The mystery genre of fiction has been with us for a good long time at this point.
Whether it’s the magical and mysterious goings-on of an old fantasy or horror setting, or the classic hard-boiled detectives of pulp and noir stories, to even the older gentlemen detectives of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
There’s a wide range of mysteries out there for people to enjoy, that’s for sure!
So, why is it that, when thinking of mystery books and stories that kids might enjoy, it’s so difficult?
That’s a question that we hope to answer in this guide.
Not only will we answer that exact question, but we’ll also provide just the antidote: 10 remarkable mystery books that children of almost any age will be able to appreciate and enjoy (Know some slightly older readers? Check out our guide to Mystery Books for Tweens here). From tots to teens, we have you covered here!
Why So Few Kid’s Mystery Books?
Well, to be fair, I should probably come a little clean, and say that the idea that there are next to no children’s mystery stories is kind of a white lie.
There are a few mystery books that are suitable for kids. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a list to show!
However, when compared to the many bright, light, and fantastical works that we normally associate with children’s literature, the mystery doesn’t seem to get the same press as, say, fantasy, as an example.
For me, this likely comes down to both an aspect of marketing, as well as the way that we as parents, and more widely as adults, tend to categorize fiction as good or unsuitable for kids.
When we think of more niche genre fiction or books like mystery, crime, and even horror, we tend to associate them with more adult themes.
Again, the gritty, often sensationalized violence of Dan Adams, the horrific works of H. P. Lovecraft, and so on.
These are stories that seem so far removed, and potentially even traumatizing for kids, that it would be dangerous to let them view them.
Mystery, an aspect so regularly wrapped up in both, also falls into this category sometimes.
However, when it comes to allowing our kids to grow, this might not be the best approach.
After all, children are expected to grow and learn more about the world around them, and fiction is one of the safest ways to do that.
After all, if something upsets them, we can just put the book down!
We aren’t advocating for showing your kids Casablanca, A Case In Scarlet, or It at a young age.
But the core elements of those works (the sometimes less pleasant side of life, the sometimes scary things in our minds and the world, and, of course, the curiosity to unravel a mystery) are things that all kids could, and maybe even should be encouraged to learn about in as safe a way as possible.
It’s something that the best children’s mystery books understand very well, as my list will hopefully show for you!
Starting off our list strong, we have a great book that is perfect for kids between the ages of 8 and 12 to pick up and start reading.
Harley James, amateur explorer and cryptologist, has made the discovery of the century in the hot Guatemalan jungle: A legendary statue of an old Mayan King.
However, just as Harley is getting ready to show her dad her amazing discovery, the statue is stolen from her room!
As Harley tries to find out what happened to her discovery, and who exactly stole it, she also discovers that if this statue is reunited with two others, the three Mayan lings will be brought back to the world, and conquer it with an army of the undead.
So, you know, no pressure Harley!
This is a great mystery book that is sure to engage your child’s imagination.
Not only is the plot hook interesting, and the main character someone that young readers can relate to, but the many riddles and puzzles that are littered throughout the book are sure to get the cogs in your little one’s heads turning!
If you’re looking for the perfect book to help your kids start reading on their own, this is an easy recommendation from me, as well as the rest of the series that goes along with it!
- Easy to read for kids between 8 and 12.
- Engaging story, as well as plenty of puzzling mysteries for kids to follow and figure out for themselves.
- Some great illustrations to keep your kids visually engaged too!
- There are a surprising amount of typos in this book. It might be worth making sure that your kid’s reading skills are up to scratch to avoid confusion!
Sherlock Holmes In The Hound Of The Baskervilles: A BabyLit Sounds Primer, By Jennifer Adams & Alison Oliver
Remember how earlier in this guide, I mentioned how you couldn’t exactly show just any old Sherlock Holmes story to a baby, and expect it to come out okay?
Well, I may have to eat my words. Because it looks like the amazing pairing of Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver has found a way to translate at least one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s works into a child-friendly version.
And not just older kids, either, but very young little ones too!
This book turns one of Sherlock Holmes’s most iconic cases into a story that is made to get young kids interested in reading.
For a little perspective, the target audience is babies and toddlers from 1 to 3 years old, that’s how young we’re talking about here!
Reading through this visually appealing version of an otherwise serious and sinister story is the perfect way to introduce little ones to classic literature.
You’ll make young readers out of them yet with this one!
- The perfect book for little children from 1 to 3 years old!
- Breaks down this classic story into simple, yet captivating phrases and sentences for your young ones to absorb.
- Illustrations are great for keeping young children visually engaged.
- While great for helping your baby learn new words, we’re not entirely sure about the educational uses for this book outside of this.
One of the things that many parents often worry about, when trying to find the best ways to stimulate their kid’s imagination and reading skills, is figuring out how you can get your child away from the computer game screen, and perhaps reading a book or two!
