Who doesn't love a good whodunnit story? Recently several parents requested a good nail-biting middle grade mystery books and let me tell you I had fun reading these mysteries and detective novels so I could round out this list of old favorites with new finds.
The middle grade mystery books on this list are all aimed at kids ages 8 and up. Some of them do involve murder so if that is a concern for you, choose one of the others on the list. Of course there are hundreds of terrific mysteries for kids out there and this book list barely scratches the surface. Many of these titles are the first in a series of books, so they will keep your kids reading for some time. If you have younger kids, try some of the detective novels on my list of Early Chapter Book Mysteries for Kids.
(Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
Eddie Red, Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile by Marcia Wells. (SERIES) 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. My older son 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.
Murder Is Bad Manners (A Wells & Wong Mystery) by Robin Stevens is a British import. 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.
The Case of the Missing Moonstone (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency) by Jordan Stratford. (SERIES) Although the famous personages in this novel are likely to be better known to parents than children, a lack of historical literary knowledge will not interfere with the enjoyment of this mystery series. In 1826, 11 year old Lady Ada Byron and 14 year old Mary Godwin team up to create the secret Wollstonecraft Detective Agency. Their first case revolves around the recovery of an antique Turkish pendant. This is a fun, clever mystery and especially good for kids who have an interest in logic puzzles, early science and computing.
The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher. (SERIES) I just finished reading this novel, which you will know if you follow me on Instagram. 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. As with many of the books on this list, the friendship between the juvenile detectives is a key element to this fast-paced suspenseful middle grade mystery.
Emil and the Detectives. Maurice Sendak said, "Read it and you will be happy." I'm not sure you need a further recommendation for this German classic than that! It is generally considered 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 and sets out to solve the crime himself. Fast-paced and suspenseful, this story will keep young readers (or listeners) eager for the resolution.
There are so many great classic middle grade mystery books, too! My (then) 9 year old originally read From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler independently, but he also wanted be to read it aloud. This used to happen all the time when he was younger but now it is a rare occurrence and I snatch it up when I can. What I wasn’t expecting was for his (then )5 year old brother to be equally taken by the book! In fact it was New Kid who was begging me to “keep reading!” 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.
Masterpiece. My kids LOVED this book, especially my (then) 6 year old who couldn't stop talking about the betrayal by one of the characters. 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. Younger kids will love the early chapter book series about Marvin and James, The Masterpiece Adventures.
The Detective's Assistant by Kate Hannigan 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. Interesting characters and fast paced action will make readers want to race to the end!
Greenglass House by Kate Milford is an intriguing book. 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 determined to find the culprit behind the thefts start to unravel the mystery tied to the house and its guests. I love the atmosphere of this book, seeping from every page. I think it would make a great read aloud, but may be over younger kids' heads, so I recommend it for ages 9 and up.
The Mysterious Benedict Society (series) in an incredibly popular series. It's quite long but when Kiddo's class did a unit on mysteries he picked it up and read the entire series without stopping. I find the plot hard to describe in just a sentence or two, there are so many puzzles and mysteries to be solved, but the story centers around 4 children who answer an advertisement for gifted children only to find themselves at the center of an elaborate adventure that puts all their mental strengths to the test.
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 chapter 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 kept my son on the edge of his seat, with its host of curious characters and surprising plot twists. I love how this book requires listeners to pay attention to details, thus exercising kids' reading comprehension skills.
Brixton Brothers (series). 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. Can you tell yet that I love them? These would be a great choice for kids who like Encyclopedia Brown.
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet. (SERIES) 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.
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 tickets 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.
Operation Bunny: Book One (Wings & Co.) by Sally Gardner. (SERIES) 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 an mischievous witch. There is a murder early on in the book, so that might affect your decision to read this book aloud. My son enjoyed the story and we read all three books.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library. (SERIES) 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 12 7th graders get to spend the night. They have exactly 24 hours to find the secret exit and win a prize.
Icefall. 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.
Under the Egg is part mystery, part treasure hunt, part friendship story and a suspenseful, engaging read. 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 ending is slightly convenient, but the book is so engaging that everything works.
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