The best way to get a middle schooler to finish a book is to give them one they can't put down until they know the ending! They need a book that is exciting, suspenseful and includes lots of twists and turns. These middle grade mystery books are just the thing!
Your middle grade reader, (ages 8-13, or thereabouts) will find a mystery and detective story on this list to suit every taste. Secret codes, mysterious letters, dastardly villains, wretched relatives, murders, confounding clues, art heists and missing jewels. These mystery books for kids have it all!
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Mystery Book Categories
TANGLED UP IN LUCK (series) by Merrill Wyatt
When Sloane and Amelia have to team up to complete a school project, they don't think they will be able to get along. But the mystery of the town's long-lost jewels draws them in and as they discover new clues and solve the mystery, their friendship blossoms and they learn to appreciate each other's differences. This mystery has everything you want: a house with secret compartments, missing babies, long lost relatives, and a shadowy figure following the young sleuths' every move! Ages 9 and up.
THE STRANGERS (series) by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Mystery and science fiction fans will be sucked into the Greystone Secrets series. Siblings Chess, Emma and Finn hear a report of three kidnapped siblings with their exact first and middle names, and birthdays. Then their mother mysteriously disappears and all the signs and clues point to the existence of a parallel world! Haddix switches the narration among the three siblings, and chapters are short, hurdling the reader towards a cliffhanger so dramatic they will be relieved to know all three books are now available. Ages 8 and up.
FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON by Janae Marks
I adored this book about Zoe, a 12-year-old girl who, after starting a correspondence with her incarcerated father, Marcus, sets out to prove his innocence. Zoe's mother always kept Zoe from having a relationship with her father, who was serving time for murder, but one day, Zoe discovers a letter addressed to her from him and decides to write back. Zoe and her friend, Trevor, start to investigate Marcus' trial conviction, learning about systemic racism in the justice system. While the subject is certainly very serious, Janae Marks has written a marvelously accessible story with likable, nuanced characters who stop at nothing to solve the mystery of what actually happened. Ages 9 and up.
INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS (series) by Dusti Bowling
This funny and moving book is fantastic! Aven Green and her family move from Kansas to Arizona, where her dad has taken a job as the manager of a western theme park. Aven was born without any arms but that hasn't stopped her from accomplishing anything–she just does it with her feet! Aven narrates her own tale with a humorous, clever and truth-telling eye. With the help of her new friends, she sets out to solve a mystery and learn the secrets of Stagecoach Park. Ages 9 and up.
THE ONLY BLACK GIRLS IN TOWN by Brandy Colbert
This was a great book! Alberta and her two dads are one of the few Black families living in their coastal California town and they are delighted to learn that the new owners of the B&B across the street are also Black. Alberta quickly befriends fellow 7th-grader Edie, despite their fashion differences. Meanwhile, Alberta's white best friend, Laramie, appears to be drifting towards the mean girl, causing tension in their relationship. When Alberta and Edie set out to solve the mystery lurking between the pages of a stack of journals from the 1950s and 60s they find in the attic, they uncover a secret life. Ages 9 and up.
ME, FRIDA, AND THE SECRET OF THE PEACOCK RING by Angela Cervantes
For the first time, Paloma Marquez is going to visit Mexico, the homeland of her deceased father. While in Mexico City, Paloma visits Casa Azul, the former home of artist Frida Kahlo; and she plans to take language and art classes. Paloma befriends locals Gael and Lizzie and the three of them set about solving the mystery of Frida Kahlo's missing ring. Ages 8 and up.
GREENGLASS HOUSE (series) by Kate Milford
Milo lives with his adoptive parents in a strange and mysterious smugglers' inn. During the holiday break, a series of guests arrive, all with a secret connection to the inn. The adventure begins when Milo finds a curious map and things begin to go missing. He and his friend, Maddy, are determined to find the culprit behind the thefts and start to unravel the mystery tied to the house and its guests. Ages 9 and up.
