Posts Tagged mysteries

Mysteries in Bookstores and Libraries, at Book Fairs and Festivals, in Literary Landmarks, and Other Literary Places

Books and places featuring them inevitably have mysteries about them!

Books may be in a library or a bookstore, even in an attic. They can also be at book fairs or festivals, in a literary landmark, or in some other unusual setting where you wouldn’t expect to find them.

Here are some middle-grade readers’ stories that reveal some bookish mysteries, bookplace mysteries, and young protagonists getting caught up in them; both fictional and real. 

 Eleven year-old Celia lives with her Great Aunt Agatha. Although she must act in a proper way when out and about with her aunt, Celia has her room — her sanctuary — where she can be on her own. One day her aunt says that the attic needs sorting. It’s full of boxes, and books. That’s a chore for Celia. Then her aunt adds: “Oh, and it would be nice if you could find a book to read.” And so it is that Celia’s adventure starts….

Things have changed as a new school year begins, and young Neeghan (with a native Alaskan name) wonders how she’ll fit in. Then she finds a book that seems to have the answer she needs.

BOOK SCAVENGER by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman / Emily, with new friend James, goes on a scavenger book hunt that an author has set up around the United States; particularly one in her new hometown of San Francisco. They search, guided by clues in puzzles. Then they discover an odd type of book they believe has something to do with the author, but something is missing. They find out, also, that the author has been injured and is in a coma, so he can’t reveal any more clues. And then there’s a feeling each has had ever since their discovery. Are Emily and James being followed?

Fiona and her family move to where her older sister is working on her ice skating career, but Fiiona feels alone. She finds the town library (a renovated mansion donated by its owner). In this place of respite or solace, Fiona discovers a book that captures her attention. However, the book soon  disappears and Fiona is told that there isn’t such a book! Fiona sets about aiming to unravel the mystery of this elusive tome.

THE LIBRARY OF EVER by Zeno Alexander / Lenora spends most of her time in her town’s library. One day while there, she discovers a secret doorway. Curious, of course, she enters. Suddenly she finds herself caught up as a library assistant helping library visitors with unusual searches. Meanwhile there’s something sinister in the air and she must uncover secrets and answers among the library shelves.

REBEL IN THE LIBRARY OF EVER by Zeno Alexander / Lenora came back to the secret library area she had discovered. Now, however, things are dark all around. She eventually finds some others, called members of a resistance group, who are striving to bring light back to the library. She, too must now face, stand up to, dark forces that are keeping the library in darkness.

ESCAPE FROM MR LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY by Chris Grabenstein / When a popular game maker becomes involved in the building of a new library in Kyle’s hometown, Kyle gets caught up in a contest, and wins one of the prizes offering a night of playing games in the library. He and the other winners have a fun night, but then when morning comes, they try to leave, but the doors are still locked. They discover that they must play another game, following clues and puzzles, to find the exit.

NIGHTMARE AT THE BOOK FAIR by Dan Gutman / Just as he arrives to try out for soccer, Trip is asked by his school’s PTA president to help her with something. Not really wanting to, but doing it anyway. Suddenly a pile of books falls on him. He gets knocked out. When he wakes up, he’s in a strange place. Now he just wants to get home, but strange obstacles are blocking his way!

MARY ANNE AND THE HAUNTED BOOKSTORE by Ann M. Martin (Babysitters Club Mysteries #34) / For a school assignment, Mary Anne gets a book from a local bookstore, where she is introduced to the works of Edgar Allen Poe, who may have visited this town where she lives. Caught up in Poe’s stories and poems, and must figure out a presentation for her school project. Eventually, Mary Anne is able to get a job at the bookstore, but then, she wonders, what’s that tap tap tapping? Are the spirits of the raven and Edgar Allen Poe lurking in the  shadows?

PAGES & CO.: BOOK WANDERERS by  Anna James, with illustrator Paola Escobar / Tilly enjoys visiting her grandparents bookshop, wandering around the bookshelves;  then one day she finds unusual wanderers wandering about, and she decides to follow them… into books…

THAT BOOK WOMAN by Heather Henson / Cal wonders why a strange woman always comes to where he and his family live on a mountainside in the Appalachian Mountains. She comes in any weather, rain or snow, and on horseback! All she seems to do is just to leave books for his sister to read. “There are better things to do,” Cal muses; or so he thinks.

