Real-life spies. Ooohhh.

Spies and body parts

Psst. If you want to read about covert operations, secret agents, codes, thermal imagery, moles and lots more, take a look at Spies Revealed, by Clive Gifford (Atheneum, $21.99, age 9 and older). Its 30 pages are crammed with mostly factual and some fictional information about the greatest spies-famous or barely known-throughout the centuries.

Julius Caesar developed the "cipher" code. George Washington was a spymaster who trained agents to feed false information to the British. CIA translator Larry Wu-Tai Chin was one of the most successful moles in history, passing secrets to the Chinese for more than four decades before he was caught in 1985.

The book is organized by themes-including equipment, methods, messages and 21st-century technology-with each double page displaying information bits and fold- or pull-out features including bubble gum-style spy cards and a spy intelligence test.

Famous fictional spies such as James Bond and Jason Bourne are mentioned, but the best parts are the stranger-than-fiction anecdotes from real life. During the 1960s, for instance, the CIA implanted a bugging device in a cat, with the antenna in the cat's tail. The idea was for the cat to walk near suspects and transmit their conversations. Unfortunately, on the test mission, the cat was run over by a taxi.

Fans of David Macaulay's The New Way Things Work will be delighted to know that he's turned his attention from man-made machines to the most remarkable machine of all-the human body. Macaulay's The Way We Work (Houghton Mifflin, $35, 336 pages, age 10 and older) looks at the parts of the body and how they work, separately and together.

The text is clean, informative and fun to read. The illustrations, mostly pastel paintings, do the job but aren't as crisp and fanciful as those in The New Way Things Work. (I miss the whimsical woolly mammoths who demonstrate the machines.)

With either of these selections you're sure to enjoy a cozy read with your kids.