THE PARKER INHERITANCE by Varian Johnson
After her parents' divorce, Candace and her mother move from Atlanta to spend the summer in South Carolina, where her grandmother used to live. Candace is lonely and misses Atlanta. She makes friends with Brandon, a shy 11 year old neighbor and the two of them set out to solve a historical mystery involving Candace's grandmother. Along the way they uncover a history of racial tension in the small town and an intriguing story of identity and fortune. Ages 9 and up.
THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY by Siobhan Dowd
Ted and Kat take their cousin, Salim, to ride the London Eye. They balk at standing in the long queue but then a stranger offers them one ticket. Salim takes the ticket and gets on the ride, but never gets off. Ted and Kat must solve the mystery of what happened to their cousin. Although never stated as such, Ted is autistic. (He describes himself as "having a different kind of brain.) Ted studies the clues, using his systematic way of looking at things to finally find his cousin, just in the nick of time. Ages 9 and up.
IF YOU FIND THIS by Matthew Baker
Eleven-year-old science, math and music genius, Nicholas, already has a complicated life when his senile grandfather arrives on the scene. His grandfather talks about a hidden treasure and Nicholas hopes that finding the treasure will help save his house. Teaming up with a pair of fellow misfits from school, his grandfather and his friend's grandfather, the group goes to find the stash. There is great mystery stuff in this book like smugglers' tunnels, seances, red herrings, an exciting chase and more. Readers will be on the edge of their seats. Ages 9 and up.
BRIXTON BROTHERS (series) by Mac Barnett
12-year-old Steve dreams of being a detective and has studiously read and re-read "The Baily Brothers Detective Handbook." He knows everything about solving crimes, which comes in handy when he finds himself thrown into the middle of an exciting mystery. Every book in the series has tons of adventure, twist and turns, loads of intelligent humor and a satisfying ending. These would be a great choice for kids who like Encyclopedia Brown. Ages 8 and up.
NOOKS AND CRANNIES by Jennifer Lawson
A philanthropist Countess sends out six mysterious invitations to six children. The eclectic group of children, including our heroine, Tabitha Crumb, arrive at the mansion to discover that one of them is believed to be the Countess's long lost grandchild. However, things are not always as they seem and the children (or at least the good children) must work together to unravel the mysteries of the house. The cast of characters here is delightfully kooky and weird, with inept and neglectful parents, both spoiled and erudite children, and disguise-wearing servants. Ages 10 and up.
HORTON HALFPOTT: OR, THE FIENDISH MYSTERY OF SMUGWICK MANOR; OR, THE LOOSENING OF M'LADY LUGGERTUCK'S CORSET by Tom Angleberger
How can you not love a book with that title? The farce begins when M'Lady Luggertuck's maid does not tighten her mistress's corset quite as tightly as she usually does. The slight increase in M'Lady Luggertuck's ability to breath sets off a wonderfully ridiculous chain of events, including the theft of the Luggertuck treasure. The over-the-top villains, detectives, servants and all around delightfully quirky characters are great fun. Ages 8 and up.
BELLY UP (Funjungle Series) by Stuart Gibbs
Both my kids loved the Funjungle series. The series begins with Belly Up, a mystery centered around the strange death of a hippo. The zookeepers insist it was natural, by 12-year-old Teddy isn't so sure and begins to investigate. Each book in the series focuses on a mystery surrounding a different animal at the Funjungle animal park. Ages 8 and up.
Art Heist Mystery Books
THE HARLEM CHARADE by Natasha Harpley
Good deeds bring Jin and Alex together. When they meet the homeless Elvin, he tells his new friends about a mystery surrounding his grandfather, who was just attacked and is now in a coma. Rare paintings by a mysterious artist of the 1960s is at the heart of it all. Harpley has deftly woven past and present in this spirited tale in which the culture and vibrancy of Harlem are center stage. Ages 8 and up.
UNDER THE EGG by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Just before her grandfather died, he whispered to Theodora, "There's a letter… And a treasure" hidden "under the egg." Theodora, whose mother is incapable of taking care of her, must find away to pay the bills and she starts her search for this mysterious treasure involving a work of art. Her hunt takes her all over New York City, into the past, and introduces her to a diverse group of new friends. The secrets Theodora uncovers take her (and the reader!) by surprise. Ages 9 and up.
