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Top 25 Best Mystery Books for Children

The Best Child-Friendly Mystery Books Perfect for Your Kids

Are you the parent of a curious child who loves to read, or do you know one? Are you looking for that perfect book to satisfy their appetite for books and mystery? Or even one to enjoy along with them? If so, stick around for our countdown of the top 25 mystery books written specifically for children between the ages of 8-12, and find out what constitutes the cream of the crop in children’s curiosities.

As the title may suggest, the Baudelaire Orphans live a very unfortunate life indeed. Their parents are killed in a mysterious house fire and from this moment their lives just continue to take one bad turn after another. Violet, Klaus and Sunny: Violet is practical and likes to invent things, Klaus is a prodigy who loves to read, and Sunny Sunny has very sharp teeth and loves to bite things and make exclamations like Gack!.

They are shipped off to the uncle, the villainous Count Olaf whilst a suitable relative is found for them, but he has designs on the Baudelaire fortune, and will do anything to get it. Each book sees the trio attempting to discover and foil Olafs latest plot, whilst underlying mysteries including the secret behind their parents death add an extra dash of mystery.

This dark and intriguing series is brought to life by a whole host of dark and colourful characters, and Snickets signature literary style in which he presenting intricately worded sentences in child-sized bites, and with his tendency to use large or unusual words and then define them tendency here meaning an inclination towards - children reading the book(s) may even pick up some new words for their growing vocabularies.

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This is the first in a series that is dear to many people's hearts; the Famous Five is typically remembered fondly by those who read it in their youth. Introducing us to Julian, Dick, Ann, their cousin George (who is actually a girl called Georgina, but she is a tomboy who prefers George) and their dog Tim. This first adventure sees the Famous Five on holiday on Kirrin Island, upon which they find a shipwreck and learn about the legend of the gold ingots.

The Five embark on an adventure to find the treasure, but with others also on the trail, it's a race for the gold. It's an enthralling and mysterious first venture, and easy to see why the books became so well-loved. Great for children to read alone, the descriptions of outdoor activities and beautiful and interesting locations may even inspire your young reader to venture outside themselves once in a while and have some adventures of their own.

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Nancy Drew is a childrens mystery classic, most specifically a girls' classic. In her first outing the socially adept Miss Drew, whilst running errands for her father meets a series of people who are connected to a man who has recently passed away and there is some contention over the will. The will which is found is not quite what was expected and Nancy now sets out to find the (real) missing will. It's a suspenseful, risky adventure that of course culminates in Nancy saving the day.

The biggest allure of the Nancy Drew Mysteries is the woman herself, a smart and spunky young woman who drives a convertible and is a perfect young lady. Nancy is considerate and a social butterfly, with a strong sense of morality and a highly inquisitive nature. These qualities make the female flatfoot a fantastic role model for young girls, and this is how she is often remembered by her fans - Nancy Drew inspires curiosity, a sense of adventure and altruism. The mystery itself is both highly suspenseful and completely predictable, but wonderful because of it. Whilst the books are not likely to be enjoyed by young boys (it's not impossible, but still unlikely), but definitely a series that smart young girls will love.

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A dying criminal confesses that his loot has been secreted "in the tower" - both the towers of the looted mansion are searched in vain - the Hardy boys are on the case and make an astonishing discovery that clears up the mystery. The Hardy Boys is one of those series that a lot of adults look upon with a great fondness and nostalgia as it was a literary revelation at its time, much loved by children all over.

It was the sense of being able to be a hero, to be able to solve crime and help people without possession of super powers or some unattainable quality. It is a series that is known for its addictive quality, simple but intriguing mysteries and igniting a lifelong love for reading in the children it inspired. This first instalment is the perfect place to start off your young reader(s), though it holds little pull for adult readers other than those who have extreme nostalgia for the classic series.

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Chet Gecko is a fourth-grader who loves mystery, and solves them for his classmates for a fee - delicious stinkbug pie. Now Shirley Chameleon has asked him to find her missing brother Bill, but this case won't be as easy as Chet first thinks. A larger plot comes into focus involving the Rat sisters, a junkyard dog who talks in riddles and a vicious Gila monster. The pride of the entire school is at risk, and Chet's fee depends on him getting to the bottom of it. This is a masterful mix of mystery and humour and a cast of colourful animal characters that young children will love.

