It was late one night in the 1990s. I was sitting in the back seat of a car.
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Mystery books build critical skills
Mysteries are a great way to get boys—and girls—to read. They’re fast-paced, and that’s important in this visual world. What’s more important, mysteries are a way to build critical reading and analytical skills. Elementary students are generally eager to read an exciting mystery. That’s partly because mysteries feel like escape literature.
Once again, it’s important to realise that even the youngest readers look for the same literary elements that we expect in a great read. They want memorable characters, exciting conflicts that hopefully relate to our lives in some way. As a librarian, I’m always looking for good mysteries. These are some of the best mysteries I have collected over the last two years.
Remember, reading mysteries to younger students is a good way to build analytical skills as well. Christmas is coming, and parents are always asking me to suggest good books for children—especially boys.
Here is my list of good mysteries for younger children:
1 The Trial of Cardigan Jones by Tim Egan: This is one of my favourite books in my school library because of the invaluable lessons it teaches. Cardigan Jones is put on trial for the case of a missing pie. During the course of the trial, important evidence emerges. As it turns out, Cardigan didn’t steal the pie. He simply knocked it off the ledge because he is clumsy.
This book teaches children about fairness and why it’s important not to rush to judgment. Older children can stage a trial so they learn about the judiciary system. One year, calypso expert Ray Funk put Goldilocks on trial in our elementary school. It was great fun. (For children five to eight years old).
2 The 5,000-Year-old Puzzle-Solving a Mystery of Ancient Egypt: Written in postcards and a diary form, this story teaches students from eight to 11 about history and putting clues together. Students are also exposed to different narrative styles. This book is very visual and that makes it quite appealing in this visual age where even young children play games and surf the internet.
3 Mystery at the Club Sandwich by Doug Cushman: This humorous mystery teaches children about tone. An elephant detective named Nick Trunk gets plenty of work because he works for peanuts. The mystery is filled with puns and metaphors and teaches students how to use poetic devices in fiction. The illustrations are lively and they’re all in black and white. Mystery at the Club Sandwich is for readers from six to eight.
4 Misty Gordon and the Mystery of the Ghost Pirates by Kim Kennedy: Adventure, mystery, pirates, history and mythology abound in this novel with a heroine who finds a pair of glasses when she visits the home of a deceased clairvoyant.
When Misty Gordon puts on the glasses, she discovers she has an extraordinary ability to solve mysteries.
This exciting read will appeal to girls and boys from eight through 12. Misty Gordon is chapter book for students to delve into different genres.
5 The Secret of the Sealed Room A Mystery of Young Benjamin Franklin by Bailey MacDonald: This historical mystery takes place in Boston in 1721. When a teenage indentured servant, Patience Martin, runs away after her employer, Mrs Worth, dies—she soon discovers she is in more trouble than she thinks. People are saying that Mrs Worth has been poisoned and everyone suspects Patience. This mystery is written for readers 11 to 14.
6 Holes by Louis Sachar: This award-winning children’s mystery about juvenile delinquents who are put into the desert to dig holes is a spellbinding read. There’s a movie to go along with it, and a sequel called Small Steps. Louis Sachar writes for young readers from six to 14.
7 Vanished by Sheela Chari: An 11-year-old girl is devastated when a musical instrument she inherited from her grandmother goes missing. As she tries to track down the culprit, Neela discovers a strange story about the instrument. Then she must figure out why it keeps disappearing. This novel is for readers 11 to 14.
8 Icefall by Matthew J Kirby: This is one of those Young Adult novels (readers 12 and up) that can be equally enjoyed by an adult. In a faraway kingdom, a crown prince and his sister are left in a secret cave while a battle goes on that will determine the fate of the kingdom. While the children struggle to make it through a cold winter, they begin to suspect that there is a spy among them willing to sell them out.
The children’s lives depend on them finding out who the turncoat is.
9 Boldly the Trips by Roy Galt: This suspenseful mystery novel, set in Trinidad and Tobago, is an engaging read for young reads 11 to 14. When three precocious boys embark on a mission of revenge they find themselves entangled with some unsavoury characters. The Trips are in deeper trouble than they think if they can’t figure out who these criminals are and what they’re really doing.
When it comes to reading, mysteries are winners every time.