THE LIBRARIAN OF AUSCHWITZ by Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Thwaites, retold from a true story / Thirteen year old Jewish girl, Dita Kraus, is imprisoned in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in NAZI-occupied Poland during WW II, only because she is Jewish. Then she’s suddenly given a job by the camp’s Jewish leader. She is asked to be in charge of books for other children at the camp. The books come to her whenever prisoners secretly smuggle them into to the prison area when they are given the task of emptying suitcases taken away from new prisoners. / Dita’s future husband (a teacher at the camp) was called ‘a living book’; telling stories from memories of great works read before imprisonment.

LOST IN THE LIBRARY by Josh Funk / Illustrated by Stevie Lewis / Imagine. The library lion statues (named Patience and Fortitude), who guard the front entrance of the New York Public Library in Manhattan, New York City, are alive one night. A story in clever rhyming verse tells of Fortitude waking up and discovering that Patience is missing. He ventures into, and wanders about, the wondrous big library to search for his companion.

“The best kid-lit homes are extensions of their occupants’ personalities,” as said at, with a reference to the Weesley family home in the Harry Potter stories. Here are samples of how ‘kid-lit homes’ or ‘kid-lit’ author homes or other places of importance to children’s authors, could be settings for fictional mysteries.

Ever wonder about the houses and other dwelling places in classic stories, including Robinson Crusoe, David Copperfield, Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, and Charlotte’s Web? Here you can discover something about them.

Have you ever wondered about the house where young blind and deaf Helen Keller learned w-a-t-e-r and other words in sign language with her hands? Have you wondered what life was like in the pioneer houses where young Laura Ingalls Wilder lived? Have you thought about the house where iconic American poet Emily Dickinson spent her life, or the places where Mark Twain grew up or wrote some of his novels, or where Robert Frost wrote his poems? Have you mused about the house where Longfellow penned “The Children’s Hour”? Here you can get glimpses of them, and more.


Family Book Club: Middle Grade Books That Can Be Enjoyed by ALL

As I write this I am preparing to leave New York where we’ve been for the summer and return to London (where we live during the year) in time to quarantine for 14 days before school starts. I am kind of freaking out about what I am going to do with my kids in quarantine, but probably like most people with children or who are around children, the theme of this summer has certainly been “unstructured time.” My kids are currently 15, almost-12, 9.5, and almost-6. And thinking back to lockdown, one of the things that worked well was spending some time a few days a week listening to an audiobook while we colored or just relaxed. Okay, the 15-year-old did not involve herself in this, but for the rest of us it was nice. And when I would be reading a middle grade book to the 11 and 9 year old before bed, she would often casually come in and listen, or if we were discussing a book she’d read or I’d read to her when she was younger, she would happily weigh in.

How about a Family Book Club, in whatever shape that might look like to you?

So, for other people struggling with how to fill the last weeks of kids’ summers with something other than screens and devices, I thought I’d make a list of middle grade books that family members of different ages and genders would all enjoy reading (or listening to) and could then discuss.

I’m thinking middle grade books that work on a number of different levels—understood even by little ones not quite reading chapter books to themselves, hit the sweet spot of middle grade readers (either to be read out loud to or to read themselves), might interest your teen if they’ll deign to participate (boredom works in interesting ways), and sophisticated and nuanced enough to be truly enjoyed by adult readers too. 

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea—this moves quickly because of short chapters narrated by different voices. The classroom dynamics are realistic and I found it wise in a way that I, as an adult, have taken the subtle lessons, for example how to handle a “girl wars” bully. There are now 3 additional sequels.


Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo—written deceptively simply, this one is funny and moving and heartwarming—an all-round winner for everyone every time I’ve read it. I’d say ANY Kate DiCamillo is a good choice for family book club: as Ann Patchett writes, some people like the magic animals ones (her) and some the realistic childhood ones (me) but they all “crack you open and make you a better person.”

  All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor—written in the 1950s about a Jewish family on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s, this one just never, ever, feels dated. We are working our way through the sequels now.



Fudge books, in particular Superfudge by Judy Blume—laugh-out-loud funny and relatable about 6th grader Peter and the antics of his irrepressible 5-year-old brother Fudge. (My teen daughter’s suggestion was Otherwise Known As Sheila the Great).


Fortunately The Milk, by Neil Gaiman—madcap storytelling that’s fun for all ages.


Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White—honestly, I hadn’t read this since I was a kid and pretty much remembered nothing from it. Reading it to my almost-6 year old this summer, the writing blew me away as well as the story. Garth Williams’ illustrations are a delight for everyone. A classic for a reason.


The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary—again, funny and relatable situations that make moving drama out of everyday circumstances and relationships. These have been a big hit over and over again and provoke great discussions about relationships and difficult situations. My personal favorites are Ramona and Her Mother and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.


All of the above are available as audiobooks too. And speaking of audiobooks, a special mention for How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell narrated by David Tennant because on the SCBWI British Isles Facebook group someone queried if people had recommendations for an audio book for a long car ride with an 8-year-old that everyone else in the car would enjoy, and this was the overwhelming favorite.  

An important note:

When I looked at my list above I realized that it had no real diversity or POC in it. While many of the books we’ve enjoyed as a family do (see below), I couldn’t think of one that worked as well with my criteria of working for young children too—please, if anyone has any suggestions please add them in the comments.


Books next on my own family to-read list that I think will work well:

George by Alex Gino

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

Babysitter’s Club, the original books by Ann Martin—I loved this piece in the New York Times recently about boys reading these and my sons have devoured the graphic versions, not to mention that all of us are LOVING the fabulous Netflix series. Thought this might work well for us in audio. The first 5 are narrated by Elle Fanning.


Family Book Club for Middle Grade Readers and Up:

Graphic novels abound with moving stories and are great for reluctant readers or for kids ready for sophisticated themes but aren’t at a reading level for more advanced MG novels. They don’t work as well for the littlest members of the family, but if that’s not your situation, these books sparked lots of conversation and good book discussion in our family recently.

New Kid by Jerry Kraft —code switching and discomfort in either world when middle schooler Jordan changes schools, but instead of art school where he’d wanted to go, his parents send him to a prestigious academic school where he is one of the few kids of color. My kids have each read this several times and have asked a lot of questions sparking great discussion.


When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed—family love, education, and a Somali refugee’s story as told to graphic novelist Victoria Jamieson. Both my sons devoured this. My 9-year-old described it as about “a boy with a brother who can’t speak. Really sad but really good.”


Other MG books on my (older) Family Book Club list:

One Crazy Summer trilogy—The first book, the story of 3 sisters joining their estranged mother in tumultuous 1960s San Francisco, has been a big hit with all my kids over the years and coming late to the party I’ve just discovered that there are two sequels which I can’t wait to try.

The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman—“Imani is adopted, and she’s ready to search for her birth parents. But when she discovers the diary her Jewish great-grandmother wrote chronicling her escape from Holocaust-era Europe, Imani begins to see family in a new way.” I can’t recommend this book highly enough—I think my boys will be ready for it this year and really look forward to reading it with them. I also gave it to my older daughter’s best friend who loved it and I hope my daughter will read it too!

High-Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson—this just won the prestigious Waterstones Book Prize in the UK and I’m excited to read it with the kids. 

If mysteries are your family’s thing, check out some of these.


Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein. I just finished this and want to hand a copy to everyone I know. In a portrait of contemporary Jewish life, this book explores self-image, grief and friendship and is a wonderful, wonderful, thoughtfully-written debut.

Middle Grade for All

In truth, minus needing to encompass a little one’s needs, to me the perfect Middle Grade book is written in a way that absolutely resonates on many levels and to many ages. My list includes a lot of obvious ones–classics and award-winners. But there are thankfully untold numbers that are amazing for a Family Book Club. In addition to the ones mentioned above, here are some suggested by friends of mine who said these worked well for different-aged readers in their families:

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (for fans of The Westing Game)

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds (have just ordered this for myself)

Born a Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah, adapted for young readers edition

And Finally, In Her Own Words:

One of my favorite middle grade readers, who was in a neighborhood mother-daughter book club with her mom, recommends these (and her mom endorses them too 🙂

The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

A Drop of Hope by Keith Calabrese

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Jennifer Choldenko

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt 

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder


Happy Reading, Everyone!

Let me know how you get on with any of these, and please write more Family Book Club suggestions in the comments. With fears of a second Covid-19 wave and another lockdown looming (and who knows what will be with school), we all might have a LOT of time on our hands. But I can think of worse things than spending it reading and discussing great children’s books. Stay safe and Happy Reading! 


All books can be bought on MUF’s affiliate program or wherever fine books are sold.

