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About The Book

In the eleventh book in the New York Times bestselling Spy School series, Ben Ripley goes on a rescue mission when one of his own is abducted from a remote Alaskan training facility.

Ben Ripley and his friends are training in Alaska when Cyrus Hale is kidnapped by his old Russian nemesis. Ben, Erica, and the others mount a rescue mission, but events quickly spiral out of control in a plot involving the secret history of US-Russian relations, a young KGB agent with skills to rival Erica’s—and lots and lots of bears.

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

Spy School Goes North

By Stuart Gibbs

About the Book

In the eleventh book in the New York Times bestselling Spy School series,
Ben Ripley and his friends are training in a remote Alaskan facility when Cyrus Hale is kidnapped by his old Russian nemesis. Ben, Erica, and the others mount a rescue mission, but events quickly spiral out of control in a plot involving the secret history of US-Russian relations, a young KGB agent with skills to rival Erica’s, and lots and lots of bears.

Discussion Questions

1. As Spy School Goes North opens, readers learn that Ben and his team have had to relocate to Alaska for special training and to remain protected from those who believe Murray Hill’s conspiracy theories about them. What makes this new training location and facility unique for them? Can you predict ways that being in such a setting and in such conditions could prove to be beneficial? What are the obvious challenges?

2. As they dangle from climbing ropes on a cliff face in the middle of the Kenai Fjords National Park while Ben fights his fear and panic, he notices that “Erica had the calm demeanor of someone sitting on a nice, comfy couch in a room full of throw pillows.” (Chapter one) How are the differences between the two characters highlighted in the opening of this installment of Spy School? Based on what you know about Ben from his other missions, do you find his fear in this scenario to be surprising? Why or why not?

3. With their school still in shambles and no hope of returning there in the near future, the team must learn to adapt and overcome quickly. Based on what you’ve discovered from your reading, what are some of the ways each of them do so?

4. Readers discover that it is Cyrus Hale, Erica’s grandfather and a highly respected spy, who proposed a solution to keep at least a fraction of the Spy School program going by taking a select group of students to an isolated location to continue their training. Why do you believe Cyrus would be motivated to personally oversee such training?

5. Based on what is discovered about this secret facility in Alaska, in what ways could this particular mission be more challenging than the group’s earlier assignments?

6. While describing the accommodations and the off-the-grid living conditions, Ben narrates, “We had brought some dried goods with us to eat, like giant sacks of beans and rice, but for the most part we had been living off plants we foraged and fish that we caught. It was as though we had gone back in time.” (Chapter one) Despite some hardships, in what ways can this opportunity be beneficial to the team?

7. Consider the abduction of Cyrus Hale by his Russian nemesis. How could this aggressive act make Cyrus less willing to think rationally about the bigger picture of what is at stake if Ivan goes through with his plan? Are there ways that being rescued by his granddaughter and her team might be equally bad or worse to him? Explain.

8. Ben notes that “The Hales had been spying for the United States since before the United States had even existed, and [Erica’s] mother’s family had an equally long history of spying for England. So espionage was the family business.” (Chapter one) What are the benefits of this being such an integral part of Erica and her family’s identity? How could that family legacy be a challenging expectation to live up to?

9. What makes Svetlana such a formidable opponent for Erica? How is it good for Erica to be challenged by someone equally skilled?

10. Despite potential evidence proving that the Croatoan was the culprit in the theft of the money Russia was supposed to receive after the US purchased Alaska, Ivan is unwilling to believe that his ancestor might have been fooled. What does his inability to acknowledge a scenario where his relative was taken advantage of tell readers about Ivan?

11. After poisoning Ben and the team, Murray Hill tells them, “‘I’ve been plotting how to escape this dump ever since I got here. I figured I’d have to maroon some poor sap and then seek my revenge on you—but I never dreamed that I’d get to do both at the same time.’” (Chapter ten) Despite being a lousy character, how does Murray once again prove he is a formidable foe? Why does it seem that he is often underestimated?

12. After Murray Hill’s escape, Ben asks Zoe what is wrong with her, and she tells him, “‘I’ve been drugged and marooned on the bleakest, coldest, smelliest island on earth while some revenge-driven Russian is plotting doomsday for Alaska. So I’d say this is pretty much the worst I’ve felt in my entire life. How are you?’” (Chapter eleven) Beyond what she shares, why do you believe Zoe is having such a difficult time on this particular mission?

13. After Ben asks Erica why she thinks emotions aren’t important in forming relationships, she tells him, “‘They complicate things and mess up our ability to think rationally. Plus, they can cause a whole lot of trouble. While there are certainly emotions that make you feel good, like happiness and excitement, there are a heck of a lot more that make us feel bad: sadness, anger, disgust, fear, loneliness, annoyance, jealousy, doubt, guilt, desperation, anxiety, frustration, worry, terror, shame, grief, paranoia, desperation, disappointment, nervousness—and, of course, love.’” (Chapter eleven) What are some examples of ways Erica has demonstrated her position regarding emotions throughout the Spy School series? Do you see her behaving differently due to her more complicated relationship with Ben? If so, in what ways?

