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City of the Dead

Part of City Spies

About The Book

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…

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

City Spies Book 4: City of the Dead

By James Ponti

About the Book

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

Discussion Questions

1. As City of the Dead opens, readers discover that the City Spies team, much like archaeologist Howard Carter, “were looking to recover treasures of Egyptian antiquity. Except they weren’t going to dig a tunnel in the desert. They were going to sneak through one in an abandoned section of the London Underground. And the artifacts they sought weren’t concealed in some long-forgotten tomb. They were on display at one of the busiest museums in the world. This was no excavation. It was a heist.” (Chapter one) Does discovering that the spies might actually be up to a nefarious deed surprise you? In your opinion, does learning how the team is being utilized feel like a good choice by MI6? If so, in what ways? What does the City Spies team’s fresh perspective offer to the intelligence agency?

2. Though the timing of their mission feels less important for the rest of the team, readers learn that “for Sydney, a born rebel who loved ‘making things go boom,’ it was as if Bonfire Night had been created specifically with her in mind. And here she was in London, so close to some of the biggest celebrations in the country, yet she was going to miss out.” (Chapter one) Consider Kat’s choice as the mission leader to time their work during this celebratory evening. What do you think of this choice, and in what ways does it serve the mission’s goals? Is she right to be less considerate of Sydney’s disappointment? Explain your answer.

3. Based on what you’ve learned previously from the other City Spies adventures, what makes this Kat-led mission important? In what ways is this assignment unique? What skills or strengths does Kat bring to the operation? Based on textual examples, in what ways does Kat prove she was the right choice?

4. As you consider the reaction of the security team at the British Museum, why do you think adults have such a difficult time dealing with the reality that, at times, kids may know better than adults? What are other ways this is evident throughout the novel?

5. In City of the Dead, it is discovered that Umbra, a global crime syndicate, remains engaged in and supporting terroristic activities, like hacking and hijacking critical state infrastructure. What makes this criminal organization so difficult to shut down? How does knowing that Clementine is likely entrenched in their organization impact Mother and the rest of the City Spies?

6. Consider the City Spies’ mission-go phrase: “This operation is hot. We are a go.” In what ways is using a consistent tagline helpful to the team? Are there any additional taglines or phrases you would offer them?

7. After hearing Rio offer critical details about a guard he’s observed, Sydney tells him, “It’s scary how well you read people.” (Chapter one) Though he appreciates the compliment, Rio is quick to point out that his skills aren’t always noticed or appreciated by their team. From your perspective, do you agree, or do you believe Rio is being too sensitive? Why might each of the team feel like what they offer isn’t given the attention they deserve?

8. Though she does it to cause a distraction, Sydney brings up the controversy around the Rosetta Stone and the British acquisition and “ownership” of cultural heritage objects from lands they colonized or as items they acquired as spoils of war. Why is this an important issue? Can you think of any similar artifacts you’ve seen in museums or displays that likely belong elsewhere in the world? Had you considered how that particular museum came to own the item? If you didn’t, might you feel differently seeing them now? Explain your answer.

9. As they try to problem-solve on the spot during a complication in their mission, Sydney asks, “What’s that Motherism? You’re at your best . . . ?” “When you trust the rest,” Kat finishes for her. (Chapter four) Why is it so important for the group to remember that trust in their team is what matters most? How might things look differently if working together as a team wasn’t essential to what they do?

10. In City of the Dead, the City Spies are stunned to see Robert choose to return to Mother and their new family. From your perspective, what are the greatest challenges each of them will face with his arrival? Consider Mother’s reaction to his return. Do you believe he is truly able to be objective about Robert’s motivations? Why or why not?

11. Given what you know about this particular mission, and the City Spies in general, why does MI6 elect to continue keeping knowledge of their existence top secret? What benefits do you see for them being more transparent about FARM and the team’s work?

12. As their investigation continues, Brooklyn is quick to defend one of the primary suspects in the case, a former hacker. Based on her own past experiences before joining the team, do you think she is being sensitive to the parallels of her own life?

13. Based on what you learn through reading City of the Dead and your impressions of the City Spies throughout the series so far, who is the character you most identify with and why?

14. As the City Spies attempt to stop Harper, they learn that Marwen, their Egyptian tour guide, isn’t allowed to accompany them down into the site. He tells the team, “I will be wherever you need me.” (Chapter thirty-six) Given all that has happened throughout their time in Egypt, what makes Marwen’s efforts so unusual? Provide some examples that could explain his abilities.

