Great Mystery Series for Kids
Do you want your child to develop his logic and deductive thinking skills? Sure, you could make him do endless math word problems, but wouldn't it be more fun for him to exercise his brain by reading mystery novels? A good mystery novel transports you into another time and place, makes you eager to follow the thought processes of the detectives involved, and gives you satisfaction when you figure out the answer to the mystery before the protagonists. Why else would Sherlock Holmes still be so famous more than 120 years after his stories first appeared in print? Here are some great mystery novels that will keep your kids glued to their books until they figure out "whodunit"!
The Classic Kids' Detectives
Chances are you fondly remember a detective series from your youth. Whether it was Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, or even Encyclopedia Brown, those books are a great jumping-off point for your child. Each series has its own strengths.
For younger readers (in second grade or thereabouts), Encyclopedia Brown is the best. Each book in the series consists of ten short mysteries that kids can puzzle out themselves, with the solutions provided in the back. Count on your child learning lots of trivia.
Nancy Drew is, of course, the premier girl detective. The classic series Nancy Drew Mystery Stories is great for girls from about fourth grade and up. For younger girls just starting chapter books, try the Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew series. For a historical mystery treat for preteens and teens, try to find the original books from the 1930s. These are written at a higher level, and include period details that were edited out in later editions.
The Hardy Boys originated in the late 1920s, but the stories were updated in 1959, at the same time as the Nancy Drew mysteries, to remove racist stereotypes and make the books shorter and easier to read. The revised books are appropriate for third-graders and up, but the original versions (if you can find them) are better for preteens. The newer series Hardy Boys: Secret Files is a series of short chapter books for younger readers.
Which mysteries did you prefer as a child?
Some children want to be immersed in another time period when they read mysteries. For them, a series like the American Girl: History Mysteries is just the thing. Each book is set in a different time period in American history, usually during some momentous event like the War of 1812 or the westward expansion. This series is best for girls aged nine and older. For slightly younger girls, and girls who are attached to the American Girl dolls and straight historical fiction series, there are also American Girl Mysteries. These take your daughter's favorite characters, such as Felicity in colonial times, or Kit during the Great Depression, and place them in mysteries to continue their adventures.
For girls interested in European history (or Elizabethan England in particular), try The Lady Grace Mysteries. Lady Grace is a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I. With the help of her companions, a low-born laundry maid and a jester-in-training, she solves murders, thefts, poisonings, and other crimes at the royal court. The series is written diary-style, in the first-person, which adds to the excitement.
And of course, any mention of historical mysteries would not be complete without Sherlock Holmes. Although kids may not be ready for Conan Doyle's original stories until they are teenagers, there are plenty of kids' mystery series who use Holmes as a character. See Sherlock Holmes Stories for Children and Young Adults for some suggestions.
The award-winning author Avi has recently published a book for middle-schoolers set at the same time period, but in New York. It tells the story of a poor newsboy named Maks, persecuted by a local gang, who befriends a homeless girl. Together they learn the art of detecting from a private eye dying of tuberculosis and work to save Maks's sister from jail. Aside from writing an engaging story, the author successfully illustrates the life of immigrants in the late 19th century and the mixture of poverty and hope in the tenements of New York City.
Contemporary Mystery Novels
But of course, not every child is interested in the classics or history. Thankfully, there are some great contemporary authors turning out children's mystery series set in the present day. If your fifth-grader is interested in art, try Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer, the first book in a trilogy that follows two sixth-grade misfits as they synthesize unlikely clues and solve art heists.
Precocious and eccentric children may be more interested in two currently popular series: The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, and The Secret Series by an author who goes by the improbable pen name Pseudonymous Bosch. The Mysterious Benedict Society stars four disparate kids who have passed a series of strange tests to become the proteges of a certain Mr. Benedict, who uses them to solve mysteries and work to bring down his evil twin, Mr. Curtain. The Secret Series, in the great tradition of the Sesame Street classic There is a Monster at the End of this Book, has a narrator that constantly warns the reader not to proceed. Of course, prohibitions are catnip for children, so your child will be even more eager to follow Cass and Max-Ernest on their fantasy-tinged adventures of puzzles and discovery.