It’s a Mystery To Me

illustration by olart.ollie

Every book has a mystery in it.

Don’t believe me?  Pick up the nearest title.  I grabbed a fantasy: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.   It may be about a boy going to a school for wizards, but Harry and his friends spend a good deal of the book figuring out the mystery of what is on the third floor of Hogwarts.

“Hey, that’s not fair,” you say.  “That book really is mainly about the mystery of the Sorcerer’s Stone.”  Fair enough.  Let’s try a classic instead: Charlotte’s Web.  It’s a book about friendship, right?  But—aha!—that friendship starts with a little mystery.   Wilbur hears a tiny voice promising to be his friend, but because it’s dark he can’t see who’s talking.  Though he searches for clues the next morning, he can’t solve the mystery until Charlotte introduces herself.

Some books, like Charlotte’s Web, have only a small mysterious element to them, but there are plenty that are mainly about the whodunit.  These books are clumped together into what we call the mystery genre.

But what books fall under this genre?  Actually, that’s a hard question to answer.  Every person has a different definition of what books are considered part of the mystery genre.  This is probably because, as I mentioned before, every book has a mystery hiding in its pages. Under the mystery umbrella you can find puzzlers, crime and detective fiction, suspense and thrillers, even humor or horror.  Most have contemporary settings, but there are historical mysteries, too.  There are also fantasy mysteries, sci-fi mysteries and paranormal mysteries.  There is just about any type of mystery you can think of because—say it with me—every book has a mystery somewhere in it.

I’ve done my own sleuthing and compiled a list of ten must-read middle-grade mysteries.  They are:


by Blue Balliett

Calder and Petra become friends and then set off to solve the mystery of a stolen piece of Vermeer’s artwork.  Calder’s fascination with pentominoes (math puzzle pieces) is one of the most interesting and clever things about this mystery. Other books in this series…


by Pseudonymous Bosch

I wish I could tell you about Cass and Max-Earnest, who find the journal of a missing magician, or about how they learn what the mysterious Symphony of Smells is.  I really wish I could.  But I can’t.  It’s a secret.  Other books in this series…


by Patricia Finney writing as Grace Cavendish

Grace Cavendish is a lady-in-waiting at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, but she solves mysteries while no one is looking. In this book, one of Grace’s suitors is killed, and she must find a way to prove that the man she gives her hand to is not the killer. Other books in this series…


by E.L. Konigsburg

Claudia decides to run away from home, but she needs somewhere to run away to.  So she and her brother, Jamie, decide to hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  While living there, they come across a mystery surrounding an angel statue purchased by the museum.


by R.L. LeFevers

Theodosia spends most of her time at the Museum of Legends and Antiquities where her parents work.  And it’s a good thing, too, because only she can see the ancient curses still attached to the Egyptian artifacts.  When her mom brings home a cursed amulet, Theodosia is thrust in the middle of a battle between secret societies.  Other books in this series…


by Ellen Raskin

Sam Westing has sixteen heirs, and after his death all of them are summoned for the reading of his will.  There they are divided into eight pairs, each pair is given a different clue, and all are challenged to solve the mystery of who killed Sam Westing.  Whomever solves the mystery inherits his millions.


by Rick Riordan

At their grandmother’s funeral, Amy and Dan Cahill learn they are members of the most powerful family in the world.  Their grandmother’s will offers a challenge to all family members: find the 39 Clues to secure the family’s power.  But only one team can win the challenge (and the power), so Amy and Dan find themselves in an international race against the rest of the family.  Other books in this series…


by Donald Sobol

Each mystery is short but contains all the clues needed to solve the puzzle.  Can you figure it out without checking the solution in the back? This book is a great way for budding detectives to stretch their minds and see if they have what it takes to be great sleuths.  See more and still more…


by Rebecca Stead

Miranda’s life revolves around Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.  But when she discovers mysterious notes from someone who seems to know the future and claims to want to save her life, she spends large amounts of time watching the homeless lunatic her mom calls the laughing man as she tries to find the connection between her life and the notes.


by Trenton Lee Stewart

Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance are the four clever children who make up the Mysterious Benedict Society.  Their first mission: infiltrate the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened and find out what the evil Mr. Curtain is up to.  And once they do, they must use their special skills together to stop him.  Other books in this series…

Search out your own favorite middle-grade mysteries and share with me what you find.   And make sure you investigate our Fifth Summer Giveaway, where three awesome MG books are up for grabs.

