Encourage your 9 to 12-year-old children to read a good middle grade mystery to foster their curiosity and critical thinking skills. Curiosity about a mystery story’s ending supports a child’s growing imaginations, keeps kids refining predictions, and hooks them on the story so they can find out if their predictions are accurate.
Curiosity is the one word that definitely defines childhood. From the day your child is born, learning begins as your baby begins exploring the world around them. They are curious about the light shining or the ceiling fan spinning. Remember how your baby would move their hand in front of their face curiously?
Curiosity continues through the toddler and preschool years as everything is so wonderfully thrilling. This naturally leads to a sense of wonder and a sense of discovery which in turn, creates a foundation of joy and intense happiness.
As children grow into their school years, curiosity and exploration lead our kids to a deeper level of understanding and a higher level of thinking. And, as our students begin to read, mystery books become a natural genre favorite. Who can resist the curiosity of a whodunit or using the clues to discover the plot before the author reveals the secrets? Ten, eleven, and twelve year olds especially delight in solving the mysteries.
Mystery books are seeing a new comeback in the publishing world with children of all ages benefiting. It is now easy to find both series and stand-alone titles that can pique all of your young detectives out there. Are you curious about my middle grade favorites? It’s no mystery now.
Middle Grade Mysteries
Newberry Honor Winner (Hoot) Carl Hiaasen has a new book for children, Wrecker (best for ages 10 and up). If you haven’t read Hiaasen’s books for young readers, now is the time. You can always count on quirky characters, good and bad guys, an issue that threatens the environment, fun, and a lot of heart! Wrecker lives in Key West, Florida, during the days of lockdown due to the pandemic. He wants to fish after his Zoom classes and do his job cleaning iguana poop off the headstone in the island’s cemetery. He doesn’t want to get involved with smugglers but nonetheless does.
So begins this adventure of Wrecker trying to figure out what is going on and how he can help stop the craziness. The chain of events that Wrecker conceives is truly magnificent. Wrecker is pure fun and will keep your kids reading to see if Wrecker can sort out the absurdity in Hiassen’s 7th novel for kids. But adults will love it, too. Wrecker is not your typical middle grade mystery and shouldn’t be missed.
Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries by Elizabeth C. Bunce is the middle grade mystery series you should be reading, but you probably don’t know a lot about. Premeditated Myrtle, the first in the series, was released during the pandemic lockdown and did not receive the attention it truly deserves. It is an Edgar Award-winning book, and the 5th book, Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity is expected to be the final book in the series. The Myrtle mystery books are smart and fearless, filled with twisty plots, and a brilliant amateur young investigator.
This book series is best for ages ten, eleven, and twelve years olds and up, but adults will love it as much as the kids. The books take place in the Victorian era with Myrtle, a 12-year-old who loves to read police reports and, as a result, loves to help solve crimes.
Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity takes Myrtle to her governess’ inherited estate in Scotland and is filled with haunted castles, a missing antique brooch, and, of course, a murder. Will Myrtle be able to solve this one? Sidenote: Grandmas love Myrtle! This would be a great family book club book for your middle grade readers.
The first book in the City Spies by series by James Ponti was a Good Morning America Summer Reading Squad Pick. It introduced us to five exceptional children who are gathered together from around the world thanks to “Mother” (a British spy). Each child has a specific ability to begin their training as a young spy. They can and will save the world multiple times after attempting top secret missions.
Each book in the series takes place in different major cities around the world. Read as the kids save Paris, San Francisco, Moscow, Beijing, Egypt, and New York City. The books have won multiple awards and deserve every one. This is my favorite middle grade mystery series! Each book is thrilling, exciting, and extremely entertaining. Be ready to cheer on your favorite spy! Mine happens to be Brooklyn.
We meet Brooklyn right away in the first City Spies as a computer hacker who was able to break out of foster care trying to expose her foster parents. Instead, she ends up in juvenile detention until “Mother” comes to save her. I admire and fear her computer skills –and when she teams up with the other four, they become unstoppable. Warning: These books are hard to put down!
National Book Awards Finalist and Newberry Honor Winner Lisa Yee has a new series being released this January. The Misfits: A Royal Conundrum is highly illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat, which makes this book the book you most need to pay attention to. Like City Spies by James Ponti, Yee gathers a group of misfit children together to train as top-secret undercover missions in a school academy in San Francisco that once housed prisoners. However, where the characters in City Spies are exceptionally brilliant from the get-go. The Misfits characters are more like you and me, just trying to make a friend and fit in at their previous schools, which they obviously didn’t. That is, until they end up at the reforming arts school.
