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About the Author

Jennifer Chambliss Bertman was a book-loving, game-playing, puzzle-solving daydreamer of a kid who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. When she was eighteen, she interned for a magazine in Manhattan and fell in love with the publishing industry. She went on to intern for another magazine as well as a literary agent, edited a literary magazine, worked as a production editor for a major publisher in San Francisco, and worked as a freelance proofreader and copyeditor. She holds an MFA in creative writing and now lives in Colorado with her family. To learn more about her, visit her website or the following:

The Unbreakable Code

by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
with illustrations by Sarah Watts

Mr. Quisling is definitely up to something mysterious, and Emily and James are on high alert. First, there’s the coded note he drops at a book event. Then, they uncover a trail of encrypted messages in Mark Twain-penned books hidden through Book Scavenger. What’s most suspicious is that each hidden book triggers an arson fire.

As the sleuthing friends dig deeper, they discover Mr. Quisling has been hunting a legendary historical puzzle: the Unbreakable Code. This new mystery is irresistible, but Emily and James can’t ignore the signs that Mr. Quisling might be the arsonist.

The clock is ticking as the arson fires multiply, and Emily and James race to crack the code of a lifetime.

Published by Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt and Company
ISBN: 978-1-62779-116-8
Publication Date: April 25, 2017
  • Debuted at #6 on the New York Times Bestseller list!
  • Junior Library Guild selection, Spring 2017
  • California John and Patricia Beatty Award Master List, 2018
  • Translation rights sold in twelve languages/countries: French, Spanish, Catalan, German, Czech, Polish, Chinese (Simplified and Complex), Russian, Korean, Romanian, and Turkish





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THE PHOENIX blended in with the staggered group of people waiting for the bus. He held a paper cup in a gloved hand and checked his watch. Any eyes skimming past would judge him as average, unexceptional. That’s how it was and how it had always been. People underestimated him.

That was a mistake.

The 41 rounded the corner and eased to a stop in front of Washington Square. Before joining the line that assembled to board, the Phoenix raised his cup to his lips and took his last pretend sip. Then he removed a gum wrapper from his pocket, dropped it inside the cup, and left them behind on the park bench next to a green zippered pouch.

He was the last person to board the bus. With two leaping steps up the stairs and a flash of his card to the driver, who barely looked his way, he headed down the aisle past people too absorbed in their cell phones, their paperbacks, their newspapers, their tablets, the static beats that pulsed in their ears, to pay him any attention. People were so willing to not pay attention.

He sat in the back by a window so he could glimpse the distant bay as they slugged up the hill. A deep smoky blue had taken over the sky and pushed the dying embers of sunset below the horizon. Alcatraz was a black lump on the shimmering water.

As he took in the view, he thought about the litter he’d left behind. His paper cup that had held water, not the dregs of coffee. The gum wrapper that hadn’t been crushed flat but held a small silvery-white cube. He thought about the water soaking the piece of paper, working its way through the waxy coating until it reached the cube.

And then it would explode.

It wouldn’t be sensational like in the movies. It shouldn’t be, at least. He couldn’t be responsible for what somebody else left behind. The explosion would make a noise—a pop loud enough to startle nearby people, dogs. The fire would start small. Flames would eat away at the cup, then spread quickly, crawling across the zippered pouch beside it.

Someday he might stop and watch. He’d never done that before. But not tonight. Tonight he was running late for a book party.


Click here to read the entire excerpt!


“Readers who loved the first volume will find this follow-up even more satisfying. Purchase extra copies where there are fans. –Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library”  —School Library Journal

“Making extensive use of San Francisco history and locales, Bertman offers another involving chapter book in the Book Scavenger series, which offers a large, interesting cast of characters, plenty of challenges for code enthusiasts, and more complexity than most middle-grade mysteries. The appended author’s note helps readers separate fact from fiction. Young readers captivated by these distinctive characters will be hoping for the series to continue. — Carolyn Phelan” —Booklist

“Brisk, bookish good fun for puzzle and code lovers.” —Kirkus

“No sophomore slump for the second installment of the Book Scavenger series. The Unbreakable Code is bookish, exciting and downright fun to read. Emily and James are in for a bit of danger when an arsonist called The Phoenix leaves a trail of hidden books and small fires all over San Francisco. Bertman uses San Francisco’s historical events, people, and landmarks the main characters in her book. In addition, she flawlessly uses the city’s lesser known literary history to keep readers intrigued. This book can stand alone for those that prefer not to read in series order.”  –California John and Patricia Beatty Award Master List, 2018