EDDIE RED, UNDERCOVER: MYSTERY ON MUSEUM MILE (series) by Marcia Wells
When sixth grader Edmund Xavier Lonnrot (Code name: Eddie Red) gets in the way of a fleeing witness, he is enlisted by the NYPD to help solve an art heist. Eddie happens to have a photographic memory and terrific art skills. We enjoyed this book and I liked the way Eddie's relationships with his parents, his OCD-diagnosed best friend and the somewhat grumpy police detective played out, giving the improbable situation a very realistic feel. Ages 9 and up.
MASTERPIECE by Elise Broach
My boys and I loved this book so much! Marvin, an artistically talented beetle makes friends with James, a young boy. The two become embroiled in an art heist when Marvin's drawing is mistaken for James's work. Ages 8 and up.
CHASING VERMEER (series) by Blue Balliet
This book is a tour de force! When a painting is stolen, friends Petra and Calder team up to find the thief. The thief leaves a series of clues in the newspaper and challenges the community to become art detectives. If they solve the mystery, he will return the painting. Illustrator Brett Helquist incorporates clues for the reader throughout the book's illustrations. These clues revolve around pentominoes (Calder loves puzzles) and frogs. Be sure to take a trip to a museum after your kids have finished reading. Ages 9 and up.
FRAMED! (series) by James Ponti
Florian Bates uses his "Theory of All Small Things" (T.O.A.S.T) to solve crimes. After he impresses the FBI by helping them locate stolen art, they recruit him. Florian and his friend, Margaret, go undercover and find themselves up against a European crime syndicate. Clever narration, charismatic characters and high-stakes adventure round out this fun and fast-paced middle grade mystery book. Ages 9 and up.
School and Friends Mystery Books
MURDER IS BAD MANNERS (series) by Robin Stevens
In a 1930s British boarding school, the extrovert English rose Daisy Wells and the introvert Hazel Wong, who has recently transferred from Hong Kong, are on the hunt for a mystery to solve. When they come across the body of their science teacher, they are determined to smoke out the murderer. The relationship between the two girl detectives is delightful and real. This book has a classic murder mystery feel to it, with plenty of surprises for both the characters and the reader. Jolly good fun. Ages 10 and up.
OCDANIEL by Wesley King
13-year-old Daniel is beset by irresistible compulsions like a complicated bedtime routine that he must start over if he makes a mistake by flicking the light one too many times. He thinks he is crazy and doesn't want anyone to find out. He gets drawn into a mystery when a classmate wants his help figuring out why her father has disappeared. Ages 10 and up.
THE WIG IN THE WINDOW (series) by Kristen Kittscher
With their military grade spy equipment, Grace Yang and Sophie Young consider themselves serious detectives, even though they are just in seventh grade. When Sophie accidentally calls 911 after imagining her neighbor and school counselor committed murder (It turns out the red stains were beets not blood. Whoops.), the pair find themselves in the middle of a real live fugitive case. The friendship between the juvenile detectives is a key element to this fast-paced suspenseful middle grade mystery. Ages 10 and up.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS by Maurice Broaddus
Broaddus' tale of false accusation and the tragic way Black boys are unjustly blamed is an important read. Thelonious, the 7th-grade narrator, and his friend, Nehemiah, are the pranksters of their class. When a gun is found near the school, the administration is quick to suspect the kids in the Special Education classroom, where Thelonious learns. Feeling the sting of a false accusation, Thelonious and Nehemiah set out to determine the origin of the gun. Thelonious' insightful narration about the way he and his friends are treated by schools and society is poignant and hilarious in turns. Ages 8 and up.
THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE by Julie Berry
I loved this splendidly wicked book. I listened to the audiobook narration of this twist on the Victorian boarding school mystery novel, and it was glorious. I didn't know what to expect and when in the first few pages, the headmistress and her brother drop dead from poison, and the girls subsequently decide to bury them instead of report it, I thought, "how macabre!" The girls, who have wonderful monikers like "Smooth Kitty," "Disgraceful Mary Jane," and "Stout Alice," decide to try and convince everyone that their headmistress is still alive so they can avoid being sent home. Author Berry is a smart, clever storyteller with a sharp wit. Ages 10 and up.
