The KnowHow Book of Spycraft

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Cover page of The KnowHow Book of SpycraftDo you know that warm feeling of fondly remembering a book you adored while you were a kid?

But now ... you simply do not know where it ended up?

That is exactly what I felt every time when my mind wandered back to one of my childhood favorites - The KnowHow Book of Spycraft.

It was one of those books that one knew was a keeper, even as a child.

Alas, I "lost it" (polite way of saying that my parents probably got rid of it).

Fortunately, I stumbled upon The KnowHow Book of Spycraft recently after I was able to piece two and two together and remember its name.

Looking at it again, from a distance of several decades, I could not believe it was still around, but also how interesting and relevant it remained for modern kids.

I could see that the publisher simply had to publish it again in 2013 on the book's 40th anniversary, as it remained unsurpassed even for kids of the new millennial generation.

I predict it will be around for a long time.

Sacrilege ... but only partly

Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also.
Carl Jung

OK, I know what you will say.

This isn't strictly a read aloud book and that I made a mistake.

I know - it is a little mistake, but the book is so good that I would like to ask for your pardon.
picture of a spy and where he can hide secret messages in him

Although it is strictly speaking not a true read-aloud picture or chapter book, nevertheless it can be read aloud with your kid very comfortably.

In fact, it will certainly "perform" better in your house if you read it jointly with/to your child, in order to explain some of the aspects that might require some additional pointers or clarifications.

But, it also promotes silent sustained reading and re-reading, which is also important.

Will your child love it?

I do not know - I know I adored it and my brother adored it too.

We not only read it many times, but we also attempted to crack all the hidden codes in the book and I learned all about different ways of communicating in secret code.

You may think that The KnowHow Book of Spycraft may be just "another spy book for kids", but no.

It may look colorful and childish, but it is fully packed with all the tricks of the trade.

This is a book that kids will adore - as it does an excellent job of explaining the spy lingo and code in a child-friendly way.

Straight from the horse's mouth

If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.
Khalil Gibran

photograph of Ronald Reagan meeting Oleg Gordievsky in White House
President Reagan meets Oleg Gordievsky,
a former colonel of the KGB
 and KGB bureau chief in London,
who was a secret agent of the
British Secret Intelligence Service
from 1974 to 1985.
Believe it or not, The KnowHow Book of Spycraft was entered and referred to as evidence at the high court trial of Soviet spy Oleg Gordievsky in London, who testified that this book gave away the KGB's tradecraft.

It simply makes my job of recommending the book superfluous.

Read the transcript from the trial - I still cannot believe it.

The best children's book review ever - straight from the Old Bailey, the central criminal court of England and Wales.


Old Bailey,
London E.C.4
 Friday, 23rd September 1993
 - v -


Here is a word-for-word excerpt from the trial involving Soviet spy Gordievsky:


MR TANSEY (cross-examiner): Tradecraft is a universal form of spycraft, is it not?

MR GORDIEVSKY: Not quite, no.

MR TANSEY: In fact, one of the best books about it, giving details, is a children’s book, and I would like you to look at it please. I want to take you through it. If I can just assist, it is called The Know How Book of Spycraft, published by Usborne, and it is described: Know How Books, best value in non-fiction for children 7-12.

MR JUSTICE BLOFELD: Who wrote it? Are you putting this forward as somebody who is an expert? How are we to deal with this if there is a dispute about it? Are you calling the author of this?


MR TANSEY: What I propose to do is to give the witness the book and I will refer him to pages, direct him to certain passages. (Handed)

MR JUSTICE BLOFELD: Before we get into it, would you hand it to the jury. They can just look so that they have a brief idea; otherwise it is very difficult to follow the cross-examination. Do not for heaven’s sake read it through, members of the jury, or we will be here all day. If I may persuade the two of you ladies, I think you have seen enough; it is just to get a bird’s eye view, if you would not mind. The temptation is then to get interested in it. Can I a brief glance please. (Handed)

MR TANSEY: May I say I have two copies. I could give one to your Lordship and one to my learned friend.
Click to enlarge

MR JUSTICE BLOFELD: No, as far as I am concerned, that is quite sufficient. It may be - have you had a chance to glance at it?


MR TANSEY: We have a copy. Mr Gordievsky, you see it is called The Know How Book of Spycraft?


MR TANSEY: Would you turn over to page 2, please. Have you got page 2? At the bottom you see it has got about this book -- have you got that part there? -- and it reads: “This book is all about keeping secrets. It shows you how to set up secret meeting places and a secret post office, and how to disguise your messages. It shows you lots of secret codes and signals.” All right? That is what the book says, does it not? This is for 7-12 year olds. Mr Gordievsky, would you answer my question and then look at the page.


MR TANSEY: I was reading page 2.

