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Parent Guide to Book Genres: Mystery, Detective, and Spy Fiction

Captivate your child with gripping whodunits that will keep him turning the pages.

Learning Benefits

Hover over each Learning Benefit below for a detailed explanation.
Logic and Reasoning
Problem Solving
Critical Thinking
Reading Comprehension

Plot-driven tales of intrigue are great for building a habit of reading, since most kids will have a hard time putting down a well-constructed story until they find out what happens. Allow your child's preference for contemporary, historical, or fantasy books to guide his choices toward topics and characters that will fascinate him.

Why They're Worthwhile
Due to their suspenseful nature, high-quality mysteries keep readers' brains constantly working to decode and analyze the events. This active reading will prepare your child not only for future pleasure reading, but tackling textbooks, nonfiction, or even the newspaper!

Talking the Talk

  • Engage your child as much as possible while he's reading the book. Ask her questions: What do you think will happen? Who seems suspicious? Compare what's going on to current events where relevant. After each chapter or section, ask her to guess what's going to happen. When she finishes the book, compare what she thought would happen with the actual outcome.

Beyond the Books
Mysteries offer many ways to keep your child thinking about the story. Try one of these options to explore it further:

  • For books based on actual characters, objects, and events, give your child the tools to delve further into what inspired the story. For example, Chasing Vermeer is a tale of two kids trying to figure out who created a painting. Get a book about Vermeer and look further at his paintings. Or even go to see an actual Vermeer painting!
  • Create a simple problem for your child to figure out, and see if he can do it by employing techniques he learned while reading. Tell her that you're thinking of a particular object or person and play a game of 20 questions — where you can only give yes or no answers — to test her detective skills.
  •  If there's a current mystery or detective case going on in your area, challenge her to set up a detective notebook to track what's happening in the newspaper.
  • Engage your child with fun sleuthing crafts and activities. Build a time capsule, write secret messages in various ways, such as through sign language or invisible ink, and learn to create and crack codes using different methods like online games, Morse code and code books - encourage her to come up with her own codes too.    

Top Titles to Try

Start building your mystery bookshelf with these standouts - from timeless classics spanning generations of readers like The Boxcar Children series to well-loved popular contemporaries like The Alex Rider series, this genre stretches far and wide, giving your little detective a varied selection of thrilling mysteries to solve. 

For younger readers:

  • The Young Cam Jansen Mysteries series by David A. Adler. Her photographic memory and spunky personality makes Cam Jansen a detective to remember. 
  • Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard. When the worst-behaved class in the school lose their nice, soft-spoken teacher Miss Nelson, and instead get a wicked substitute, they start regretting their rowdiness and become determined to find Miss Nelson.  
  • Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity by Mo Willems. When Trixie brings her stuffed bunny to school, her teacher holds onto it until the end of the day - but when Trixie gets it back, she realizes too late that she got the wrong bunny. 
  • I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. This delightful and witty picture book follows a bear who is on a determined search to get his lost hat back. 
  • Who Ate All the Cookie Dough? by Karen Beaumont. Try to find out who is keeping Kanga from baking cookies in this yummy mystery.

For older readers:

  • The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley. Two sisters discover they are descendents of the Brothers Grimm and must continue the family mission of becoming fairy-tale detectives. 
  • The Baby-Sitters Club Mysteries series by Ann M. Martin. Join the four best friends who make up the Babysitter's Club as they tackle odd mysteries and uncover secrets. 
  • Greenglass House by Kate Milford. In this whimsical mystery, Milo discovers that the mysterious and eccentric guests showing up one by one at the old family inn are all hiding secrets and have strange connections to his house.
  • The Nancy Drew Notebooks series by Carolyn Keene. Amateur detective Nancy Drew, armed with her blue notebook, is always up for another mystery to solve. 
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. In this fun mystery with a quirky cast and a diabolical villain, four gifted children are sent on a secret mission to stop the head of a strange academy, who is planning to take over the world.

Lesser-known Wonders

For younger readers:

  • Alphabet Mystery by Audrey Wood. In this cute book, alphabet letters have come to life and must find little "x," who has run away, upset that he is rarely used in words.
  • A Day with Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce. This lively story follows a young boy exploring the house of his best friend Wilbur as they try to find Grandfather Robinson's lost dentures and encounter Wilbur's wacky family. 
  • Who Took the Cookies From the Cookie Jar? by Bonnie Lass and Philemon Sturges. This rhythmic adaptation of the classic song keeps your child guessing as Skunk questions his animal friends to figure out who took his cookies. 
  • Operation Spy School by George Edward Stanley. Adam Sharp must figure out if there's a spy at his spy school after the agency's secrets are leaked. 
  • The A to Z Mysteries series by Ron Roy. Follow along with these three smart sleuths as they solve crimes and mysteries in their small town. 

For older readers:

  • Arthur's Mystery Envelope by Marc Brown. When the principal gives Arthur a mysterious envelope to take home, he is afraid to guess what's inside.
  • Grave Images by Jenny Goebel. When creepy Mr. Stein begins working at her family's tombstone business, Bernie realizes that he engraves the headstones of people before they die, and must find out the truth behind who he really is. 
  • The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer. Set against the background of a restrictive time period, this story follows the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes as she ventures out into London to find her missing mother and evade murderous villains.
  • The Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars series by Tracy Mack. This new spin on the famous detective has a band of loyal street boys who assist Sherlock Holmes in his most dangerous and riveting cases.
  • The Nina, the Pinta, and the Vanishing Treasure by Jill Santopolo. Join the super-sleuth-in-training Alec Flint as he takes on his first case and goes undercover to find a missing museum exhibit. 

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