THE TRUTH AS TOLD BY MASON BUTTLE by Leslie Connor
Connor is a skilled author and in this masterful mystery, she tells the story of Mason Buttle, a seventh grader, who wants to understand how his friend, Benny, died. Mason, who is severely dyslexic, and suffers from extreme sweating, has been relating his story through voice to text dictation to the detective on the case. However, when Mason's new friend, Calvin, goes missing, Mason is worried there is a connection with Benny's death. Connor's narration flows as she brings the pieces of the puzzle together and the community finally gets the full story of what happened to Benny, Ages 9 and up.
THE AMBROSE DECEPTION by Emily Ecton
Three middle school contestants, Melissa, Wilf, and Bondi, compete for a ten thousand dollar scholarship. On a scavenger hunt over Chicago they must solve clues that lead them toward the prize. But as the competition goes on, the three begin to wonder if there is another, bigger mystery to be solved. Fast-paced and enjoyable! Ages 8 and up.
SHIRLEY AND JAMILA SAVE THEIR SUMMER (series) by Gillian Goerz
New friends, Shirley and Jamila, come up with a plan for their summer which does not involve camp. Shirley has an interest in detective work and Jamila finds that she isn't half-bad at it, either. The two set about solving cases. This wonderful graphic novel is not just about detective work, it's a story of what it means to be a good friend. Ages 8 and up.
THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY (series) by Trenton Lee Stewart
Four gifted and orphaned children pass a series of tests in order to be sent out on a secret mission. They will go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened. They must stop an evil mastermind from using his mind control machine to take over the world. Along the journey, the four kids must learn how to work together. Stewart has such a wonderfully appealing narrative voice that you almost don't notice the book is 400+ pages! Ages 10 and up.
Classic Children's Mystery Books
EMIL AND THE DETECTIVES by Erich Kästner
Maurice Sendak said, "Read it and you will be happy." That's the only recommendation for this German classic mystery book that you need! Written in 1929, Emil and the Detectives is generally considered to be the first novel to feature a juvenile detective. When Emil is sedated with laced chocolate and robbed on a train of his grandmother’s money he doesn’t want to let his family down so he sets out to solve the crime himself. Fast-paced and suspenseful, this story will keep young readers eager for the resolution. Great as a read aloud. Ages 8 and up.
FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E FRANKWEILER by E. L. Konigsburg
This classic tale is so well known it hardly needs an introduction. Claudia and her brother Jamie run away to NYC where they hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and try to solve the mystery of a statue’s identity. Ages 8 and up.
THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin
I still remember my 5th grade teacher reading The Westing Game to the class. I was completely riveted and it continues to be one of my favorite children's books of all time. Mr. Westing, an eccentric millionaire, writes his will as a game. The named beneficiaries must discover who murdered him in order to inherit his fortune. "Players" are separated into teams with clues. This unusual mystery has a host of curious characters and surprising plot twists. Ages 9 and up.
ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO'S LIBRARY (series) by Chris Grabenstein
If you've ever dreamed of spending a night in the library, this is the adventure for you. Luigi Lemoncello, a world-famous game creator has designed the local library and twelve 7th graders get to spend the night. They have exactly 24 hours to find the secret exit and win a prize. Ages 8 and up.
THE BOOK SCAVENGER (series) by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Emily's family never stays in one place for long, and now they are moving to San Francisco. 12-year-old-Emily is a follower of Garrison Griswold, the creator of "Book Scavenger," an adventure challenge in which kids solve clues to locate hidden books. But now, after being attacked, Griswold is in the hospital and Emily, along with her neighbor James, believe they have come into possession of a mysterious book which is the beginning of a new game, bigger and more mysterious than Book Scavenger. Ages 8 and up.
WINTERHOUSE (series) by Ben Guterson
Elizabeth's guardians, her aunt and uncle, leave for vacation and mysteriously leave her only a train ticket and $3. The train ride takes Elizabeth to a luxurious and odd hotel. Elizabeth loves to read and has a sixth, extrasensory and magical sense. She makes friends with Freddy, who loves word puzzles and the two of them set about solving the mysteries of the hotel, including an important missing book. Ages 9 and up.