Those adults of you out there who have read Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon or any similar hard-boiled mystery novels will also love the clear influence and parody of that writing style that is ever-present here. It's a fast-paced, easy read with plenty of tongue-in-cheek humour and mystery to keep kids (and kids at heart) entertained from beginning to end.

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EoinColfer's Half-Moon Investigations is centred on 12 year old Fletcher Moon, known by most as Half-Moon, he is not your usual pre-teen. Half-Moon is a certified and highly sarcastic private detective, typically taking on small cases of little consequence, like finding lost items. This is until he is beaten up, has his badge stolen and is framed for arson.

Fletcher is forced to team up with his main suspect, Red, and go on the run from the police and his parents in order to try and clear his name as well as try and solve a greater mystery that is unfolding in the town. This book is a fast-paced, action-filled joy-ride, a perfect PI stereotype that is great for introducing children to mystery novels and their wise-cracking protagonists. Equal parts suspenseful and laugh-out-loud funny; this is a page turner that petite potential private eyes will find take a great amount of pleasure in.

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Meet Enola Holmes, the younger sister of the super sleuth himself, Sherlock Holmes. On her 14th birthday Enola discovers that her mother has gone missing. In true Sherlock style, Enola ventures out into the heart of London and disguises herself as a grieving widow to try and gather information, and finds herself unwittingly involved in the kidnapping of the Marquess of Basilwether. Now Enola has to try and free the Marquess, and find her mother all the while avoiding big brothers Sherlock and Mycroft, both of whom she manages to outwit.

There is a nice level of historical detail about the time-period in this book that will serve to teach young readers a little about what it was like to be a girl growing up in Victorian England, and Enola is an intelligent and charismatic protagonist. The Enola Holmes Mysteries are an amusing and stimulating series that is a good way to introduce children to the world of Sherlock Holmes, even if only by proxy.

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The Westing Game is an old-fashioned classic murder mystery/puzzle/treasure hunt combo similar in style to the classic Cluedo movie "Clue". A cast of 16 heirs are in competition for Sam Westing's inheritance, but it's not a simple gig. To earn the fortune they must solve the puzzle put forward for them by the late Sam Westing.

They are in 8 teams, each with a set of clues that they must decipher in order to figure out who Mrs. Westing is, and who killed Sam. The competitors get picked off one by one, and it's an intriguing mystery. Every detail matters and it's truly suspenseful, even for the more mature readers that may wish to pick up this book. It's realistic and fantastical all in one fell swoop. And if you're worried about presenting your child with a book about grisly murder, don't worry, there's no gore and (slight spoiler) by the end it seems no one may have even been murdered at all. It's a fantastic twist that little sleuths are bound to love.

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This is an interactive poetic picture book, which while aimed at younger readers may extract a great deal of joy from the older children, and the older children at heart. The story is focused around an elephant named Horace who has invited all his friends to an extravagant birthday party. We see Horace in the hours leading up to the party, working on the preparation of a glorious feast for them all to chow down on when the time comes - but when munch time arrives, someone has secretly scoffed it all. But who?

The mystery is revealed throughout the book through the illustrations which are in full-colour and absolutely gorgeous. In addition to clues surrounding the central mystery there are hidden messages abound in the form of Morse code, musical notes and the art itself. This is a perfect book to spark young imaginations and keep them occupied for hours - and some of the top secret messages are so fiendishly hidden that even you eagle eyed grown-ups out there may have to flip to the back of the book to peek at the "cheat" section!

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Dani Noir is an exploration of the life of 13-year-old film noir buff during a tough period in her life. Her parents have just divorced, and so she spends her summer on her obsession with black and white movies and her idol, Rita Hayworth. One day she sees a girl in pink polka dot tights outside the Little Art theatre which houses the noir films Dani loves, and she feel something isn't right and so commences Dani's investigation into the mystery, as well as the possibility that her babysitter's boyfriend may have a second girlfriend.

Largely this book is about character, Dani is possibly the most realistic 13 year old to ever be penned, she feels so re al, as such she is far from perfect, she's self-centred at times, but she learns a lot about life through the course of the novel. While this book is (according to the inside flap) aimed at ages 9-12, the black-and-white movie quirk may not necessarily entice many children as a lot of the references to these old movies may be lost on them, but by the same measure could be appropriate for a particularly mature child - even one of a younger age. Nonetheless Dani Noir is a truly human and beautifully voiced novel with strong positive messages about individuality and overcoming and accepting differences.