Cover Reveal: How to Get Away with Myrtle

We’re excited to do a cover reveal today for How to Get Away with Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce. You’ll have to scroll down to see the cover and find out about the FREE giveaways.

But first, let’s hear from Elizabeth about how she came up with the idea for the book.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember—even before I knew it was a job. The inspiration for the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries series came from a slip of the tongue one groggy morning as my husband and I staggered our way through breakfast, discussing the local news. I started to say something about “premeditated murder,” but it came out “Premeditated Myrtle” instead. We looked at each other for a moment, and I declared, “That is a middle-grade mystery!” Before I was even finished with Book 1, I knew I wanted to write more. As a lifelong fan of classics like The Lady Vanishes, a mystery set on a train seemed like the natural follow-up—and of course, How to Get Away with Myrtle was the only possible title. But England is not large enough to set an entire novel-length mystery just on the train, so Myrtle and company ended up in the next logical destination for a Victorian holiday: the seaside! Research for those two settings provided the seeds for the plot, and I will admit that my editor’s loathing of Aunt Helena in Book 1 made her a necessary component of Book 2. Sending Myrtle on her ill-fated holiday was just as much fun as I’d hoped, and I can’t wait for readers to go along on the journey with her!

Isn’t that a fun title? And here’s more about the book:

How to Get Away with Myrtle

Before the train has left the station, England’s most accomplished new detective already is on a suspect’s trail, and readers will be delighted to travel along.

Myrtle Hardcastle has no desire to go on a relaxing travel excursion with her aunt Helena when there are More Important things to be done at home, like keeping close tabs on criminals and murder trials. Unfortunately, she has no say in the matter. So off Myrtle goes—with her governess, Miss Judson, and cat, Peony, in tow—on a fabulous private railway coach headed for the English seaside.

Myrtle is thrilled to make the acquaintance of Mrs. Bloom, a professional insurance investigator aboard to protect the priceless Northern Lights tiara. But before the train reaches its destination, both the tiara and Mrs. Bloom vanish. When Myrtle arrives, she and Peony discover a dead body in the baggage car. Someone has been murdered—with Aunt Helena’s sewing shears.

The trip is derailed, the local police are inept, and Scotland Yard is in no rush to arrive. What’s a smart, bored Young Lady of Quality stranded in a washed-up carnival town to do but follow the evidence to find out which of her fellow travelers is a thief and a murderer?

Elizabeth C. Bunce grew up on a steady diet of Sherlock Holmes, Trixie Belden, and Quincy, M.E., and always played the lead prosecutor in mock trial. She has never had a governess, and no one has ever accused her of being irrepressible, but a teacher did once call her “argumentative”—which was entirely untrue, and she can prove it. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and their cats. Premeditated Myrtle is her first book for middle-grade readers.

And now. . . TA-DA! *drumroll* Here’s the cover you’ve been waiting for!

Doesn’t this cover make you excited to read the book?

Elizabeth’s publisher is giving away two gift packs of both Myrtle galleys per pack: Premeditated Myrtle & How to Get Away with Myrtle. To enter, all you need to do is comment below, and we’ll pick two random commenters to receive the gift packs. Winners will be chosen June 1, 2020.

Praise for Premeditated Myrtle: 

“A joyful thing to behold. Set in Victorian England, this mystery gleefully overturns sexist norms and celebrates independent women of intellect, with Myrtle Hardcastle leading the charge.”
Booklist, starred review

“Bunce crafts a truly captivating murder mystery, throwing in a delicious mix of twists, red herrings, and relatives excluded from the family fortune. Myrtle is an entertaining protagonist, not afraid to get her hands dirty, sneak into mansions after dark to find a clue, or call out sexism of men toward her scientific interests or the racism toward her governess. The book will make readers yearn for more of Myrtle’s (mis)adventures.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“A saucy, likable heroine shines in a mystery marked by clever, unexpected twists.”
Kirkus Reviews

“[A] clever and lively Victorian English village murder mystery . . . Bunce does an excellent job of making Myrtle the lead actor but gives her a strong set of (mostly female) supporters.”
The Horn Book

“In the tradition of heroines like Flavia de Luce and Harriet the Spy, Myrtle is a fine example of the Victorian scientific female—smart, inquisitive and fearless. Written with a terrific mixture of humor and suspense, Premeditated Myrtle is a perfect read for any budding detective.”
Rhys Bowen, New York Times bestselling author of the Her Royal Spyness series