Historical Fiction Mysteries
THE DETECTIVE'S ASSISTANT by Kate Hannigan
Hannigan's book is based on the life of America's first female detective. 11-year-old Nell ends up on the doorstep of her Aunt Kate. Aunt Kate would prefer to drop Nell off at the local orphanage but Nell makes herself useful to her aunt, who works for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Hannigan deftly handles multiple story lines and weaves in a lot of interesting historical content. There is a lot going on here: Nell and Kate's detective-ing (yes, that's a word, I just invented it) around the Baltimore Plot (a real-life attempt to assassinate Abraham Lincoln), Nell's correspondence with Jemma, an African-American friend who relates stories with troubling details about the Underground Railroad, and the mystery surrounding her uncle's and father's death. Ages 9 and up.
ICEFALL by Matthew J. Kirby
Solveig and her brothers, along with berserkers set to protect them, wait anxiously through the winter, trapped in a fortress near snowy mountains and the frozen sea. While they wait for word from their father the king, it slowly becomes clear that someone amongst them is a traitor, but who? This is a thrilling mystery for kids who like stories that keep them perched on the edge of their chair in tense anticipation. Ages 9 and up.
THE BLACKTHORN KEY (series) by Kevin Sands
There is some dark subject matter in this book but it is an incredibly suspenseful and action-packed read aloud for older kids. (On par with some of the darker imagery in the Harry Potter books). Christoper, an orphaned apprentice in 17th century London must solve a complex puzzle surrounding the murders of apothecaries. Despite the seriousness of the plot, the well-drawn characters provide some humor. Ages 10 and up.
ZORA AND ME (series) by Victoria Bond & T. R. Simon
In this outstanding middle grade mystery series, a fictionalized version of a young Zora Neale Hurston is always telling stories and tall tales. However, Zora's tales about a creepy "gator man" take on an urgency when two murders disturb the local community. Bond and Simon's Zora and Me series is endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust and includes back matter about the ground-breaking author. Ages 10 and up.
PREMEDITATED MYRTLE (series) by Elizabeth C. Bunce
The unconventional, twelve-year-old Myrtle, lives with her prosecutor father in Victorian England. Encouraged by her father and governess, the clever, likable, but very quirky Myrtle loves her gadgets and keeping up with all the latest crime-fighting research. Myrtle's detective work takes off when she becomes convinced that her neighbor was the victim of foul play. A fun mystery with unique characters and a healthy dose of snappy humor. Ages 10 and up.
LIZARD'S TALE by Weng Wai Chan
Half-Cantonese, half-British Lizard went to live with his Uncle Archie after his parents died. However, when Uncle Archie disappeared unexpectedly, Lizard finds his way to Chinatown, surviving by doing odd jobs. One of those jobs involves stealing a mysterious teak box. When things don't go according to plan, Lizard is left with the box. He and his friend try to understand the mystery of the box, which somehow connects to the war, codes and the disappearance of Uncle Archie. Lizard's Tale has a lot going for it. An uncommon setting of 1940 Singapore, themes of belonging, prejudice and friendship, surprising turns of events and character revelations make this a book not to be missed. Ages 9 and up.
THE GOLDFISH BOY by Lisa Thompson
12-year-old Matthew's intense fear of germs prevents him from leaving his home. Instead, he sits at the window and watches his neighbors. One day 15-month-old Teddy disappears and Matthew decides he will solve the mystery. His resolve helps him battle the struggle with his anxiety and OCD. Ages 8 and up.
OPERATION BUNNY (series) by Sally Gardner
The Dashwoods adopted Emily when she was abandoned in a hatbox, but when they have triplets of their own, they begin to treat Emily as the servant. Her life takes a decided turn after meeting her neighbor and a giant talking cat named Fidget. Unfortunately the neighbor, Miss String meets a sad end and it is up to Emily, the new Keeper of the Keys, and several new fairy friends to solve the mystery and track down a mischievous witch. Ages 7 and up.