Move over Harry Potter, children want to read about the spying game

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The Independent Culture

Ian Fleming, Graham Greene and John le Carré have long captivated adult readers with tales of spying and intrigue. And at the cinema, The Bourne Identity and its sequel, The Bourne Supremacy, have brought the genre into the 21st Century.

Ian Fleming, Graham Greene and John le Carré have long captivated adult readers with tales of spying and intrigue. And at the cinema, The Bourne Identity and its sequel, The Bourne Supremacy, have brought the genre into the 21st Century.

Now publishers and bookstores have decided the spy thriller is the ideal way to capture elusive teenaged boy readers, with a new generation of secret agents for children.

This month, Young Bond: SilverFin - Book 1 by Charlie Higson of television's The Fast Show, entered the children's paperback charts, the first of five planned adventures with a junior James Bond sanctioned by the estate of Ian Fleming, Bond's creator.

Next month sees the publication of Jimmy Coates: Killer, the hotly tipped first novel by a young Cambridge philosophy student, Joseph Craig, who admits to being a fan of movies like The Bourne Identity.

Booksellers are also preparing for the launch of Ark Angel by British author Anthony Horowitz, the sixth in a series that has re-invented the spy genre. With adults-to-children appeal, it has sold more than 2 million copies so far. Scorpia, the fifth in the sequence, flew off the shelves last April, selling more than 1,000 copies a day in WH Smith.

Rachel Airey, Smith's children's fiction buyer, welcomed the arrival of books that appeal to boys. "There's a huge amount of pink girly stuff in the market so this is quite refreshing," she said.

"For quite a while now, people have been trying to jump on the Anthony Horowitz bandwagon but it hasn't happened."

She believes that Jimmy Coates and SilverFin will take off and provide a welcome alternative for young readers who have wearied of tales of Hogwarts and quidditch.

"For a long time, everything that has been published has been trying to compete with Harry Potter and a lot of other things have been neglected.

"Everyone has worked the magic wizard thing to death and now they have started to say, 'What else can we do?' Jimmy Coates is a really good read for that slightly older reader. It's more like real life. It's got gadgets and technology and the things boys are really into."

Graham Marks, a children's author and children's editor for Publishing News, said the problem of finding books that appeal to boys had been taxing publishers for a long time. "Horowitz was the one who broke through and got a really strong market going. When it looked as if he had killed his hero, there was uproar and parents were ringing up and saying how their children were distraught. It obviously touched a nerve and publishers are good at spotting when other people have a success."

Even though it is 15 years since the Berlin Wall fell, spies have never completely disappeared from publishing. As Michael Green, the editor of Horowitz's Alex Rider series, told Publishers' Weekly in America: "Just because the Cold War ended and John le Carré had to find new things to write about, the genre didn't go away."

Craig admitted he had no idea when he was writing Jimmy Coates: Killer that his book would be deemed ideal for boys aged nine and over. It was simply a story, similar to the Hitchcock movies he loved, that he could not get out of his head. "Obviously, I had kids in mind because I made the hero a kid, but I didn't know anything about the market and that spy thrillers were going to be big. What interested me about it was having a character doing extraordinary things in the real world rather than in a fantasy world."

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