March Into Mysteries

by Jeanette Larson on March 13, 2012

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Like readers of all ages, kids love mysteries! They offer many elements of surprise and satisfy our desire to find answers. Mystery readers tend to be curious and intelligent people who enjoy the challenge of shifting through clues and casting aside red herrings. Mysteries for the youngest readers usually involve simple situations in familiar settings but those for older readers become more complex and may even involve more serious crimes. Check out these titles for intrigue and excitement:

For the youngest readers:

What Really Happened to Humpty?: From the Files of a Hard-Boiled Detective written by Jeanie Franz Ransom and illustrated by Stephen Axelsen (Charlesbridge, 2009) Joe, a detective in Gooseland, is convinced that his brother’s fall was no accident! Spoiler alert: All the king’s men were able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again but he doesn’t remember anything about the fall. So his big brother sets out to investigate the dastardly deed in this soft-boiled picture book mystery. Which of the other nursery rhyme characters could be the culprit? (Chicken Little has always acted a little cagey!) For reading aloud, the book is filled with enough laugh-out-loud humor and allusions to classic hard-boiled mysteries to keep adults interested. Young readers will also appreciate the eggs-ellent illustrations that are filled with familiar fairy tale details.

Enigma: A Magical Mystery by Graeme Base (Abrams, 2008) Crime can happen anywhere but when he learns that all of the magician’s props have gone missing from the Retirement Home for Elderly Magicians Bertie Badger is determined to investigate. After all, he loves to watch his grandfather perform and a magician can’t just make props appear out of thin air! The story includes secret codes and ciphers, clues, puzzles, and conjuring. Graeme Base’s trademark illustrations are lush and rich in details and readers must look closely to uncover clues hidden in the intricate paintings. As in some of Base’s other books, a magical panel at the back of the book reveals all to those who can unlock the mystery. Younger readers will simply enjoy the magical mystery story while older kids will spend hours poring over the clues and reasoning out the truth.

For the transitional readers:

The Case of the School Ghost (The Buddy Files #6) written by Dori Hillestad Butler with illustrations by Jeremy Tugeau (Albert Whitman, 2012) Like many kids I’m a sucker for dog stories. And I love mysteries. Add in that Buddy is a school therapy dogs and the books in this series are surefire winners. During the fourth grade school sleepover, Mr. Poe, the custodian, tells the students about the ghost that haunts the building. Being a great detective, Buddy is determined to solve the mystery of the mysterious banging and scary voices that are heard throughout the school. Can he prove that ghosts don’t exist? Bet on Buddy to sniff out the facts! The story is told from Buddy’s perspective and line drawings add to that point of view as we see  Although there are some clues that span one or more stories, each book in the series stands on its own so readers can start anywhere.

The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe’s Very First Case written by Alexander McCall Smith with illustrations by Iain McIntosh (Anchor 2012). I absolutely adore Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective series but who knew that Precious Ramotswe got her investigative start as a child? When treats begin to disappear at her school, everyone suspects Poloko. After all, he’s a “traditionally built” boy so he must be stealing food! Precious uses her powers of deduction to ferret out the truth and learns to be a detective. The book includes charming black and red illustrations that show some of the settings and a map of Botswana. Yes, the case is simple but the logic and reasoning is flawless and Smith’s writing is wonderful. And of course, Precious is precious!

For the older readers:

The Lemon Tree Caper by René Salaña, Jr. with illustrations by Giovanni Mora (Arte Publico, 2011) So many mysteries for children feature animal detectives so it is refreshing to have a kid demonstrate great detective abilities. When Senorita Andrade’s prized lemons go missing just as a neighborhood girl opens a lemonade stand on the hottest day in South Texas, well, something smells rotten!  Mickey Rangel has been taking an online private investigator course so he is on the case. Witty and frequently wisecracking, Mickey goes to great lengths for justice. The short chapter book can be read in either English or Spanish (both are included in the same edition) and readers will enjoy matching wits with Mickey.

The Case of the Ruby Slippers: First Kids Mystery #3 by Martha Freeman (Holiday House, 2012)

What kid wouldn’t love to have the run of the White House! Since their mother became president of the United States, First Kids Cammie and Tess, along with their cousin Nate have enjoyed a lot of wonderful opportunities–like meeting rock and roll stars. They have also been able to play detective and solve some interesting crimes. When the White House staff plans a surprise party with a Wizard of Oz theme, the Smithsonian agrees to lend out the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland. But when the box arrives from the museum, this national treasure is missing! Cammie and Tess, along with Hooligan, the White House dog, quickly take on the case. Can they catch the crook or will the ruby slippers become a doggy chew toy? This is a fast, fun read, filled with information about the White House and the Wizard of Oz.

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