So, your kids are around that important age where they’re off to middle school.
They’re starting to come into their own, maybe starting to show some interest in a few major paths into their teenage years, as well as starting to show a little more independence for themselves.
They’re no longer little kids, and that’s going to show in the sorts of things that they want to do. And for some, that includes what they’re reading as well.
Middle school is the age when your children are going to be able to start digesting and understanding more complex ideas and issues and coming up with their ideas, even reading on their own.
It’s also (unfortunately) the time when many kids will stop reading books of their own volition, at least for a while.
Fortunately, a good selection of the right kind of genre is often more than enough to keep them reading and to keep their imaginations going wild.
Fortunately, I’ve collected a great selection of some of the best mystery books for older kids and younger teens to enjoy!
All of them are age-appropriate in terms of content and reading level, and all of them, like kids, are engaging in their special way!
We’re starting off our list with the kind of mystery that many kids dream, or maybe even fear, about, brought to life in the pages of this wonderful mystery book by Rebecca Stead!
Our sixth-grader protagonist Miranda has had the worst falling out with her best friend that you can imagine.
Like, the ones that you used to stay up after school thinking and dreading.
However, when Miranda receives mysterious notes from a source that she doesn’t know afterward, telling her to write a true story, and not tell anyone about her task.
Normally, this is the kind of thing that Miranda would leave to her parents, the principal, or somebody else.
But she finds herself amazed when the notes start being able to predict the future for her.
However, that amazement turns to horror when she receives a startling prediction:
Someone close to her is going to die, and she might already be too late to do anything about it.
It’s a gripping story that is perfect for getting your older kid’s imagination, in the best and scariest ways possible for a child to be!
- Miranda is an easy character to get behind and watch grow throughout the story.
- The central mystery and suspense are gripping for readers of virtually any age!
- An amazing book for getting kids to think and imagine for themselves.
- The descriptions of the places the story takes place can be a little blandly described, making it hard for kids to imagine them for themselves.
Now, if you know that your kids are going to be interested in aviation, history, and the women of science history (firstly, where’d you get those psychic powers, could we have some?), then they’re going to love this next book!
11-year-old Amelia Ashford, known to her friends and family as Millie, is given the chance of a lifetime when she and five other girls (or strangers, as Millie reminds herself) are invited to stay one night in the house of Amelia Earhart, the world-famous pilot.
Given that her mom is also a pilot, Millie wants to try to find something that she writes to her about.
So imagine her pleasure when she finds the iconic goggles of Amelia Earhart herself!
However, before she can think of something to write, the goggles go missing, and she was the last one to see them! Where could they have possibly gone?
Well, that’s certainly a mystery to write to her mom about!
It’s a tale that mixes twists and trunks with plenty of allusions to the iconic figures of science history that helped make it what it is today, especially the women who are often left to the wayside.
All in all, a very fun mystery that is chocked with as much information and details about aviation as it is mystery and plot twists.
(Come on, it’s Amelia Earhart’s house! How is it not going to be a love letter from the author to this icon of Aviation?)
- Millie is a great character to learn about and get behind.
- Equal parts a mystery and an informational book about science and its history.
- The plot and mystery have plenty of twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the last big reveal.
- A great story that helps tell kids about the history of aviation and the many women behind it. A great story for role models for little girls!
- The beginning of the book moves kind of slowly, before picking up once the goggles disappear. It might take a little while for kids to get invested in it.
Now, this is a story that kids can get behind! Ditching summer camp and hanging out with pals!
Jamila does not like her mom’s plans for her to go to summer camp when school ends, and is looking for any way out of it.
So, imagine her surprise and excitement when she finds out that this other kid that she meets at a neighborhood tag sale, Shirley, also doesn’t want to go to summer camp!
Well, might as well become friends, and get out of their parent’s plans together, right?
However, as the mystery of another kid’s (Oliver’s) missing gecko starts to put a strain on this new friendship, Jamila and Shirley are going to have to crack the two toughest cases of all:
- Where did the gecko go?
- How do they stay friends?
So, you know, no big pressure, girls!
It’s a tale of unlikely found friendships and finding the best way to spend summer vacation, without their parent’s plans getting in their way.
We’ve all had a summer or two like that as a kid, so it’s hard not to root for these two!
Plus, this graphic novel paints a colorful, cartoon-y world for Jamila and Shirley to explore and solve their mysteries in, making it super-easy for kids of all ages to enjoy, while also practicing reading!
- A colorful graphic novel with gorgeous art by Gillian Goerz that makes imagining the world of Shirley and Jamila a joy to read!
- Shirley and Jamila are a great pair of characters to watch get to know each other.
- The mysteries are light and entertaining, but not without emotional depth, too.
- The text might be a little too small to read for some kids, at least when compared to the big pictures.
Now, if you’re looking for a book that is a staple of kid’s mystery fiction, you can’t go wrong with this modern classic by Trenton Lee Stewart!
This popular mystery book starts with our main character, the young Reynie Muldoon answering a strange invitation through a newspaper ad.
The ad takes him to allocation where, along with his fellow young students, has to answer an increasingly strange number of questions and puzzles with no clear answers.
Eventually, it is just him and three other students who make it to the last exam, where they will have to undertake an espionage mission that will take all of their skills, and each other, to accomplish.
