There’s something to be said about a great mystery books: that blend of winding plot, compelling characters, and a memorable narrative hook that keeps you turning the pages until the wee hours of the morning is something everyone should experience. Yes, kids too. What qualities apply when selecting a mystery book for kids? “Stories will still need engaging characters, page-turning plots, and a satisfying ending,” says Jeffrey Salane, the editorial director for Simon & Schuster’s Little Simon imprint and the author of the Lawless trilogy. “However, younger readers tend to respond better to high energy storytelling, swift pacing, and, of course, young protagonists that they can relate to immediately,” he adds.
Salane also notes that a host of different works can fall under into the category of mystery books, citing both The Westing Game and A Wrinkle in Time as instances of books that fundamentally have mysteries at their center. With that in mind, here’s a look at some mystery books that might be right for the young reader in your life.
YOUNGER READERS (5 and Under)
Karen Katz, Where is Baby’s Belly Button?
The youngest of readers have mysteries of their own as they discover how, exactly, one operates in the world and how they interact with the environment around them. Thus, Karen Katz’s Where is Baby’s Belly Button?, which showcases a kind of mystery from its title onwards–and can educate and entertain in equal measure.
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Jon Klassen, I Want My Hat Back
Whether you’re a wise-cracking gumshoe or someone who leads a more mundane life, the search for something missing is one of the most familiar mysteries that one can deal with. That’s certainly the case in Jon Klassen’s acclaimed I Want My Hat Back, a mystery book for kids about a bear in search of his lost hat, and the steps he takes to go about locating it.
Angela Johnson, Joshua By the Sea
There’s an inherent mystery that comes to mind when we visit a new place, a process of discovering the nature of the things we see there, and they how they all fit together. The protagonist of Angela Johnson’s Joshua By the Sea explores the seashore, learning about his environment and discovering new things with each step.
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, Ada Twist, Scientist
The protagonist of Ada Twist, Scientist, from writer Andrea Beaty and illustrator David Roberts, is out to discover the answers to some of the most essential mysteries of all: questions of science that we encounter in our daily lives. The quest for solutions to life’s pressing questions propels the narrative forward in unexpected ways.
David Macauley, Black and White
The structure of David Macauley’s award-winning book Black and White gives readers a mystery to ponder as they read it–specifically, what is the narrative telling us? What seems to be four stories turns out to something more as the mystery book continues, making for a narrative that has mysteries all its own.
Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and Marc Simont, Nate the Great
The first book in a series that’s continued on through to the present day, Nate the Great offers kids a chance to read the adventures of a young detective as he attempts to uncover the solution to the mystery of a friend’s lost picture. Readers compelled by this mystery book will find many more adventures in the ensuing books in the series as well.
MIDDLE GRADE (Best for 8- to 12-year olds)
Beth Fantaskey, Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter
Some settings are perfectly matched to tales of suspense and intrigue. Chicago in the 1920s is one prime example–and that’s exactly where Beth Fantaskey’s Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter is set. Fantaskey’s mystery novel tells the story of an aspiring reporter who must unravel a mystery and avoid danger.
Kate Milford, Greenglass House
When it was first released, Kate Milford’s Greenglass House won the prestigious Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery. And it’s got a lot of the archetypal ingredients for a compelling mystery book: an isolated inn, a series of strangers brought together under unlikely circumstances, and a puzzle that must be solved.
YOUNG ADULT (12+)
Rick Yancey, The Monstrumologist
Familiar mystery stories get a decidedly gothic spin in Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist, the first book in a series following a pair of adventurers unraveling supernaturally-tinged mysteries in the late 19th century. Frequently gripping and deeply imaginative, the blend of intrigue and the uncanny makes for a winning narrative.
Maureen Johnson, The Name of the Star
Maureen Johnson’s acclaimed series “Shades of London” begins with this volume, which hearkens back to a grand historical mystery (which is to say, Jack the Ripper), but adds a contemporary supernatural spin on things.