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It is 1960s America, and young Jack Gantos is busy preparing for summer vacation, he's got a whole host of fun thing planned and it seems like everything is going to be great - that is until Jack accidentally shoots his father's rifle and is grounded for the whole summer! Now he's going to spend it doing chores for his mother, father and his bizarre neighbour, Miss Volker.

Everything gets weird when there's a string of deaths amongst the elderly women in the town, a vendetta with the Hell's Angels looks about to boil over, and Miss Volker's irritating suitor Mister Spizz is ever-present and optimistic. Apparently (according to the author) this book is part fantasy-part truth, but it's hard to see where one starts and the other begins! A truly enjoyable story laced with 60s nostalgia, which will resonate with the child within as much as it will with actual children.

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Reynie Muldoon is an orphan, he doesn't think of himself as particularly special, more like weird and out of place until one day Reynie and his tutor spy an advertisement asking for gifted children looking for special opportunities. He's encouraged to respond, and as a result he begins to undergo a series of odd tests that get increasingly weird.

Following the barrage of extremely unusual tests, along with three other remarkable children - the four of them have been recruited by the mysterious narcoleptic Mr Benedict to infiltrate a prestigious academy: The Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened (which conveniently spells L.I.V.E.) and find out the devious headmaster's devious plan a la Pinky and the Brain, to try and take over the world. Together the four children must gather clues, piece together puzzles and try to solve the mystery of the fiendish plan.

It's a fun mystery, well-executed - the first half is slightly better than the second, the mystery behind the bizarre (unknown at the time) Benedict, and his barrage of abnormal assessments providing a greater degree of intrigue and suspense than the world domination plot, but even so it's still satisfying and exciting, ending on a pleasant and nicely wrapped-up-in-a-bow fashion. Overall a tip-top tale of outsiders overcoming the odds and saving the day.

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This next book is in some ways like a Da Vinci Code for kids, written by the author of the Percy Jackson Series. Maze of Bones, the first in the 39 Clues series is about a brother and sister who are searching the world for - you guessed it, 39 clues - to a great family secret. They must do this whilst competing against and escaping from a number of other teams. Each book in this series follows this same central story, but each is penned by a different author.

The mystery and the clues are fun to try and decipher as they happen in the story, but for those who want a little extra involvement in solving the puzzles there is a whole extra degree of interactivity to sink your teeth into via a website and game cards that come with the book (and can be purchase separately) and there are even prizes to be won. This is all just a bonus feature however, and isn't necessary to follow the mystery or enjoy the books, it's just there as a nice addendum.

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Leroy "Encyclopaedia" Brown is a boy with famous computer-like brain. He loves a challenge, enjoys the mental calisthenics of solving a brainteaser and wants to help people with the skills that he has. Luckily for Leroy, his father is the police chief and brings home cases for Leroy to chew over at the dinner table every night.

Despite the police department's strange practice of apparently outsourcing a fifth grader to solve their cases, the fun element is that the cases are presented in such a way that the reader can attempt to solve the cases along with Leroy. There are even extra questions about each case at the back of the book to encourage a little extra thought and comprehension.

The book covers ten of Leroy's cases including some missing roller skates, the inheritance of a trapeze artist, the stabbing of a watermelon and a case with a blind eyewitness. This book is perfect for children to enjoy on their own to try and play detective themselves, but also serves as a fun activity for children and parents to partake in together.

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Sammy Keyes is living with her grandmother while her parents are off doing... Uh, God knows what. Having to stay inside a lot, Sammy takes to using her grandmother's binoculars to keep a lookout on what is happening in the neighbourhood. One day, whilst keeping a watchful eye she spots a man stealing money from a woman's purse on the 4th floor of the hotel across the street, however she makes a big mistake when he turns and sees her and she waves at him.

Now she has to try and solve the crime and avoid the baddie. This is a fast paced adventure, but not so fast as to be impossible for children to follow, and the little clues and suggestions throughout the story are clever and make the it all the more gripping. In fact, this mystery is so compelling that "Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief" won the Edgar Award in 1999 for the Best Juvenile Mystery.

