Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing


"The author's upbeat, positive tone is refreshing and his enthusiasm about his topic is contagious." — SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL (starred review)

Pssst! Do you know the difference between a code and a cipher? Can you tell a St. Cyr slide from a Cardano grille? Did you know that the discovery of a substitution cipher caused Mary Queen of Scots to lose her head? Don't look now, but packed into this practical field guide is everything a young person needs to know about the art of ...

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"The author's upbeat, positive tone is refreshing and his enthusiasm about his topic is contagious." — SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL (starred review)

Pssst! Do you know the difference between a code and a cipher? Can you tell a St. Cyr slide from a Cardano grille? Did you know that the discovery of a substitution cipher caused Mary Queen of Scots to lose her head? Don't look now, but packed into this practical field guide is everything a young person needs to know about the art of concealment - making and breaking codes, mastering cipher systems, and experimenting with secret writing. Offering plenty of hands-on practice sessions, tips for creating a code-making kit, sidebars on secret codes in history, and an amusing pair of spies to illustrate techniques, Paul B. Janeczko's tantalizing TOP SECRET won't stay a secret for long.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Known for his editing of poetry anthologies, Paul B. Janeczko studies another form of often-perplexing writing in Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing, illus. by Jenna LaReau. Janeczko discusses numerous codes that have been used throughout history, from Morse code and semaphore to examples of code usage, such as the "Beale cipher," a still-unsolved mystery regarding the location of treasure supposedly buried in the mid 1800s. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Do you know the difference between a code and a cipher? Do you know what a word grille is or how to make invisible ink? If you do not know about this stuff and want to know, this is the book for you. It is a comprehensive look at the world of codes, ciphers and secret writings. The author explains the origins of many codes and ciphers and how to use each. He even provides practice at code breaking. Don't worry—the answers are included! The aspect I enjoyed the most described how different codes and ciphers were used throughout history. The author has presented this information in an easy to follow format. He has also broken the topic down into three parts that will help a young person understand the material. The author even provides instructions on how to assemble your own code breaking kit. This book will definitely capture the imagination of young kids and even older ones who have a passion for spying. If this book is not enough for the young spy, the author has included a list of other books on this topic. 2004, Candlewick Press, Ages 9 to 13.
—Louise Parsons
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-A wonderful guide to secret writing. Janeczko relates how different codes came to be and why they were needed, and gives some historical examples. The book also contains information and exercises (with answers) on deciphering codes and provides children with the tools to make their own field kit. In addition to numerous codes and ciphers, invisible ink recipes and a number of concealment techniques are included. Humorous black-and-white sketches featuring two figures in sunglasses and trench coats are found throughout the book. The author's upbeat, positive tone is refreshing and his enthusiasm about his topic is contagious. He recommends that readers go to the library to learn more about the subject, and encourages them to use their imaginations and share the fun of secret writing with friends.-Cynde Suite, Bartow County Library System, Adairsville, GA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763629724
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 4/11/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 181,668
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.12 (w) x 9.03 (h) x 0.44 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul B. Janeczko is a poet and teacher and has edited numerous anthologies for young people, including A POKE IN THE I: A COLLECTION OF CONCRETE POEMS; VERY BEST (ALMOST) FRIENDS: POEMS OF FRIENDSHIP; and SEEING THE BLUE BETWEEN: ADVICE AND INSPIRATION FOR YOUNG POETS. He is also the author of LOADS OF CODES and SECRET CIPHERS.

Jenna LaReau is a graduate of the Parsons School of Design in New York. TOP SECRET is her first book with Candlewick Press. She lives in Massachusetts, where she works as an illustrator and designer.

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Read an Excerpt

As long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in codes and ciphers. There are a lot of reasons. For one thing, I’ve always enjoyed a good puzzle, whether it’s a math puzzle or a word game. I’ve also been a fan of spy novels and movies. I love all that cloak-and-dagger stuff, all those mysterious meetings in exotic places. And I’ve been something of a history buff, especially interested in how individuals shaped history. All of these interests find their way into any exploration of codes and ciphers.

I’m sure you have your own reason for picking up this field guide, but I suspect that you’re a lot like me. There is something about codes and ciphers — how to make them, how to break them, how they changed history — that fascinates you. Maybe you’ve dreamed of designing a cipher that is "unbreakable." Or working against time to break a secret code. Or trying to create the perfect invisible ink. If this sounds like you, then this guide is just for you.

This book is about making codes and ciphers, not just reading about them. To get the most out of this book, I suggest you create a codemaker’s field kit. You might want to think of it as your spy kit, a place where you can store all your tools for codemaking and codebreaking. I suggest you use a shoe box or a plastic storage box. That should give you enough room, at least for starters, to store the cipher tools and codebooks you will make. You can also keep the invisible ink and the pens, toothpicks, and developers that go along with it. By the time you work your way through this book, you will have many things to keep in your field kit.

While you don’t need a cloak or a dagger for your field kit, I think it’s a good idea for you to have a notebook or journal in which you can keep track of some of the things you will create along the way — things like code names and suitable keywords for a number of different ciphers. The notebook is also the perfect place to work out solutions for intercepted messages and to design the new codes and ciphers you will dream up.

But don’t just rely on what you read about in this book to decide what to put in your field kit and in your notebook. Be inventive. Use your imagination to think of other things that can help you as a codemaker and codebreaker.

One of the ways to get new ideas about codes and ciphers is to read books and stories that show how spies carry out their business. I hope you get some ideas from the stories that are scattered throughout the book. They tell about some of the famous codes, codemakers, and codebreakers in history. At the end of this book, I’ve suggested some other books that will give you even more information about the world of codes and espionage.

Since even a real spy doesn’t work alone, making and breaking codes is much more fun if you work with a partner. And it’s even more fun if you pick a partner who wants to be inventive. You know the kind of person I mean — someone who is willing to try something clever to make a good code better. Someone who is willing to take chances or makes guesses to break a code.

If you are nuts about codes and ciphers and secret writing, this guide has it all: codes, ciphers, invisible inks, concealment techniques, spy stories, and even a little bit of history (but only the exciting parts). Find a friend and start reading this book and building your codemaker’s field kit. The fun has just begun!

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