Author Interview: City Spies

James Ponti Interview

The City Spies series is so much fun and full of adventure and found family! It’s a great middle grade series, perfect for fans of Ally Carter. I devoured the first three books last year and I am so excited to celebrate the release of the fourth installment this week with an interview with author James Ponti.

Interview with James Ponti

The City Spies series takes place all around the world. What kind of research do you do for each book? Have you been to any of the cities before?

Research is a big part of these books. From a geography standpoint, I try to find out as much as I can about a destination, including the off the wall elements. When possible, I travel to them and explore. If I know that I’m going to include a specific building or landmark, I try to arrange a special tour. For example, the New York Public Library is a setting for City Spies 5 and I was able to get a behind the scenes tour to look around the stacks and see things like the automated system that moves books around.

I also do tons of distance research. I interview people who’ve lived in the cities so I get a local perspective. I read books, scour YouTube, find websites. Anything and everything. I couldn’t go to Egypt because of Covid, so I interviewed an Egyptologist, watched a slideshow of a family’s trip to Cairo, and practically lived on a website that maps out of the tombs at the Valley of the Kings.

Each kid brings a unique skillset to the team. What role would you play (or wish you could do) if you were a part of the team?

I would be a terrible spy. I get scared easily. I don’t like secrets. And I’m pretty clumsy. The spies in my books have all the skills I wish I had. The character who I most identify with is Mother, (who is actually the father for those who haven’t read the books). If I could be any of the kids for one of the adventures, I would probably pick Paris. He’s all brains and courage and steadfastness. It would be neat to feel that way for a little while.

What excited you most while writing the fourth installment, City of the Dead?

Two things: Kat and Egypt. The main character switches in each book and for this one Kat takes the lead. That’s fun for me because she’s the most different from who I am. And, as a setting, Egypt feels the most Indiana Jones-ish. It’s great when the location adds so much history and a built-in sense of mythology.

What other books would you recommend for young readers who are fans of the City Spies?

My buddy Stu Gibbs writes two great spy series: Spy School and Charlie Thorne. I highly recommend both of those. Some other great spy books I’d recommend are Concealed by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls by Beth McMullen and a great new non-fiction book by Rebecca Barone called Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazi’s Secret Code.

So, far, the City Spies have traveled to London, Paris, San Francisco, Beijing, and Cairo—can you share a sneak peek about where their next adventure will be?

Cairo and the Valley of the Kings are the big destinations in City Spies: City of the Dead. I’m currently writing City Spies 5 which starts off in Venice before heading to Washington, D.C., and New York. It involves a teenager who’s become a world-famous environmental activist and finally gives Rio his first time as the lead character. It’s been great fun to research and write.

City of the DeadAbout City Spies: City of the Dead

Release Date: February 7, 2023
Find it: GoodreadsBookshopBarnes & Noble, Amazon

In this fourth installment in the New York Times bestselling series from Edgar Award winner James Ponti, the young group of spies go codebreaking in Cairo in another international adventure perfect for fans of Spy School and Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls.

Codename Kathmandu, better known as Kat, loves logic and order, has a favorite eight-digit number, and can spot a pattern from a mile away. So when a series of cyberattacks hits key locations in London while the spies are testing security for the British Museum, it’s clear that Kat’s skill for finding reason in what seems like randomness makes her the perfect candidate to lead the job.

And while the team follows the deciphered messages to Egypt and the ancient City of the Dead to discover who is behind the attacks and why, Kat soon realizes that there’s another layer to the mystery.

With more players, more clues, and involving higher levels of British Intelligence than ever before, this mission is one of the most complex that the group has faced to date. And it’s also going to bring about a change to the City Spies . . .

James Ponti (by Elena Seibert Photography

About James Ponti


James Ponti is the New York Times bestselling author of three middle grade book series: 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.

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