Kids gravitate toward books about young detectives, those grade school sleuths who are somehow always smarter than the adults around them.
They can solve a mystery that has stumped the local police department, find clues overlooked by fast-talking, fast-walking grown-ups, and use their own wit to piece it all together.
Sometimes adults hinder the youthful detectives by dismissing their ideas outright, making it even more amazing when the kids crack the codes.
Reading mysteries encourages problem solving and being observant of your surroundings; it gives young readers a sense of empowerment and accomplishment.
Here are a few newer series with fascinating plots, memorable sleuths, and the promise of more to come.
“Maggie Brooklyn Mysteries” by Leslie Margolis
In the first book, “Girl’s Best Friend,” Maggie Brooklyn Sinclair works as a dog-walker after school when dogs begin disappearing in her neighborhood.
As she pieces her own clues together, Maggie also deals with mean girls in her seventh grade class, her first crush on the fascinating Milo, running a business, and the very realistic ongoing family quibbles with her parents and twin brother, Finn.
References to current trends, cool indie bands and tweeting will appeal to hip kids looking for something more recent than Nancy Drew.
Maggie’s clever problem-solving and sarcastic sense of humor continue in “Vanishing Acts” and “Secrets at the Chocolate Mansion.”
“P.K. Pinkerton Western Mysteries” by Caroline Lawrence
While I’ve never been a reader of westerns (other than maybe “Hank the Cowdog”), I found myself unable to put these books down.
In “The Case of the Deadly Desperados,” P. K. Pinkerton has a shocking, terrible birthday. He comes home to find his foster Ma and Pa are dead, and it appears that the infamous desperado Whittlin’ Walt is now after him.
But P. K. has what his Ma called a “Thorn”— he has trouble deciphering the emotions and body language of other people.
His Thorn often sets him back just when you think he is getting ahead.
Eventually, P. K. picks up some skills, including ingenious disguises and shrewd escape routes, to overcome his Thorn and outsmart the villainous adults.
The unpredictable plot twists and turns keep coming in book two, “P. K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man,” and I anxiously await book three, “P. K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows.” If you are ready to put yourself into the hands of a 12-year-old double-orphan on the run from the baddest outlaws of the wild west, give this series a try.
“Mo LoBeau Mysteries” by Sheila Turnage
One of my new favorite writers, Sheila Turnage, won a Newbery honor last year with her first novel, “Three Times Lucky.” Turnage puts the reader right into the tiny North Carolina town of Tupelo Landing with memorable characters, exquisite writing and a page-turning plot.
Mo LoBeau is a motivated sixth grader who helps run a cafe, uses messages in a bottle to track down her long lost “upstream mother,” and runs her own detective agency along with her best friend, Dale.
Life for Mo in Tupelo Landing usually consists of fishing, avoiding her nemesis “Attila,” and convincing Dale’s brother, Lavender, to marry her.
But foul play is afoot.
An investigator from the city arrives, a cranky old bachelor is killed, and the Colonel goes missing.
What will happen next in this sleepy Southern town? Once Mo and Dale crack the case, “The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing” sets them off on another trail, requiring their newly formed Desperado Detective Agency to add a “paranormal division.”
“Precious Ramotswe’s First Cases” by Alexander McCall Smith
From the popular author of “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” Smith published “The Great Cake Mystery” in 2012, a children’s chapter book starring the same Precious Ramotswe…as a young school girl. Call it a prequel if you like.
Set in Botswana, eight-year-old Precious realizes she may have the natural skills to be a good detective, as she resolves to clear a classmate’s name when he is accused of stealing other kids’ food.
Precious discovers who the real thief is, but in order to prove to everyone else that Poloko is innocent, she must come up with an innovative plan to catch the thief, or thieves, red-handed.
Readers will clearly hear the other message in the story, which is to never accuse someone without proof, and possibly a more simple moral — don’t be mean to others.
Mary Pope Osborne, author of the Magic Tree House mysteries, writes, “A detective is born! What a delightful, breezy read!”