That is their mission, should they choose to accept it. And for many of them, they may not have that much of a choice…
This is a tale that pretty much anyone will be able to read and appreciate, but is especially great for getting the minds of 9 to 13 years and up.
It’s a tale as old as time (or at least since the invention of novels, anyway). Kids get up to secret society hijinks and unravel puzzles and mysteries along the way.
Think kind of like Scooby-Doo meets Sherlock Holmes, with a little Spy Kids thrown into the mix.
The more I think about it, the more perfect that matchup is. No wonder Trenton Lee was on to something with this series!
Kids getting sent on a do-or-die mission that could result in death?
… Yeah, seems par the course for this genre!
- A great mashup of mysteries, puzzles, and spy action!
- A colorful cast of main and supporting characters that readers of all ages can fall in love with.
- The mysteries surrounding these secret societies are enough to keep anyone guessing!
- The book is also currently being adapted into a great series on Disney+, so there isn’t a better time to take a look at the books that inspired it!
- This book does skew to a slightly older audience, rather than younger middle schoolers.
How could I create a list of the best mystery novels for older kids, without even a shout-out to arguably the original teen detective, Nancy Drew?
Generations of mystery lovers wouldn’t have gotten their start in the genre without this literary titan introducing them to the genre!
And it all starts with this book, The Secret of the Old Clock, first published in 1930.
Josiah Crowley is a wealthy actor with an estate that can’t be given to anyone, as his will has gone missing.
His relatives are struggling, so Nancy promises to help them get to the bottom of this mystery.
However, when Nancy Drew manages to find an old clock that belonged to the deceased Crowley, more and more clues start cropping up from the woodwork.
And pretty soon, Nancy starts to suspect that Josiah’s untimely death was no accident at all…
It’s a classic setup for a classic murder mystery story.
And with a classic character to help readers and the characters uncover the mystery, it’s a perfect starting point for many fans of this long-running series.
Carolyn Keen knocked it out of the park pretty much first try, with Nancy’s character being well-established and easy to get behind.
It’s kind of incredible that almost a hundred years after it was first published, Nancy Drew is still as much of an enjoyable read for kids now as it was back then!
- A perfect window into an older style of murder mystery that is just as engaging today as it was back then!
- A great gateway series into a whole genre of older detective fiction, from Sherlock Holmes to this book’s contemporaries, from Hercule Poirot to Miss Marple.
- Nancy Drew’s character is firmly established in this first novel, and is a firm blueprint for the series as it continues after this!
- While largely timeless, the Nancy Drew series does show its age a little with some terms that are no longer used being in there. It might leave some younger readers confused.
When it comes to a good murder mystery series for kids, it often helps to have a main character that is as full of questions and curiosity as the children reading it.
So, young sixth-grader Miss Moses LeBeau, who washed up mysteriously on the shores of the sleepy town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, has questions about her past, you have a character that is just as interested in learning about themselves as the kids reading is!
Although Moses hopes to find out more about her past in the future, she has made herself a home with the friendly and kind café owners, Colonel (a man with his forgotten history), and Miss Lana.
However, as law enforcement starts entering the town looking for clues about a murder, Moses, and her best friend Dale Earnhardt Johnson III start looking for said clues to help out.
But how safe are these two in a town where everyone’s business is everyone else’s and no secret is safe for long?
Well, you’ll have to find the answer yourself with your kids, by grabbing a copy for them right here!
- A murder mystery set in a sleepy town on the North Carolina coast. The perfect place to solve mysteries!
- Our main character has more than enough questions and attitude to get readers of all ages rooting for her!
- The character writing of Sheila Turnage can get anyone hooked on her work!
- The plot does start to unravel in a confusing way around the middle but picks itself back up by the end.
You know those little towns that you’ll find dotted across the country?
The ones where everyone seems to be half asleep, a little strange, and just waiting for something interesting to happen to them?
Well, that’s exactly the kind of town that our hero of this next book, 11-year-old Paul Marconi, has found himself growing up in. Bellwood is quiet, just a little strange, and SO BORING!
When a bratwurst competition that your parents are entering, and your best friend getting a younger sister ruining your single-kids-only club are the highlight of your week, you start to hope for something big to change all that!
Fortunately, that weird change comes, in the form of hundreds of rubber duckies appearing in Mr. Babbage’s backyard.
Finally! Something for Paul to do in this town!
It’s a fun little mystery that makes Paul’s plight as a kid in a sleepy town, about to enter teenage-hood, feel that much more real as a reader.
I don’t know if this book was made specifically to call out the Midwest, but it’s certainly a fun read for kids, for sure!
- A fun, likable main character that anyone can get behind!
- The town is painted in vividly excruciating boring detail. While that might be bad in some other books, it only helps enhance Paul and his friend’s energy!
- This is a light, fun mystery for kids to try to work out as they read!
- It’s an easy mystery to solve, once you have all the pieces.
So, which book will you or your young detective read first?
Frequently Asked Questions
What Age Range Does Middle School/Tween Books Cover?
Tween books cover an age group between 8 and 12/13 years old.
Are Murder Mysteries Appropriate For Tweens?
That almost entirely depends on the author and the overall tone of the book. Kids at this age are likely going to be able to handle the idea of character deaths better than younger audiences.
Still, make sure that the content of the books outside the murder-mystery case is still age appropriate.
So, hard-boiled, gritty noir detectives and their stories are officially off the reading list for kids at this age!