But while you’re sleuthing, do me a favor.  If you happen to come across a book with no mystery anywhere in it, don’t tell me.  I don’t want to know.


Elissa Cruz’s life is full of toys and papers and books and kids, and because of it she solves mysteries on a daily basis.  Important ones, too, like where the missing car keys are, or who ate the last piece of cake.  Her first book, a light and fun middle-grade mystery, is currently on submission.

Elissa Cruz
  1. I’m in the process of writing a mg mystery, so I really appreciate this list. You guys do a great job on this site with interesting posts.

  2. You’ve got me pondering mysteries – in my own work and others’, Elissa. Last night I watched the Lightning Thief with my kids. None of us liked it. We all wondered why they revealed right away that Percy was a son of Poseidon. In Riordan’s book, Percy’s true identity is a mystery for many, many pages, which adds to the suspense.

  3. Great list, Elissa. I already love a few of these books and just added a bunch of them to my to-read list.

    One fun and quirky middle-grade mystery that I love and didn’t see on your lists is A Recipe 4 Robbery by Marybeth Kelsey.

  4. I still remember the Hardy Boys “Sinister Sign Post” mystery. My older brother and I agreed it was the most scary of all!

    This is a great list, and I love those Two Minute mysteries because they’re a quick way to stretch my brain.

  5. How funny… I never would have said I’m a fan of mysteries, but, yes, given your list of mysteries, I am a fan! Who’da thunk it? Perhaps Nancy Drew had a hunch all along.

  6. Enjoyed this post. Good job, Elissa! 🙂

  7. The Red Blazer Girls!

  8. Thanks, everyone. I’m glad you like the list. I LOVE mysteries (obviously)!

    And I have a few more to add, too, which didn’t make the list only because my post was getting too long. I’ve also enjoyed:

    –DANI NOIR, by Nova Ren Suma
    –THE MYSTERY OF THE MARTELLO TOWER, by Jennifer Lanthier
    –SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF, by Wendelin Van Draanen (the first in a series of great mysteries starring Sammy Keyes)
    –WOLF STALKER (and the rest of the Mysteries In Our National Parks series), by Gloria Skurzynski and Alane Ferguson
    –NANCY DREW: THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK (and all the others in the series), by Carolyn Keene
    –THE HARDY BOYS: THE TOWER TREASURE (and all the others in the series), by Franklin W. Dixon
    –TRIXIE BELDEN AND THE SECRET OF THE MANSION (and all the others in the series), by Kathryn Kenny
    –AMERICAN GIRLS MINI MYSTERIES (there are a few of these now, I think), by Rick Walton

    I’d better stop there. If I’m not careful, I might just list every mystery ever written for middle-grade kids. Happy sleuthing!

  9. great post elissa! my eldest just purchased the second book in THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY today. and my middle daughter is reading 39 CLUES (ok, and HARRY POTTER). i’ll definately mention the other books on this list to them!

  10. Oh…and of the 10, I’ve read and loved 4 of them…so I’m feeling at least moderately cool. 😉

  11. Thanks for this great list…I’ve been looking for some other cool books to pick up for my kids (and thus also for myself)

  12. I adored mysteries as a kid. It’s mostly what I read: Nancy Drew. Phyllis Whitney. Ellen Raskin. Then in college, I went through an Agatha Christie phase. Great suggestions, Elissa!

  13. How funny — I didn’t think I read a lot of mystery and yet I’ve read half of the books on this list and one is in my TBR pile! I did read a lot of mystery as a kid. I guess you never outgrow it 🙂

  14. Encyclopedia Brown! I loved those when I was a kid. One of my friend’s kids recently gave me a couple to re-read. That sure was fun!