The Misfits is a fast-paced, fun middle grade mystery series packed full of clues for the reader to try to solve along with the team of misfits as they begin their super-secret missions. The underdog misfits group must band together to save their school, find the stolen jewels, and still remain unknown. This book is beyond fabulous, and I can hardly wait to see what is up next for Olive Cobin and her team of misfit but intelligent, inventive, and problem solving friends. Add this book to the top of your must have list!
Another middle grade mystery series to pay attention to is Mysterious League of Detectives and Thieves series by author Tom Phillips. In the first book, Egypt’s Fire, John Boarhog’s mother has just died. He doesn’t want to be sent to the Jersey Home for Boys where kids are fed nothing but kale. Instead, he devises a place to live in the ceiling of the New York Museum of Natural History. And then the world-famous and very expensive Egyptian Ring goes missing. So begins an amazing series of events that will keep you on the edge of your seats.
Phillips is a scriptwriter in Los Angeles and has struggled with dyslexia his whole life. He understands how books should be written. These books have short chapters, intriguing characters, and are fast-paced. Yet, the mystery books are still brilliant, and oh, how intriguing! It is perfect for reluctant readers, especially boys. SOS, the second installment in the mystery book series, was just released with more antics, secret missions, and another book that is a true page-turner.
If you loved Jennifer Chambliss Bertman’s Book Scavenger series or haven’t missed a single episode of Nancy Drew, you won’t want to miss Sisterhood of Sleuths. This is a stand alone novel which intertwines the present day with the old Nancy Drew books of the 1930’s. The story begins with Maizy receiving a box of Nancy Drew books from her mom’s thrift store. Inside one of the books, Maizy finds a photo of her grandma. Maizy sets off to discover the truth behind the photo with the help of her friends. Bertman’s writing is funny, heartwarming, and fascinating as she seamlessly weaves three generations of women while enlightening us about the history of Carolyn Keene and Nancy Drew. This would be a perfect read for your own three generations of grandma, mom, and child.
Melissa Savage is one of my favorite authors for middle grade kids. I first fell in love with her book Lemons and continued reading each book that followed, becoming a lifelong loyal fan with The Truth About Martians, Nessie Quest, and her latest, Karma Moon: Ghost Hunter. As kids are reading the mysteries surrounding BigFoot, a Martian crash, the Loch Ness monster, and ghosts at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, Savage brilliantly helps the young readers understand and empathize with the characters’ issues of grief, loss, blindness, and anxiety. But these are not heavy books. They are important and so enjoyable. Yes, they are all stand-alone mystery books, but boy, oh boy, does each pack a lot of punch. These are the books you clutch to your heart when you are finished reading, not wanting the story to end.
Readers beware: don’t read this one at night in bed! It can interfere with your sleep and keep you awake. Fleur Bradley truly knows how to write a mystery that will give you goosebumps and keep your fingers crossed, hoping that the case will soon be solved. I am not a fan of scary books, but I am a huge fan of Daybreak on Raven Island. Raven Island is inspired by Alcatraz Island. Meet Tori, Marvin, and Noah. They don’t want to be on the school field trip to Raven Island. In fact, they’d rather be anywhere else. But, when the three stumble on a dead body and miss the last ferry back to the city, they realize they are stuck for the night. The three don’t want to set off on a secret mission in the middle of the night, but they do. Bradley weaves such interesting facts about Alcatraz as the story unfolds. You should also check out her other book, Mystery at the Barclay Hotel.
R. J. Palacio is widely known for her book Wonder and the accompanying titles in the Wonder Collection. However, it is her novel Pony that stole my heart. I wasn’t sure what I was reading when I first began the story. Is this a Western? A ghost story? A mystery? I discovered the answer was yes to both! Silas is a young boy who lives alone with his father as the western frontier is beginning to be developed. His life is forever changed as a gang of men steal his father away in the dead of night. Silas begins a quest to rescue his dad with the help of a mysterious pony and his ghost companion, Mittenwool. This book was released during the pandemic and didn’t receive a lot of recognition. This is a mystery book I can’t stop thinking about. It is so unusual. All eleven and twelve-year-olds will love Pony, too.