I love a good puzzle. But even more, I love a book with a good puzzle! This list of puzzle mysteries is fantastic for any kid who loves to solve problems and look for clues. Although I have an additional middle grade mystery book list and an early chapter book list of mysteries, I chose titles for this list based on their density of conundrums, brainteasers and puzzles that junior sleuths must piece together. Many of these mysteries also require the protagonists to crack codes and go on scavenger hunts. All in all, they are the kinds of books that keep kids reading long after bedtime!
These books are great for ages 8-12, and make excellent read alouds, too. Why not get the whole family involved for a little puzzle-solving and choose a title for family read aloud night! (Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links)
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!
The classic puzzle mystery! 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.
The Puzzling World of Winston Breen (series) by Eric Berlin. After Winston gives his little sister a puzzle, they both find themselves stumped. They begin a journey to solve the puzzle which leads them on a scavenger hunt which may lead to a load of cash. Readers solve puzzles along with the protagonists, all the while realizing that cooperation is the most necessary ingredient.
Book Scavenger 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.
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet. (series) This book is a tour de force! In fact the whole series could be on this list of puzzle mysteries. 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.
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. Lots of twists and turns take place in this book that is perfect for kids who love to solve puzzles.
The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman. Gil has prepared hard for the Golly Toy and Game Company competition. The games commence as two teams must tackle puzzles and ciphers. Gil wants to win the game as a way of helping his father who has been falsely accused of crimes at the toy company. A fun book that may remind readers of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Secret Coders (series) by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Mike Holmes. Hopper is the new kid at school and she starts things off on the wrong foot. She gets her hackles up when she gets into a tussle on her first day at the strange and creepy Stately Academy but soon Hopper and another student, Eni, team up to solve the mystery of the school. There are binary numbers to figure out, coding puzzles to solve and computer programs to unravel. If your kids can spend hours on coding websites, convince them to enjoy some off-screen time while working on the same type of problems—but with a book.
The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) by Ellen Raskin. The Westing Game gets so much credit, Raskin's other books are often overlooked. As you can tell from the title, wordplay is a big part of the puzzles in this marvelous puzzle mystery for kids. Mrs. Leon Carillon is headed off to reunite with a husband she hasn't seen since childhood (!). After a storm upends their boats, she is left with one very strange clue which she must use to find Leon (or Noel?). Fun fare.
The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby. In this elaborate story, three friends band together in New York City to solve a cipher that connects their apartment building to a centuries-old mystery of how the city was conceived. This is a hefty, compelling book with stellar writing, and complex, well-rounded characters. Best for ages 10 and up.
The Mysterious Benedict Society (series) in an incredibly popular series. 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.
The Blackthorn Key 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. Be sure to pick up the companion book, Mark of the Plague.
When your kids are done reading these puzzle mysteries, here are more great middle grade book lists:
- 12 Can't-Put-Down Books for 12 Year Olds
- 11 books for 11 year olds
- 6th Grade Summer Reading List For Globally Conscious Kids