About Book 1: Dirk Daring, Secret Agent
When Darren Dirkowitz’s evil stepbrother (code name Waldo) gets hold of Darren’s tippity-top-secret spy journal, he threatens to expose it to the entire Preston Middle School student body. Unless, that is, Darren starts doing his dirty work for him. Now Darren’s got to use the oh-so-cloak-and-daggery skills he’s honed in his secret alternate life as Dirk Daring, Secret Agent to spy on kids at school. Naturally, he also sets up a separate, sneaky surveillance program to unearth Waldo’s own secrets. As more and more ugly truths are exposed, new alliances are forged and old friendships broken. Can Darren learn to be true to himself and build real friendships for the first time in his life? Or will he retreat back into his exciting but imaginary shadow world?
Orca Books ISBN 978-1459806832 paper $9.95
A 2015 Canadian Children's Book Centre
Best Bets for Children and Teens
"With his double life in danger of exposure, Darren Dirkowitz, aka Dirk Daring, Secret Agent, must complicate his personal life in order to keep his secrets.
Darren has always taken great care to keep his identity as a secret agent under wraps. Unfortunately, his one loose end has been discovered: a top-secret journal with all his adventures recorded for posterity. Before he knows it, Darren is at the mercy of his stepbrother (the nefarious and elusive “Waldo”), spying on his best friend and lying to the girl of his dreams. Friendships are strongly tested throughout the novel, which is peppered with imaginative turns of phrase and bursts of energy. The book is an enjoyable and quirky read. The author doesn’t go overboard and turn her characters into swirling cartoons: These are real kids behaving with all the creativity and energy one would expect of them. But beneath all the play and humor is a genuine emotional core, exploring the trials and tribulations all friendships endure when moving from elementary school on to junior high. A stunning last-minute twist pushes the book above and beyond.
A clever romp that’s enhanced, not lessened, by its message. (Fiction. 8-12)"
"Zany plot lines, over-the-top characters, laugh-out-loud humor, and ever-so-slightly scary situations can be just the recipe to tempt a reluctant reader into grabbing a title off the shelf. Readers who have chuckled at the potty humor and adventures of “Captain Underpants” (Scholastic) will enjoy Helaine Becker’s Dirk Daring, Secret Agent, where a charmingly geeky middleschooler gets embroiled in a sinister spy ring....Even a trip to the grocery store to buy hamburger buns can become a super, secret spy mission when you’re Dirk Daring, secret agent (a.k.a. Darren Dirkowitz)...Excerpts from Darren’s spy notebook are amusing and give insight into characters. Dirk Daring, Secret Agent is a quick, enjoyable read with plenty of potty humor to reel in reluctant readers."
"Eleven-year-old Darren Dirkowitz—aka Dirk Daring, Secret Agent—is very serious about his spycraft. Becker's (Zoobots) story takes the form of Darren's top-secret journal, which is annotated with doodles and sarcastic notes from his best friend, Travis (code name: T-Bone), who thinks of his buddy less as a super-spy than as "Darren Dirkowitz, fifth-grader and all-around butt." As Becker's story unfolds, Darren teams up Travis and his crush, Opal Vega, to bring junk food back to the school vending machines and remove his "archenemy" stepbrother, Jason Arsenico (code name: Waldo), from the school presidency. The only problem: Jason is threatening to expose Darren's journal, making him "the laughingstock of Preston Middle School" unless Darren spies on Jason's "enemies" for him. Full of wisecracking jokes, shifting alliances, and betrayals, Becker's school-day caper offers a steady stream of surprises and laughs. Darren maintains a deadpan, noir-ish tone ("No one must know of my covert actions. Therefore, I use ultimate discretion and a steady hand to obtain my ink") even when, for instance, he's using his own urine as invisible ink. Ages 8–11."
"Darren Dirkowitz, a.k.a. Secret Agent Dirk Daring, has the stealth and cunning of the panther, the patience of the chameleon, the stillness of the serpent, and the strength of the spider. Dirk Daring is a master spy. But sometimes even master spies need help navigating Grade Five.
