and proving that the taciturn gravedigger at her family’s cemetery, Paul Jones, is a Communist spy. Teaming up with Samuel, an unusual new boy in town (“Some people are more fragile than others,” Hazel’s mother warns her), she plunges into solving the mystery of Mr. Jones, dreaming of the day she will report him to Senator McCarthy. Blakemore’s choice of perspective is refreshing and well-executed; readers will sympathize with Hazel’s patriotic passion while anticipating her downfall. Rich in period details, strong on family/friendship dynamics, with a cast of well-drawn secondary characters (Samuel, in particular, is sensitively rendered), the book demonstrates how easy it is to get caught up in an atmosphere of fear and suspicion. A light-handed yet thoughtful presentation of a difficult time in U.S. history, Blakemore’s story inspires reflection and discussion. Ages 8–12. Agent: Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger. (May)
Children's Literature - Peg Glisson
Hazel Kaplansky lives in a frightening time. It is the mid-1950s and her life includes duck and cover drills, bomb shelters, Cold War news reports, and McCarthyism, even in her small Vermont town. She is a loner, not popular with her classmates because of her intelligence and eccentricities, and lonely since her best friend moved away. She considers herself a sleuth like Nancy Drew and so undertakes to determine why the government is interviewing local factory workers as potential Russian spies. She quickly decides on the identity of the spy and sets out to prove her case. When adults refuse to answer her questions, she collects clues to support her theory and enlists the help of her new classmate, Samuel, a perfect counterfoil to her methods. Samuel’s life is a bit of a mystery, too, so that becomes something else to unravel. As Hazel deals with friendship issues, rumors, and innuendo, two adults in town offer her more support and guidance than her parents, who are totally caught up in the botanical needs of the local cemetery they run and largely ignore her. Readers will quickly catch on things are going to mostly backfire on Hazel in this slow-moving mix of historical fiction and mystery. The historical fiction angle is actually stronger than the mystery, so those who pick this up expecting a well-plotted mystery will be disappointed. Hazel has quite the personality and her unique voice carries the book. She is unyielding in her pursuit of the truth and will not stop until she understands the people and events around her. What she learns about stereotypes and labeling people is a valuable lesson for all. Reviewer: Peg Glisson; Ages 9 to 12.
Kirkus Reviews
If Harriet M. Welsch lived in 1953 in a community vulnerable to McCarthyism, this might be her story. Fifth-grader Hazel has short hair, a Mysteries Notebook and, when the school day ends, dungarees. Her stomping grounds are Memory's Garden—the cemetery that her parents run—and their sleepy Vermont town. Hazel sneaks canned goods from her kitchen to a graveyard mausoleum so that when the Russians attack, her family can use it as a fallout shelter. Her fear of Communists comes from duck-and-cover drills at school, Sen. McCarthy's search for "Reds" at a local factory, the repeated failures of adults to explain anything and her own proclivity to fill in the gaps. In addition to threatening atomic annihilation, the Russians will put people into sausage grinders and eliminate ice cream floats. Surely the gravedigger her parents recently hired must be a spy. Hazel shanghais strange new boy Samuel into helping her gather evidence, but Samuel's life holds mysteries too—and sadness. For a smart, probing kid, Hazel's an interesting and believable mix of persistence and naïveté. Some schoolmates have "a dark, solid center that ma[kes] them mean" and some adults "[r]umor, whisper [and] lie," but funny, relentless Hazel does what's necessary until things come clear for her, her people and her town—with some emotional insight gained. Hazel's inquisitiveness, independence and imperfections are a winning combination. (author's note) (Historical mystery. 9-12)
From the Publisher
"Hazel’s inquisitiveness, independence and imperfections are a winning combination." Kirkus Reviews


"There’s lots to talk about here . . . making this a great choice for book clubs or class discussion." —Booklist


"The sense of the time period is seamlessly portrayed . . . The real strength of Blakemore’s novel is the underlying juxtaposition of a seemingly pleasant small town and that community’s harsh reaction to those who are different." The Horn Book Magazine


