This list of early chapter book mysteries and detective stories is designed for young readers transitioning from easy reader books to longer novels. In general, they are appropriate for children ages 6-10, although some 5 year olds who are early learners will enjoy reading these titles, as well. Because the average age of learning to read is seven, reading levels vary widely in this age group but the material is all age appropriate, even if the level of the book is not right for your particular child.
Mysteries are an excellent choice for children who may be struggling because the story has built in suspense. Who doesn't want to get to the end and find out how the detective cracked the case? In addition, many of the early chapter book mysteries I included are quite humorous, or have tongue-in-cheek humor inspired by classic hard-boiled detective novels. Animal lovers will find a few good picks on this book list, too! (Note: Book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
The Buddy Files by Dori Hillestad Butler. My son loved this series about a dog detective, told from the canine's perspective. Buddy has been adopted from the pound, but he continues to search for his original family and what happened to them. A well-written series, the books are funny and charming.
The Chicken Squad by Doreen Cronin is one of my favorite mystery series for early chapter book readers. In these gleeful books, Dirt, Sugar, Poppy, and Sweetie are detective chicks with varying degrees of intelligence. They hilariously solve backyard crimes that inevitably involve the squirrel population. This is a spinoff of the J J Tully Mysteries (see below).
J.J. Tully Mysteries by Doreen Cronin. This series, inspired by hard-boiled detective novels, is perfect for kids who love tongue in cheek humor and mysteries. J. J. Tully is a retired search-and-rescue dog but when two plucky chicks promise him a cheeseburger in return for his help finding their missing siblings, he can't resist. It is a slightly more challenging reading level than The Chicken Squad (see above).
Milo & Jazz Mysteries by Lewis B Montgomery. This is a great series for the youngest readers ready for early chapter books. At first Milo is uncertain that Jazz will be a good partner, but they end up working well together. I love how each book ends with some extra brain-teasers and mysteries to solve.
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol. You absolutely cannot go wrong with the classic boy detective. Each book has several self-contained mysteries that are intended to be solved by the reader. Books have an "Answer" section at the end so the reader can check his or his own sleuthing against Encyclopedia Brown's.
Ballpark Mysteries by David A Kelly. A lot of kids reading books at the early chapter book level also love non-fiction. If your child loves non-fiction, introduce him (or her!) to Ballpark Mysteries. It was inevitable that my sports-loving dond enjoyed this series with loads of baseball and ballpark facts woven into each mystery. Every book is set in a different ballpark, where a pair of 9 year olds combine sleuthing with baseball fan-dom.
A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy. The A to Z mysteries is a super-popular series about a team of kids solving mysteries, one for each letter of the alphabet. The three main kid-sleuths are well drawn and the stories entertaining and suspenseful. When you're done with letter Z, you can turn to A to Z Mysteries Super Editions for more fun.
Calendar Mysteries by Ron Roy. The younger siblings of the kid detectives in A to Z Mysteries get their own mysteries to solve, but instead of by the alphabet, mysteries happen monthly. Missing dogs, anonymous valentines, stolen Easter Eggs: these are the high profile crimes the juvenile gang needs to solve. Great fun for younger kids.
The Mystic Lighthouse by Laura E. Williams. An old lighthouse in Maine is the perfect setting for a few thrilling mysteries, don't you think? This series is better for kids on the older end of this reading level because some might find it a bit scary, although no doubt others will find twins Jen and Jake's adventures delightfully spine-chilling.
Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew by Caroline Keene. Pre-teen versions of Nancy and her friends, George and Bess, solve crucial problems involving missing dolls and lost ice-cream recipes. I remember getting chills from the original series, but there are no spine-tingling worries with these books: just good, clean adventures. If your kids aren't quite ready for the real Nancy Drew, my son has given these his seal of approval.
Want more early chapter book series with girl protagonists? Click here to check out this book list.
Hardy Boys: Secret Files by Franklin W. Dixon. Brothers Frank and Joe Hardy (that's right: sons of their more famous dad!) solve mysteries at the arcade, baseball field, school stage and other local hangouts. Does it seem like every early chapter book series has an episode about a missing dog, or is that just me?
Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. This classic series is a very, very, early chapter book (it's actually in the early reader section of our library) so it's great for younger kids. There are a ton of books in the series to satisfy your kids and keep them reading should they take a liking to good ol' Nate.
Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth by Jane O'Conner. The Fancy Nancy franchise is branching out into early chapter books. This one is stereotypically aimed at a female audience (sigh); nevertheless, many kids will enjoy it and Nancy is certainly an appealing character.