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Harriet M. Welsch is a spy; she carries a notebook with her everywhere and writes down everything she knows about every single person she knows, including her best friends, classmates and family. But now she has lost that notebook and her friends end up reading all of the (sometimes awful) things she has written about them. She now has to try and find a way to put her life back together and make amends.

In all honesty, Harriet really isn't all that nice; having written some quite spiteful things about her friends but what this series teaches is that it is important to own up to your mistakes and try to fix the mistakes you have made is a perfect life lesson for young children. Harriet is realistic, she's not perfect, and this propensity to not talk down to her readers is what makes Fitzhughs book such a classic. This is a book that is often known to inspire young girls (and even young boys) to begin their own secret journal and spark a love of writing, and is a perfect book to stimulate young readers and writers.

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Claudia Kincaid is fed up. She hates the unfair treatment that she receives at her family home and so she decides to run away to teach her parents how to appreciate her better. Claudia hates discomfort however, but she loves art, so where better to run to than the Metropolitan Museum of Art? She also has very little money however and so to overcome her budgeting problems she brings along smart-spender brother, Jamie.

Living a life of (inexplicably easy) comfort in the Museum they explore, and set their inquisitive minds to the task of trying to discover if the latest acquisition, an angel statue that is purported to be the work of Michelangelo, has any secrets to uncover. It's not The Da Vinci Code for kids" by any means, just a decent kid mystery. Told from the perspective of a quaint old lady, Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, it's charming and smart - the interplay between the two siblings is fantastic.

This book is the complete package with witty, snappy dialogue, and a brilliant and intriguing plot that is not too far from the realms of possibility. A great book for children who love adventure and the concept of two kids hiding out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an inspired idea that conjures images of the snappy child protagonists of '80s and '90s movies.

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The kids in Room 207 have been misbehaving. Again. The kids in 207 always misbehave. They shoot spit balls at the ceiling, talk constantly, won't do their schoolwork, throw paper airplanes and are even rude during their story time. The kids in room 207 are the worst behaved class in the whole school. Their teacher, Miss Nelson, is good-natured and patient, but receives no semblance of respect from her students.

It's all about to change though when one day, kindly Miss Nelson is nowhere to be seen, the children are happy until their new substitute arrives - Miss Viola Swamp, with her dark, strict, witchy mood. She cancels their story time and gives them piles upon piles of homework. The children suddenly realise that they missMiss Nelson! But where is she?

She eventually returns to a newly well-behaved class, but where was she? And what was Miss Viola Swamp's secret? This is a humorous tale of a teacher in disguise teaching the importance of learning to behave and show respect, made even better by the full-colour illustrations. Children will enjoy reading this one solo and with adults. A nice, fun, simple mystery for your little tearaways.

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Winston Breen loves puzzles; he sees them everywhere - on pizzas, on wrapping paper, anywhere. And he is a master at solving them. When Winston's sister finds a puzzle on the box that he gives her as a present though, he's stumped. What are these four pieces of wood with word written on them? As it turns out, there are other people out there with similar pieces of wood.

What does it all mean? Putting it together it seems that decades ago a local inventor created this puzzle, a treasure hunt, and working together Winston and a group of treasure hunters try to put together the pieces of this old and intricate puzzle and find the treasure. Breen is in some ways like Encyclopedia Brown, not as classic, but still a fun, interesting and smart character in his own right. Mysterious from the very outset, the book is teeming with puzzles to solve, and provides a great deal of diversion and interactivity for budding puzzle-solvers.

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Calder and Petra are two young children that somehow, through a string of (seemingly) unrelated events find themselves at the centre of a daring art heist that is talked about worldwide and has baffled both the museum officials and the police. Can the two young sleuths find the priceless Vermeer before it's too late? This story is rich and detailed, dripping with culture, art and history.

The story is brought joyously to life by the gorgeous stylized and at times almost spooky illustrations of Brett Helquist (famed for his illustrative input in Lemony Snickets Series of Unfortunate Events), which depict the characters and setting vividly and contain a secret code which can be used to solve the puzzle on a website.

In conjunction with the clues in the text and the overall story, this gives the book a wonderful interactive element that inquisitive young minds will savour. With its absorbing plot and enthralling, meaningful illustrations, it is easy to see why this book was awarded the Agatha Award for Best Childrens Young Adult Book in 2004, and the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery in 2005.