Now, while I would say that video games are a surprisingly good way of encouraging your kids to learn to read (seriously, have you seen some of those games out there? They’re walls of text!), we might just have the perfect book for them!
Our bright-eyed protagonist, young Kyle Keeley, is a big fan of pretty much any kind of game that you can think of, whether they’re computer games, board games, card games, or anything else.
So, when he finds out that the titular legendary Mr. Luigi Lemoncello, a world-renowned game maker, will be designing the new library in Kyle’s town, and that Kyle is one of a limited few kids invited to the grand opening, he’s about as excited as any child about to meet their hero would be.
With food and drinks, and plenty of amazing puzzles to try, the overnight adventure goes great at first for Kyle and the other kids.
But when morning clocks around, and the library doors remain closed, they’re going to have to put their heads together to figure out the secret exit for themselves!
With a bright colorful cast of characters to go alongside our main hero, this story is packed full of puzzles and mysteries for your kid to start unraveling along with their new favorite characters.
If your child is a fan of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but wants something that teases the brain a little better, this is the book to do it with!
- A simple plot, filled with challenging questions and puzzles for your little one!
- Great characters that your kids are sure to love.
- There may be some literary or character references that will go over your kid’s heads, depending on how old they are.
This one is a great book for those kids that are just nuts about animals.
Which, to be fair, applies to most kids, now that I think about it!
It’s Horace the elephant’s eleventh birthday, so he decides to throw the best costumed birthday party with all of his friends that he can.
The party is going great, until tragedy strikes.
No, nobody has been murdered. It’s worse: The giant and amazing birthday feast has been stolen!
Who is responsible for this terrible party-crashing caper? Well, that’s what Horace, and the reader, need to find out in this fast-pased novel.
Putting aside the literary genius of having the main character a type of animal with impeccable attention to detail and memory (an elephant never forgets, after all), one of the things that struck me when checking out this book was the illustrations. They were great back in 1993, and they’re still great now!
The perfect book for kids of pretty much any age!
- Simple concept and mystery that is well-executed.
- Delightful illustrations throughout the book.
- Great for a variety of ages, from 5 to 11!
- The mystery might be a little difficult to unravel, even for adults!
If you’re of a certain generation of adults or parents (basically anyone over the age of 25), there’s a good chance that you were introduced to mystery novels as a child by the Nancy Drew series of books.
Well, you’ll be happy to know that these old books still hold up today, making them perfect mystery books for your children to start reading!
The Secret of the Old Clock is the first book in the series and perfectly introduces the titular teen detective.
The millionaire Josiah Crawley has recently passed away, and his will seems to be missing from the whole situation.
Nancy realizes that something isn’t quite adding up, and is tasked with finding out where exactly it may have gone.
Realizing that a missing clock that Mr. Crawley owned might be the key to the case that she is looking for, the race is on to figure out where exactly it may have been taken.
It’s great to see such an iconic character be established so quickly out of the gate, on the first book, no less.
Nancy’s witty remarks and razor-sharp detective skills are easy to get behind, but her overall age and background still make her an underdog that you can get behind.
So, for kids looking to start reading detective fiction, Nancy Drew and The Secret of the Old Clock is just as good now as it was back in 1930!
- A great short novel to introduce your kids to detective fiction.
- Nancy Drew is a very likable character that anyone can get behind
- The lack of red herring and major plot twists might not impress some kids.
We’re skewing a little older with this next entry, and firmly entering the territory of Young Adult fiction here.
Young Stephanie Edgley is your average 12-year-old girl living in Ireland until she finds that her horror writer and distant old uncle Gordon has left his old estate in her name, she finds herself the inheritor of an old and kind of creepy mansion.
The skeleton detective that shows up at her doorstep is also a little weird, now that you mention it.
Yep, you heard that right. A Skeleton Detective!
The titular Skulduggery Pleasant, once Stephanie gets to know him, informs her that her uncle’s death may not have been so accidental after all. And just like that, the plot thickens…
Full of wit and a distinct authorial voice, this book series is perfect for kids looking for a mix between Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter!
- A great introduction for older children to both urban fantasy and the detective genre!
- Full of likable and enjoyable characters
- This is a book intended for older kids, 9+. Younger children are probably going to struggle with this one.
So, which of these intriguing books do you think your kids will enjoy?
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Cut-Off Age For A Kid’s Book?
Based on the range of books that I’ve selected here, it’s safe to assume that ‘kid’s books’ include anyone from 1 up to around 13 or 14.
At which point, you’re starting to encroach on YA territory, as Skulduggery Pleasant does.
What Age Group Are A To Z Mystery Books Made For?
This particular type of book is made for helping kids learn about the alphabet, and is made for ages 5 to 8.
- 20 Must-Read Genre-Blending Literary Fiction Books - May 26, 2023
- 32 Gripping Epic Fantasy Books To Transport You To Another World - May 26, 2023
- 12 Books Like Red, White, And Royal Blue You Will Love - May 17, 2023