Helaine Becker has created a delightful hero in underdog, Darren Dirkowitz. Labeled a geek, Darren is practically a social outcast. Plagued with an evil stepbrother and infatuated with the prettiest girl in the class, there are just so many ways for him to have a bad day. When his secret spy journal is stolen and Darren is threatened with exposure, school-wide humiliation seems inevitable—were it not for the special skills of Dirk Daring.
Chock full of code names and encrypted missions, comic doodles and handwritten editorial comments, Dirk Daring, Secret Agent is a high-energy race car speeding to what looks like certain disaster. But underneath is a gentle and thoughtful look at the scary parts of being ten years old: Who will be my friend? Will people make fun of me? Will the bullies get me?
This is a highly imaginative and enjoyable read and the underlying message adds to, rather than detracts from the fun. Spoiler alert – the bad guys are punished in the end. But just who ARE the bad guys? Only Dirk Daring knows for sure."
- National Reading Campaign
"The nonstop action, evolving plot, fleshed-out characters, gross-out jokes, intermittent cartoonish illustrations, and overarching themes of friendship and self-discovery should resonate with middle school readers. Recommend this to fans of Sammy Keyes and Hunter Moran."
"Both a sophisticated and acceptable middle-grade read, balancing potty humor with irony and witty sarcasm while offering a nicely complicated noir-like plot in a straightforward style. Darren/Dirk makes an appealing narrator, confident in his espionage abilities but less so in his social graces. The various twists in the story keep the pages turning...An attractive puzzle that will leave reluctant readers feeling triumphant both in their reading and sleuthing skills."
- The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"The book has many funny illustrations tucked into random pages and has plenty of spy tricks that the reader can learn. This is a great chapter book with animations and both boys and girls will enjoy reading and sleuthing along.” - Resource Links
"Simple drawings along the edge, graphics of emails sent, and other text features add interest to the pages. You don’t have to be a future spy to enjoy this book, but tweens that enjoy school drama will like the spy twist. RECOMMENDED."
- Library Media Connection
"Dirk’s voice is completely in spy-mode, making for an amusing narrative, and the myriad illustrations, including cartoons, diagrams, case files and text messages, will interest modern readers, especially Wimpy Kid fans...Kids in grades 4-6 will find Dirk’s adventures to be humorous and entertaining, good for a read-aloud or individual reading."
-Southwest Ohio and Neighboring Libraries
About Book 2: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Darren Dirkowitz thought his life was over when his tippity-top-secret alter ego, Dirk Daring, Secret Agent, was outed to the entire Preston Middle School student body. If only he’d been so lucky. Now the Wolf Lords—a gang of teen thugs bent on wringing every last penny out of Preston students—are breathing down his neck. There’s only one solution: Dirk Daring must embark on his most daring mission yet. A mission so audacious, so cunning, so doggone crazy, that if it succeeds, the Wolf Lords will wind up begging for mercy. But first, Darren must bring his own disobedient “associates” to heel.
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie is the sequel to the runaway bestseller Dirk Daring, Secret Agent.
Orca Books ISBN 978-1459810389 paper $9.95
"this second entry shines when it comes to the characters’ relationships, particularly the evolving love story between Darren and Opal. The author perfectly captures a middle school crush that is getting just deep enough to matter but not so much so that it's troublesome to either participant.
The narrative is also peppered with the same spy jargon that made the first Dirk Daring adventure such a blast. This is a very silly book, but it never crosses the line into inanity.
With a smart balance of humor and heart, this is a winning sequel."
"Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, Dirk Daring is well-written, like Dirk Daring, Secret Agent, the first book, and is thick with sarcasm, humour and wit. Unlike Dirk Daring, Secret Agent, which focussed on Darren feeling ostracized among his peers and bullied by Waldo for his interest in spying, this book focuses more on the friendships Darren has built within his group... a great recommendation for reluctant readers as the pages are filled with diary entries, code logs and interview excerpts, making it a fun read.
*** Recommended. - CM Magazine