As of January 2023, the entirety of the literary canon of Sherlock Holmes has entered the public domain. While the character of Holmes has been in the public domain for quite some time, the remaining stories published in the 1920s were still protected by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, until now. Over the years, the massive fandom of Sherlock Holmes has sought to “free Sherlock,” a result that is now the law of the world.
While hardcore Sherlockians rejoice, more casual fans might wonder if it’s time to revisit the adventures of the greatest detective of all time, and his loyal biographer, Dr. Watson. And, if you’ve got kids, where is the best place to start them with all things Sherlock? Here’s a list of seven great starting places for families as an introduction to history’s most enduring fictional creation, and arguably, the world’s first superhero.
5. Enola Holmes novels and movies (8+)
The adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ secret younger sister, Enola, begin in a series of middle-grade novels published by Nancy Springer in 2006. The first book is called The Case of the Missing Marques, and recontextualizes the world of Holmes through the eyes of the eponymous teenage detective, Enola. The two film versions, Enola Holmes (2020) and Enola Holmes 2 — starring Millie Bobby Brown — are solid adaptations of the first novel, though the sequel film has a ton of new material. The movies are probably more appropriate for tweens, but the books are great for kids still in grade school.
Watch Enola Holmes on Netflix.
4. Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Elementary, Dear Data,” (5+)
The android hero of Star Trek, Mr. Data (Brent Spiner) impersonates Sherlock Holmes and talks about him occasionally in the iconic series The Next Generation (1987-1994). But, the Season 2 episode “Elementary, Dear Data,” goes much further, by putting Data (pretending to be Holmes) into a holographic simulation versus a self-aware AI version of Moriarty (Daniel Davis). The Next Generation is perhaps, the coziest, family-friendly version of all the Star Treks, and if your kid is already into this specific fictional universe, this is a great way to get them into Holmes, too. Plus, if they’re not yet into Star Trek or Sherlock Holmes, this is a two-for-one deal!
Watch Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 2, Episode 3 on Paramount+.
3. The Sherlock Holmes Children's Collection (7+)
These 2019 books adapt several classic Doyle stories for emerging readers. These slim chapter books from Sweet Cherry Publishing boast hilarious illustrations and a contemporary feeling. However, the Victorian time period of the original stories is retained, as are the stories and characterizations. If you’re looking for books to read aloud to your emerging reader, or something to fire the imagination of kids already reading on their own, this new series is essential.
2. The Great Mouse Detective (4+)
A criminally underrated Disney masterpiece, The Great Mouse Detective is also one of the best kids’ movies of all time. While the Sherlock Holmes influence is obvious, The Great Mouse Detective avoided any copyright issues in 1986 because it was based on a different children’s book series called Basil of Baker Street. While those books are brilliant, the Disney film is still better. And, of all the versions of Moriarty — the arch-enemy of Sherlock Holmes — Professor Ratigan in this movie remains hilariously awesome. (Though, he might be a bit scary for very little ones.)
1. The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (7+)
Perhaps the best way to get kids into Holmes is to just have them read the original 56 short stories and four novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Although the Holmes stories have a reputation as murder mysteries, the bulk of the short stories don’t actually involve murder at all. (Though the first two novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four, certainly do start with killings.)
The point is, the Sherlock Holmes stories are just as good now as they were over a century ago when Doyle first published A Study in Scarlet in 1887. Like reading Treasure Island or other classics to your kids out loud, the early Holme stories won’t require you to censor that much inappropriate material. (Holmes’s drug use is mostly contained in The Sign of the Four, for example.)
However, reading the original stories may require you to give younger readers historical context. Enter the beautiful annotated editions, complied by Sherlock expert, Leslie Klinger. With various illustrations and details throughout, The Annotated Sherlock Holmes will capture the interest of even the most book-averse kids. These books look important and exciting. And, in this case, you can judge a book by its cover. Adventures starring an intellectual hero began with Sherlock Holmes. Sometimes reading the original, is the best way to go.