Mystery Books for Kids


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Everyone loves a good mystery, don’t they? From Agatha Christie to Elizabeth Sims, from cozy whodunits to spine-chilling thrillers, books that keep us guessing until the very last page, hold our attention and keep us up late at night.

Kids love mysteries, too. And guess what? There are lots of them out there – toned down for the younger audience, of course – but just as mesmerizing and addicting.

And kids’ mystery books are more than just fun. They come with real reading benefits, as well. For one thing, many kids’ mysteries are part of nearly never-ending series. This means when a child finishes one book, they’ll start begging for the next. Mystery books are often rich in descriptive detail, as well – whether it’s a spooky old attic or a deliciously devious villain. This makes them ideal for starting a discussion about important story elements such as setting or characterization.

Another benefit that comes along with all that sleuthing action is the amount of dialog that most children’s mystery books contain. Since dialog has a way of rolling naturally off our tongues, reading it – especially out loud – can help kids practice their reading fluency. “Reading fluency” is being able to read quickly and accurately, but also with expression.

The best mystery books for kids

When choosing a mystery book for your child, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. Books that are part of a series – as we just mentioned – are a great way to keep even a reluctant reader looking forward to the next installment. Keep the intensity level in mind, as well. Some kids are just more sensitive than others. For them, a book about a missing cookie jar may be all the suspense they can handle. Other kids might need a little more realism to grab their interest. They might be able to handle more realistic – though never gory! – depictions of “crimes.”

Mystery books for preschoolers

For these youngest “readers,” books should be a sensory experience. The bigger and brighter the pictures, the better. If there are parts of the book that can be touched, squeezed or folded, that’s even better still.

Keep in mind, too, that at this age, the “mystery” need not be so mysterious. Preschoolers probably won’t be able to uncover the secret the book reveals the first time you read it with them. They will, however, love to rediscover it over and over again each time they hear the story retold.

There’s a Monster at the End of This Book – Starring Sesame Street favorite, Grover, this book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin, gradually builds in tension, with Grover trying to stop the reader – your child – from turning the next page. The big reveal? The monster, it turns out, standing there on the last page is none other than loveable, furry old Grover himself.
Clifford, The Big Red Detective – In this book by Gail Herman, illustrated by Robbin Cuddy , Clifford once again rears his huge, lovable, redhead, this time on the track of a missing necklace.
Where’s My Teddy? – Eddy’s teddy bear has grown enormously, and, in the forest, a bear’s teddy has shrunk. Little ones will love figuring out for themselves just what happened in this quirky story written and illustrated by Jez Alborough.

Mystery books for emergent readers (grades 1 – 3)

For emergent readers, mystery books are particularly fun. At this age, children are just beginning to develop higher order reasoning skills and will love to fit the clues together as these stories unfold. When kids experience the satisfaction of “figuring out” the mystery even before the book ends, they will be eager to dive into the next one.

The Missing Mitten Mystery – Annie is missing her mitten in this adorable story by Steven Kellogg. And not just one – five, in fact! Will her faithful dog, Oscar, help her piece together the clues and solve this puzzling mystery?
The Mystery of the Missing Dog – In this story written by Gwendolyn Hook and illustrated by Nancy Devard, Alex is looking for his beloved dog, Jet. To solve this worrisome mystery, he will have to team up with his little sister.
Nate the Great – Nate’s friend, Annie, has lost a picture in this evergreen story by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. As Nate dons his Sherlock hat and the clues pile up, beginning readers can work to deduce the mystery right along with him.

Mystery books for the middle grades (grades 4 – 6)

Kids in the middle grades are starting to look for more than just a fun plot. They want to read about kids like themselves – though usually a grade or two older – who face the same problems they face and overcome those problems.

So, along with looking for a well-crafted mystery, whodunits for this age group should have plucky heroes and heroines who successfully face the same tough stuff real kids are facing: bullying, problems with parents, wanting to fit in, and trying to define – and stay true to – their own values.

Harriet the Spy – In this perennial favorite, a “Sequoyah Book Award” winner by author Louise Fitzhugh, Harriet faces all sorts of dilemmas that kids can identify with. She’s quirky but still wants to fit in, she makes a mistake and then makes is worse, her best friend is from a single-parent home. But, she faces her mistakes, apologizes when it’s necessary, and ends up making new friends – and solving some neighborhood mysteries – along the way.
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective – This first in the series by Donald J. Sobol, introduces young readers to ten-year-old sleuth, Leroy. After helping his dad, a police detective, solve some pretty tricky crimes, Leroy decides to open his very own detective agency. This series is a great way to get kids hooked on reading; when they’re done with the first, there are 29 more to look forward to!
Chasing Vermeer – A detective story threaded through an art-history lesson, this fast-paced story by Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett Helquist, follows Petra and Calder as they try to solve the mystery behind an international art scandal.