14. Zoe tells Ben, “‘When I came into the room, our eyes met, and . . . I think we had a connection.’” (Chapter eleven) What does Zoe’s admission of her feelings for Svetlana indicate about her friendship with Ben? How does assuming Svetlana is as committed in destroying the United States as her grandfather make Zoe feel?

15. In Spy School Goes North, what are the ways in which Erica’s parents prove that they are loyal and supportive of their daughter and her friends even if it comes at a cost to them?

16. While discussing her Canadian assignment, CIA agent and former classmate Tina Cuevo tells Ben, “‘For starters, this is as close to Russia as you can get in the US. In the lower forty-eight states, everyone considers the Cold War a thing of the past, but I can assure you, it’s alive and well up here.’” (Chapter twelve) Is it possible that Tina is being dramatic? What makes her perspective an unusual and possibly accurate one?

17. Based on possible assumptions about Svetlana from her introduction in the novel to what you learn about her throughout Spy School Goes North, how does she exhibit bravery and loyalty? In what ways did her character surprise you?

18. Why is the Spy School team’s master plan to thwart the doomsday attack so risky? Explain why you would defend or condemn this plan.

19. How does Ivan ultimately prove that despite his declarations about wanting justice for his country more than anything, family matters the most to him?

20. Thinking about the events of Spy School Goes North and the Spy School series in general, what has been your favorite mission Ben and his team have undertaken so far? Why?

Extension Activities

1. In Spy School Goes North, readers learn that Russia has a long history with Alaska, including former ownership and the experience of selling the land to the United States. First, read the following Smithsonian piece about the sale here, then pull together a report or presentation about it using the questions below as guidelines. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/why-russia-gave-alaska-americas-gateway-arctic-180962714/#:~:text=In%20Alaska%2C%20the%20Americans%20foresaw,U.S.%20become%20a%20Pacific%20power.

o When did the sale occur and who were the principal players in the transaction?

o What was the cost at the time, and what would be the state’s value in today’s economy?

o Why did Russia choose to sell this landmass and what were the benefits to them?

o What were the benefits at that time to the United States?

o When and why did Alaska become a state?

o Historically, what have been the greatest benefits of the acquisition of Alaska for the US?

o What new information did you find interesting and why?

o In what ways was this sale and the land claimed as their property by Russia problematic?

2. Besides being the site that could potentially fall victim to Ivan’s nefarious plans, readers learn that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is rife with natural wonder. Working in small groups, begin to research Arctic National Wildlife Refuge basics, such as:

o Where is the refuge located?

o How large is it?

o What is it best known for?

o What wildlife is it home to?

o How many visitors does it receive annually?

o What are the greatest challenges faced by the government divisions that service the wildlife refuges?

o In what ways are a national wildlife refuge and a national park different?

o Where is the closest national wildlife refuge to your home?

o What are five unusual fun facts that you uncovered from your research?

Continuing your work as a team, create an exploration plan for other young people lucky enough to visit the refuge by your home. Be sure the guide to the refuge that your team creates offers tips on what to do and what not to do while visiting.

3. Ivan’s plan is to destroy the crude oil reserves and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline as a means of creating climate change that will ultimately cause Siberia to warm, as well as harm the United States in numerous ways.

Begin by viewing the PBS program, “Building the Alaska Pipeline” here: https://kera.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/ean08.sci.ess.earthsys.pipeline/building-the-alaska-oil-pipeline/.

Next, using the library and trusted internet resources, research to learn more about the oil reserves in Alaska, where there is strong opposition to it being produced and sold, and the role the Trans-Alaska Pipeline plays in this issue.

After completing this research, share the three most interesting things you learned with your peers.

4. In Spy School Goes North, the detrimental impact of an explosion, fires, and a warming planet are highlighted by the young people in the novel. Watch the following PBS video clip, “Changing the Arctic Landscape”: https://kera.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/ipy07.sci.ess.earthsys.arcticland/changing-arctic-landscape/. Discuss the greatest threats to the area, and brainstorm actionable steps that can be taken to help it.

This guide was created by Dr. Rose Brock, an associate professor in the Library Science Department in the College of Education at Sam Houston State University. Dr. Brock 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. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or https://www.simonandschuster.net/m/prek12-teachers-librarians/the-book-pantry

About The Author

Photograph by Dashiell Gibbs

Stuart Gibbs is the New York Times bestselling author of the Charlie Thorne series, FunJungle series, Moon Base Alpha series, Once Upon a Tim series, and Spy School series. He has written screenplays, worked on a whole bunch of animated films, developed TV shows, been a newspaper columnist, and researched capybaras (the world’s largest rodents). Stuart lives with his family in Los Angeles. You can learn more about what he’s up to at StuartGibbs.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (October 3, 2023)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665934763
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12

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