"A strong work of historical fiction for mystery fans." School Library Journal


"Hazel is an engaging, if not always likable, girl, and her kid’s-eye-view of life offers an accessible entryway to the McCarthy/Cold War era. Blakemore’s characters are refreshingly three-dimensional . . . Will also appeal to the mystery lovers of the middle grade crowd." BCCB


"Science, history and literature references glow . . . With keen intelligence and bits of humor, the prose slips calmly between narrative perspectives, trusting readers to pick up a revelation that Ephraim and Mallory don’t see—and it’s a doozy. This one is special." Kirkus Reviews, starred review, on The Water Castle


"What shines through . . . is Blakemore’s tender understanding of how these children—and all children—feel about their lives and the adults who control them." The New York Times on The Water Castle


"A book that deserves love." —Elizabeth Bird from Fuse8 on The Water Castle


"The Water Castle is full of adventure and mystery, but mostly it’s about the importance of family, friendship and home." The Washington Post on The Water Castle


"Blakemore skillfully explores the intersection of science and magic in this multifaceted story . . . a sense of skeptical wonder pervades the book and lingers." Publishers Weekly on The Water Castle

School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Hazel may not be the best musician in her class, but she is a grade A detective. When rumors of Russian spies infiltrating her hometown of Maple Hill, Vermont begin swirling through the neighborhood, Hazel stops building her bomb shelter and starts tailing the most likely suspect—the mysterious Mr. Jones. With the help of Samuel, the new boy in town fascinated by the stories contained in her family's graveyard, the protagonist begins collecting clues and soon finds that most stories are more than they initially appear to the untrained eye. Hazel is a wonderfully memorable character, larger-than-life, and so certain of her well-intentioned, but often misguided, ways. Blakemore perfectly captures that fine line between childhood and early adolescence, when tall tales from large imaginations are quickly formed, friendships with boys are still easy, and a young girl sees her place in the world as an unstoppable force. The storytelling is vivid and descriptive, but it's the characters that will draw readers in, including quiet, unassuming Samuel and Hazel's mother, who serves as a more soft-spoken proponent of change than her incredibly vocal daughter. The book does a wonderful job of displaying the way in which the fear inherent in the McCarthy era turned neighbor against neighbor. While the heart of the story lies within the issues of trust and truth, the writing is never preachy, using Hazel's innate humor to deflect moments that veer close to saccarine or preachy. A strong work of historical fiction for mystery fans.—Nicole Signoretta Sutton, Kingston Elementary School, Cherry Hill, NJ
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781619633483
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 5/6/2014
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 224,683
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Megan Frazer Blakemore is the author of The Water Castle, which received a starred review from Kirkus, and the YA novel Secrets of Truth And Beauty which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was on the ALA Rainbow list. A former middle-school librarian, Megan lives in Maine with her family.


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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 13, 2014

    This book was cute, but not what I was hoping for. The setting o

    This book was cute, but not what I was hoping for. The setting of a graveyard during the Cold War was fantastic. Hazel was a fun and entertaining protagonist that I loved reading about. Samuel is another great character and is very different from Hazel. They have to learn to accept each other and forgive each other as the occasion requires.

    With great characters and a great setting, I expected more from the story, but it didn't measure up to my expectations. The mystery wasn't so much a mystery as it was speculation. It wasn't nearly as exciting or danger filled as I hoped for. It was more about Hazel and Samuel and them learning about friendship, gossip, and growing up. I think I would have liked the book more if my expectations had been different. As it was, I was expecting a mystery with a scary bad guy and instead got a book about friendship and small town rumors.

    While I had hoped for a bigger mystery and higher stakes, it is still a good book. There aren't many books set in this time period, which makes this story unique in a way. This would be a fun read for middle grade kids that enjoy mild mysteries with interesting characters. If your child likes thrilling reads that will get their heart pounding, try a different book.

    Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

    Cover: The cover is gorgeous. I love the illustration, and it makes the book look very mysterious.

    Content: Clean

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