15. Trust is a critical component in the City Spies family. How does Robert’s sudden inclusion in their team cause the others to react? From your perspective, do you think he is treated fairly? Explain your position.

16. Considering the conclusion of City of the Dead, what do you predict could happen in the future for the City Spies?

Extension Activities

British Museum

As the City Spies work on their case, they become more intimately knowledgeable of the impact the museum and its collection have on the world, in both positive and negative ways. Have readers research the British Museum to discover the following:

o Where is the British Museum?

o When was it established?

o What is the museum’s size and the number of items in its collection?

o How many visitors does it have annually?

o What are some of the most celebrated treasures in the collection?

o Why are some of the holdings in their collections controversial?

After completing their research, have students share their knowledge with their peers.

Cultural Artifacts Ownership

At the beginning of the mission, Sydney addresses the topic of ownership of the Rosetta Stone and makes a case for why it should be returned to Egypt. In addition to the Rosetta Stone, consider other antiquities and pieces of prized art that also have contentious ownership. Ask students to dig further into the topic by reading the student opinion pieces published by the New York Times here: After reading, allow for a group discussion, being sure to focus on why there isn’t a simple solution to this issue.

The Excavation of Tutankhamun’s Mummy and Other Ancient Egyptian Treasures

In City of the Dead, one of the important storylines is the work by Egyptologists to preserve and protect ancient Egyptian antiquities, including celebrating discoveries like the tomb of Tutankhamun. Use the following video by National Geographic to learn more about the findings in King Tut’s grave and how this work continues to be carried on: After watching, lead a discussion on what was learned, and from there have readers work with a partner to learn more about other important Egyptian historical treasures. After allowing for exploration and learning, have pairs share what they discovered.

Howard Carter

In the Prologue of City of the Dead, readers observe Tutankhamen’s tomb location being discovered by an Egyptian boy assisting British archaeologist Howard Carter, the archaeologist credited with finding Tut’s tomb. While this little-known fact adds to the drama of the discovery and helps remind readers that this discovery and excavation efforts were supported by numerous Egyptians, Howard Carter’s archaeological work was heralded across the globe.

Ask students to learn more about Howard Carter, his life, his accomplishments, and the role he played in making one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in modern history. After learning more about Carter, have students also read Smithsonian Magazine’s “Remembering the Unsung Egyptians Who Helped Discover King Tut’s Tomb” here: Upon completion, lead a discussion about their collective findings.

Grand Egyptian Museum

The GEM is a soon-to-open museum in Cairo dedicated to house and highlight all five thousand of Tutankhamun’s treasures and serve as a symbol of a nation reclaiming its history. Using the National Geographic article below and other online resources, learn more about the museum.

After reading and investigating, have readers share their most interesting discoveries about GEM with the group.

Bonfire Night

The first mission for the City Spies in this installment of the series takes place on Bonfire Night, otherwise known as Guy Fawkes Night in the United Kingdom. Have your students learn more about the historical context to this celebration and what makes it so unique.

Funeral Rites

Throughout City of the Dead, some ancient Egyptian customs and funeral rites are referenced. Upon the novel’s completion, have readers research to learn more. Taking what they learn, have them compare the similarities and differences with contemporary funeral practices.

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt is a fascinating era in world history. The lifestyle, culture, fashion, architecture, and literature were all reflections of the pharaohs and their tremendous influence on the population. According to interest, have students select one of the following aspects of Ancient Egypt to research. Topics to be considered include Geography/Gifts of the Nile, Three Kingdoms, the Sphinx, Famous Pharaohs, or Ancient Deities. Allow students to work with each other and share their findings in their preferred format.


For the mission in City of the Dead, the team ultimately lands in Egypt, a country filled with wondrous ancient sites that are treasured throughout the world. Using library and internet resources, have students learn more about why Egypt’s landmarks are so revered, specifically selecting a piece of architecture (examples include but aren’t limited to the Valley of the Kings, Pyramids of Giza, or the Temple of Horus) and after their research endeavors, share with the group their favorite findings.

This guide was created by Dr. Rose Brock. Rose is an associate professor in the Library Science Department in the College of Education at Sam Houston State University and 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 or

About The Author

Elena Seibert Photography

James Ponti is the New York Times bestselling author of four middle grade book series: The Sherlock Society following a group of young detectives; 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. Find out more at

About The Reader

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (February 7, 2023)
  • Runtime: 7 hours and 18 minutes
  • ISBN13: 9781797152370
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12

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Awards and Honors

  • Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Intermediate Title

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