Click to enlarge

MR TANSEY: Then we look at the contents and what it says -- this is page 3 -- carrying secret messages; is that an important part of intelligence, carrying secret messages?


MR TANSEY: Spy post office covers a number of matters to which I will refer; codes, quick codes, part of a spy’s ----


MR TANSEY: Mystery codes, invisible writing?


MR TANSEY: Dot code messages -- is that part of it -- disguises, yes?


MR TANSEY: Silent signals? That is what it refers to. So if we turn over then to page 4, and there the heading is “Carrying Secret Messages”.

Click to enlarge

MR TANSEY: And if you look at the diagrams at the bottom; it shows you how in fact to write a message on a strip; you see, at the bottom: carrying messages in false shoe bottoms; is that right?

MR GORDIEVSKY: Yes, it is here.

MR TANSEY: Concealing messages inside a pen, at the bottom; pen messages part of tradecraft?


MR TANSEY: Then we come to the next page and it is called "The Spy Post Office". This is what I want to ask you about in particular, Mr Gordievsky.

MR GORDIEVSKY: What page is it?

MR TANSEY: Page 6 at the bottom.


MR TANSEY: Now tell us -- just read it out first: “A park is a good place to set up a secret post office.” Spies often meet or leave messages in parks; do you agree?

MR GORDIEVSKY: To some extent, of course.

MR TANSEY: It goes on: “... because you can wander or dawdle in a park without looking too suspicious.” It then goes on: “Most parks have open places where you can have a good look around to see if you are being followed ..." That is rather important, is it not, to be able to see if you are being followed, is it not?

MR GORDIEVSKY: As a general statement, it is correct.

MR TANSEY: “... and your meetings with other spies can look very innocent and accidental”, correct?


MR TANSEY: We then go further across and further down the page: “Where spies can hide messages: for example a crack in the wall”; agreed? Do you see the bottom of page 6, where you can hide things, the crack in the wall?

MR GORDIEVSKY: Yes, it is a great simplification obviously.

MR TANSEY: Yes, and if we go to the left-hand side: messages left in an umbrella.

MR GORDIEVSKY: First time I hear it.

MR TANSEY: Yes, but you know of -- well, I had better not ask you for particulars, but messages are concealed in various forms of containers, are they not?

MR GORDIEVSKY: Yes, nowadays. About umbrella, the point is very interesting because the Bulgarian dissident living in this country was assassinated by the secret service, Bulgarian in 1978, not too far from here, with the help of a poisonous umbrella, and the umbrella -- and the poison was brought to Bulgaria in 1978 by General Budanov(?) -- he was my main interrogator in 1985. So it is very interesting that you speak about an umbrella. Mr Budanov, he instructed the Bulgarians how to use the umbrella and Mr Markov, the famous dissident was killed by it. So it is not a trivial matter; it is a serious matter, where the security of people and nations are concerned.

MR TANSEY: “Spy picks up umbrella, takes it home, when he is alone, he unscrews the handle and finds the message inside.” Such things are common; do you agree?

MR GORDIEVSKY: No, umbrella -- I know how the umbrella was used once.

MR TANSEY: You get different types of containers, yes. Then look down the middle of the page: “The spy sits down on this bench and finds a message stuck under the bench with a drawing pin.” Is that not the sort of thing that happens?

MR GORDIEVSKY: Oh, yes it happened once in the Brompton Cemetery. I found a dead letter box for one spy which actually never came to Britain after, but yes, similar things do happen.

MR TANSEY: There is a dead letter box mentioned in a church, mentioned in one of the well-known novels, is there not?


MR TANSEY: So that is there; the parks and meeting and surveillance; watching that you cannot be seen; that is all clearly set out there, is it not? Invisible writing; is that one of the general tools of intelligence?
Peter Usborne, founder of Usborne Publishing
explains the significance of The KnowHow Book of Spycraft

MR GORDIEVSKY: Used to be used quite a lot, yes.
MR TANSEY: And if you are being shadowed, being followed, how you try and conceal things; is that right? Is that what you do?

MR GORDIEVSKY: Yes, identifying the surveillance behind you. Each intelligence officer is supposed to do it, and the agents are instructed how to do it, or checked by the KGB whether they are under surveillance.

MR TANSEY: Page 28, silent signals; important part of intelligence, is it not? “If you and your contact can see each other but cannot speak or get close enough to pass a message, signal with the silent alphabet shown on the page on the right.” That is one way but you have silent hand and leg signals, do you not?

And so it goes on and on.....


Yep, The KnowHow Book of Spycraft managed to cross the boundary between a good and an exceptional children's book.

What higher praise could it hope for than being entered as evidence in a trial of a KGB spymaster?

Time has been gentle to this amazing book.

The KnowHow Book of Spycraft is available from bookstores in the US:


The Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

and from other countries: 

Amazon UK

Amazon CA
Amazon DE

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