Sly the Sleuth by Donna Jo Napoli. This is a wonderful series about a clever, spunky girl detective who solves neighborhood mysteries. Easy to read, this series is great for younger kids, too.
The Five Lost Aunts of Harriet Bean by Alexander McCall. (series) When Harriet's dad tells her that she has five missing aunts, all with unique talents, she is determined to find them and sets off pedaling her circus wagon on an offbeat adventure. McCall is the author of a popular adult series, the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, and it turns out 2 of the aunts are part of that series.
How about adventure-themed early chapter books? I've got those, too!
Max & Maddy. Also from Alexander McCall are two books about siblings who learned their sleuthing skills from their parents who just happen to be international detectives.
Chet Gecko Mysteries by Bruce Hale. How can the premise of this series not make you giggle? Chet Gecko is a fourth grader who happens to be a private eye (uh, and a lizard). His partner in hard-boiled detective mystery-solving is Natalie Attired, the "smartest mockingbird around." Mysteries center on the school environment.
Big Bad Detective Agency by Bruce Hale. Someone has broken in to the houses of the three pigs and the obvious suspect is the big bad wolf. Wry humor and slapstick abound as the creatures of Fairylandia get a grilling when the wolf and the fourth little pig are on the case!
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. The Boxcar Children Mysteries is a classic early chapter book mystery series and there are now more than 100 books! Four orphaned siblings live with their grandfather and solve mysteries at home and on vacation.
Olivia Sharp: Agent for Secrets by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and Mitchell Sharmat. Olivia Sharp is just as adept at solving mysteries as her more famous cousin, Nate the Great. Olivia, however, is quite well-to-do and her arsenal of problem solving tools includes her personal chauffeur. Like the Nate books, these are perfect for the youngest beginning chapter book readers and could be considered easy readers. Also available on Kindle.
Precious Ramotswe Mysteries (series) by Alexander McCall Smith. Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency book series for grown-ups solved her very first case in Botswana when she was just a girl. When her friends’ lunchtime treats go missing Precious is on the job and when she discovers the surprising thief a hearty chuckle is had by all. This book is nice way of exposing young readers to other cultures and includes a reading guide, glossary, activity ideas and even a recipe!
Want more multicultural early chapter books? I've got a list for you right here!
Clubhouse Mysteries by Sharon Draper. A diverse group of four boys call themselves the "Black Dinosaurs", build a clubhouse, decode secret messages and solve mysteries. This is a solid series from Sharon Draper that kids will like. There's a bit of humor, appealing characters and, of course, some mystery.
King and Kayla by Dori Hillestad Butler is a great mystery series for kids just moving past early readers. Large type and plenty of illustrations enhance this charming story featuring a girl and her detective dog.
Inspector Flytrap (series) by Tom Angleberger, illustrated by Cece Bell. Angleberger's trademark goofy humor is on full display in this series. Inspector Flytrap is indeed a venus flytrap, and he narrates his bizarre, and sometimes a bit gross,detective adventures. The walking, talking carnivorous plant and his sidekick, Nina the Goat (who is oh-so-unimpressed with everything) solve the mystery of a strange yellow blob on a DaVinci painting at the museum. We thought it was hilarious and your kids will, too.
Funny books keep kids reading! Try these 100 of the funniest funny books for kids!
Jack Gets a Clue. Nancy Krulik is the author of several other early chapter book series, including Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo and my oldest son has really enjoyed all her books. Jack's detective super-power is that he can talk to animals to help solve the mysteries that come his way. These books are at the easier end of the reading level represented here.
Capital Mysteries by Ron Ry. The author of the A to Z Mysteries penned this series about two friends who solve mysteries in Washington, D.C. Each story is peppered with facts about the national's capital, its monuments and history so if you want to squeeze a little American history into your child's fiction reading, you've come to the right place.
High Rise Private Eye by Cynthia Rylant. I adore the silly humor in these very-early chapter book mysteries by a Newbery author. A bunny and raccoon channel old-school detectives as they try to crack the cases of crimes in their city.
West Meadow Detectives: The Case of the Snack Snatcher by Liam O'Donnell (series). Myron is a special needs third grader on the spectrum. He loves to solve mysteries at school with the help with his friend, Hajrah another student in the resource room. This series is great for its positive representations of non-neurotypical and diverse students.
Cam Jansen by David A. Adler. Cam Jansen is a perennial favorite and for good reason. I know I wish I had a photographic memory to help me solve mysteries! I learned via the official Cam Jansen website that the first book was inspired by a real like incident while the author was taking care of his infant son.
Did you like this book list, or are you looking for something else? Check out the index of all 200+ of my book lists!