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Now for something from an author who has decided to conceal his identity (if you couldn't tell, that's a fake name, a convincing fake, I know) as well as... Well, pretty much everything about his book. The so-called "Pseudonymous Bosch" has written a story that contains a secret so big that he constantly tells you to stop reading, that this secret is the biggest secret ever and that he can't tell you, that he's not even going to finish the book so you may as well stop. These repeated interjections have resulted in "Bosch" being compared to another pseudonym-bearing author: Lemony Snicket.

The hints of Snicket are everywhere, from hinting at defining words to constantly telling the reader that this book is not worth reading, it's almost annoying how blatant the influence is. However Bosch does not tie up loose ends as well as Snicket, but the book still manages to be a fun and entertaining read, and much lighter in tone than Snicket's deliciously dark dalliances.

Its tough to reveal much of what the secret-shrouded story actually is, but it surrounds two children who find the mysterious "Symphony of Smells" which leads them to the huge secret that Bosch proclaimed he would not reveal: the secret of life. All in all, this is a fun and entertaining puzzler for young readers with a nice sense of humour that even older children and adults will relish.

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Best friends Sophie and Grace have come up with a fun game - spying on their neighbours. But they are about to find out that being nosy isn't all the fun it's cracked up to be, on one of their midnight stakeouts they (think) they witness a horrifically bloody murder scene at the home of their middle-school's counsellor, DrAgford.

It turns out that the bizarre doctor was actually only making pickled beets, but when her behaviour becomes even stranger than usual they are convinced that she's got a secret, and they are determined to uncover it. The girls end up following strangers and breaking secret codes, through all their adventures their friendship begins to dissolve - can the girls crack the case and remain friends? This is a fascinating book, capturing nicely what it is like to be a kid, and harnessing the spirit of adventure. The girls are fun, smart and brave but not to the point of being perfect and inhuman. The story never loses momentum and its puzzles and twists are enough to keep a keen-minded kid occupied to the very end.

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When their parents disappear under mysterious circumstances, sisters Sabrina and Daphne Grimm are sent to live with their grandmother, who up until now they believed to be dead! The two girls discover that they are descended from a famous bloodline, the Brothers Grimm, and that the fairy tales the two brothers penned are much more than fantasy - they are a collection of case files.

Now the girls must step up to the family business and become fairy tale detectives. Their grandmother is kidnapped by a giant and the girls must enlist the help of fairy tale creatures (including Jack the Giant Killer and the Magic Mirror) to save her, and try to discover who unleashed the giant and why. Overall a fun, fantastical mystery, reading a little at times like a version of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next Series for children, with a similar style of literary referencing and humour. It's an amusing and entertaining take on fairy tale fiction with some good and often puzzling twists.

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It's late May and Ted, Kat and their cousin Salim are enjoying the tourist spots of London. Ted and Kat sit and watch as Salim gets on board one of the pods of the London Eye, and they see him waving down at them as the pod rises up into the air. Half an hour later when the pod touches back down and Salim is nowhere to be seen. The police are clueless and so it is down to Kat and her younger brother to follow the clues across London and discover what happened to their cousin.

The book is narrated by Ted who is unlike other children, he says his brain "runs on a different operating system" and apparently has some form of Asperger's Syndrome or is a high-functioning autistic. This makes for an interesting read, as Ted tends to be quite literal and struggles with metaphorical thinking and judgements of the emotions of others, although this depiction is somewhat inconsistent and a little unbelievable at times. In spite of this, it is a good mystery for young readers, and one that they are bound to grip them and provide a great twist when the secret behind Salim's disappearance is finally revealed.

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The perfect village of Finkleton always has perfect weather, the farms grow the best crops in the world; they're the biggest and healthiest, and can't be beat. When their uncle Harry dies, Jack Lizzy and Robert Finkle inherit his shop and begin to explore its magical secrets - they piece together the clues and find out that Mother Nature does not control the weather in Finkleton.

Since their uncle's death however, the weather has not been as it should be. With the farms are failing, and the fate of Finkleton in the balance, the trio must solve all of the mysteries behind the magic of Finkleton before it's too late. It's a fun puzzler for children to try and figure out along with the characters, and it finishes off with a nice happy ending, as is typical for stories aimed at this particular age group. The discovery of an extra at the end though leaves room for a sequel that children will be eager to get their hands on.

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