We share a deep and obsessive love of mystery books. Classics, picture books, cozies, PIs… we read them all. So when we thought of books for everyone in the family, mystery books was our first thought. The only problem was narrowing them down! So we came up with this list of books for all ages that we think will really grab you; they are fun and sharable, and hopefully instill in any genre newbies the same love we feel for these books. One category in particular stands out: the tween/early adolescent detectives. They’re the best. Ever. So we couldn’t pick one or two- we have another whole list of fantastic tween mystery series, which we strongly recommend that everyone in the family read. But here’s a little something for everyone…
A read-aloud for the whole family:
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
How many children envision running away to teach their parents a lesson? In Konigsburg’s award-winning novel (Newbury Medal 1967), Claudia and her brother Jamie decide to do just that. But Claudia is smart enough to know she wants her hideout to be comfortable, beautiful, and if at all possible, quite elegant. She makes the perfect choice when they decide on the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. While living in the museum, they become caught up in the mystery of an angel statue that is a recent acquisition to the museum. In the course pf attempting to solve the mystery, they meet Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, an intriguing and remarkable character. This terrific family read-aloud allows you to share the children’s adventure as they hide out in the museum for a whole week. There’s enough suspense and mystery for all ages–and if you read it as a kid, you’ll find it has a timeless charm when you revisit it with your own children.
For infants through early readers:
The ABC Mystery by Doug Cushman
A great introduction to the mystery genre for even the youngest member of the family. Babies like the animal detectives, older toddlers like recognizing the letters of the alphabet that begin each page (“A is the Art that was stolen at night”), and early readers like the rhyming story and figuring out the who-done-it. The artwork and story are imaginative and fun and never condescend.
For toddlers and early readers:
Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, illustrated by Marc Simont
Sam Spade for the younger set. In this wonderful series, beginning readers are introduced to Nate, boy detective, who “likes to work alone” as well as the detective novel—and the world of mysteries and clues. There are over 20 Nate the Great adventures, featuring Nate, his dog Sludge, his friend Annie, and her dog Fang. Nate always solves his mysteries, eating pancakes as he ponders his clues. The books are clever, humorous and well-written. It’s amazing what Sharmat can do in terms of story, plot, character, and humor with so few words. The illustrations help reinforce certain points in the case and are wonderful in their own right. Besides being good for young ones to read by themselves, these books are also great read-alouds.
For toddlers and early readers:
Detective Larue: Letters from the Investigation by Mark Teague
Ike Larue is a dog, who also entertained readers with his letters from obedience school and the campaign trail. He tells his story through letters home to Mrs. Larue, but the pictures… they tell another story. Kids (and parents, when the kids let you take a break from reading it aloud long enough to savor the illustrations) enjoy how the black and white thought bubble illustrates the Ike’s “enhanced” version of events just the way he is narrating in his letters, but the color picture shows what really happened… In many cases, the two sets of pictures barely resemble each other! If you love these illustrations, or the style looks familiar, it’s probably because Mark Teague has illustrated a few modern and beloved classics the How Do Dinosaurs books with Jane Yolen & the Poppleton books with Cynthia Rylant.
For toddlers and early readers:
Tough Cookie by David Wisneiwski
This is one of the books that inspired our list of books to read in silly voices. It is one of those fun books that appeals to 2 year olds (who like the idea of talking cookies) to 8 year olds (who get the parody a little better) and to parents, who channel their own versions of Bogie and Bacall in reading aloud this funny story of a cookie who lives in the jar, see? But there’s this guy “fingers”, see, who comes and snatches the cookies… Can he and his gal Pecan Sandie and the lowlife crumbs at the bottom of the jar save the latest cookie that “fingers” has set his sights on?
For early readers:
This book is part mystery, part scrapbook and part travelogue. Part of the fun is examining closely all the tidbits and pictures, seeing if you can figure out any of the clues and solve the case along with – or before- detective Seymour Sleuth. In this adventure, Sleuth and his sidekick Abbott Muggs travel to the rain forests of Borneo where Dr. Irene Tann is searching for the Black Flower of Sumatra, which is believed to be a cure for the hiccups. There’s lots of silliness like that, which kids love. This is Sleuth’s second adventure (though our favorite) and the other, almost as entertaining book takes place in Egypt. Does author Doug Cushman’s name look familiar? Yes, he’s the author of another book on the list- and he must be as big a fan of mysteries as we are, as he has also written other mysteries for kids featuring Dirk Bones, Nick Trunk, Aunt Eater and Inspector Hopper.
For early readers and tweens:
Freddy the Detective by Walter R. Brooks, illustrated by Kurt Wiese
From the era of Nancy Drew, these sweet (but not saccharine) books evoke a kind of lit loving Dr. Dolittle (except the hero is a pig) who loves books and all creatures. Freddy is not always a detective- the 27 books range from Freddy Goes to Florida to Freddy the Cowboy to Freddy and the Men from Mars. In this installment Freddy, a great reader, has just finished reading Sherlock Holmes, and believes he can emulate his methods on the farm and turn detective. The Bean farm is a clever microcosm of the world, and while the reading level is aimed at about 9-11 year olds, this is also a perfect read-aloud that is appropriate for even the youngest kids and enjoyable for the older ones too. (That includes Mom and Dad!)
For early adolescents and young adults:
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
If you’re looking for a book to hook teens on the British mystery novel–and on Agatha Christie in particular–look no further. No spoilers in this recommendation; trust us that first-time readers are stunned by this clever mystery. So much so that the novel became controversial and at one point, Christie was about to be thrown out of the the Detection Club ( a writing group who agreed to always “play fair” on their writing). It’s a riveting well-crafted read,with the classic scene where Hercule Poirot invites all the characters into the drawing room to discuss the case. Truly a masterpiece. It’s one of those books where you wonder how you missed all the clues the first time round. We think it may be Agatha Christie’s best ( possible exception And Then There Were None). And captivated readers have a bookcase full of Agatha Christie gens waiting for them.
For adults, young, middling, and old:
A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton
Meet Kinsey Milhone, a tough independent private eye, with a straightforward approach to crime–and to life. Gutsy, smart, and unsentimental, Kinsey is a believable and complex character who grows and evolves through the alphabet series that began almost 30 years ago. In A is for Alibi, Kinsey is hired to help Nikki Fife, recently released from prison for the murder of her husband. Still insisting on her innocence, Nikki wants Kinsey to clear her name and find the real killer. The book is suspenseful, with moments of great humor and wit. And if you like the introductory novel of the series you read your way through the alphabet with Kinsey (well, at least up through the most recent installment this year with U is for Undertow). Then you’ll be in the same boat as the rest of us Sue Grafton fans, waiting impatiently a year or two for Kinsey’s continued adventures.
Note: What’s not on here? The original – Sherlock Holmes! Seriously, if you haven’t read him, read him. But that’s another story, for another list. Stay tuned…