Book Hooks: What’s the Mystery

Finding the clues to books that your kid and teen will like may be easier than you think. If you’re trying to solve the mystery of getting your child or teen to spend more time with a book, the answer just might be to start reading aloud a mystery.

No, really. Mysteries pique our curiosity in ways other stories don’t. Why? Because we like closure. Cliffhangers and the unknown push us to keep going. We want to know what happened or “whodunnit.” Police dramas are only one kind of mystery, but their popularity helps set the context for why mysteries can work with young readers.

In the 2014-2015 season, nearly 29% of scripted television shows were crime shows. The 10-year average is 22%, and seven of the 15-most watched shows last year were crime dramas.

It’s safe to say that the kinds of books we like to read are likely to be similar to the kinds of scripted content we like to watch.

Oh, and the secrets! Finding them and seeing what happens when they are exposed adds a layer of satisfaction to reading a story. When a reader knows something a character doesn’t, they want to know what to do with that information. It’s hard to just sit on it. Instantly, they want to know where it fits or when the character will see what they see. 

3 Tips to Cracking the Case of the “Reluctant Reader”

Try one – or all! – of these tips to help your striving reader see just how fun reading can be!

  • Find a mystery about something they already love: sports, gaming, ghosts, magic. There’s sure to be a mystery story built around it.
  • Read one chapter aloud. Just one. It doesn’t have to be bedtime. Read it at the breakfast table. Just one chapter. Then do it again tomorrow. By the third or fourth day, they’ll keep reading it on their own. 
  • Get the audiobook! When you’re out on the road – commute to school, trip to the soccer match – play or stream the audiobook through the car speakers.

Easy Readers | Illustrated Chapter

easy reader ghost storyDirk Bones and the Mystery of the Haunted House
written and illustrated by Doug Cushman

When the ghosts on Ghoul Street start complaining about living in a haunted house, Dirk Bones is given the task of writing an article for the newspaper. What could it be that’s scaring the ghosts?


doll bones holly blackDoll Bones
by Holly Black

Poppy Bell, Alice Magnaye, and Zachary Barlow are 12 years old and have been best friends for years. It seems like they may be growing apart, so Poppy plans one more round of their favorite game: creating make-believe stories with dolls and action figures.

The adventure begins when Poppy tells Alice and Zach that her mother’s china doll spoke to her in a dream, threatening to haunt her if she doesn’t return the doll to the grave and bury it with the rest of her family … in the next state over.


humpty dumpty chapter bookHumpty Dumpty Jr: Hardboiled Detective (3-book series)
written by Nate Evans and Paul Hindman, illustrated by Vince Evans 

Summary: The Fiendish Flapjack: “Johnny” Cakes (a pancake gangster) escaped from prison. His first stop? Pat-a-Cake Bakery … to kidnap Patty herself! While Humpty’s surveying the crime scene, a new rodent arrives on the scene: Rat, a street-wise boy who eats breakfast at the bakery every day. Together, Humpty and Rat vow to save Patty, but they weren’t prepared for what “Johnny” Cakes planned to dish out. 

kid mystery funnyPlatypus Police Squad (4-book series)
written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Detective Rick Zengo has been waiting his whole life for this. His first day of work on the Platypus Police Squad. While “Zengo” and his partner Corey O’Malley are getting acquainted (and it isn’t going well!), they have a case: They’ve got a gym bag with illegal fish, and Zengo is convinced that Frank Pandini, a huge PPS benefactor, has his paws all over this. Can he prove it? or is his personal prejudice against Pandini clouding his judgement.


illustrated kid mysteryThe Trouble with Chickens: A J.J. Tully Mystery (2-book series)
written by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell

Retirement is supposed to be quiet, right? and relaxing … right? Well, that’s what retired search and rescue dog J.J. Tully thought, too. He tries to explain that to Dirt, Sugar, and their mom when they come to him with a missing chicks case.

But then they said the magic word: Cheeseburger. How could he not help them find their kidnapped kin if there is a cheeseburger at the end? Easy Cheesy – except the clues seem to make this case harder to solve. How can that be?

zapato power jacqueline julesZapato Power (7-book series)
written by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Miguel Benítez

Freddie Ramos receives a mysterious gift. A pair of shoes that give him superpowers! While he’s trying to figure out where the shoes came from, he is helping other people along the way.


Middle Grade

The Blackthorn Key (5-book series)
by Kevin Sands

In 1600s London, the streets were perilous. Christopher Rowe (14), apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn is learning just how dangerous. Apothecaries throughout London are being struck by a vicious murderer, and Christopher knows it is only time before his master’s store becomes a target.

Working with his friend Tom, they follow the evidence, decipher the puzzles, and work to decode the clues … all the while dodging conspiracies and other untrustworthy characters.


Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation (2-book series)
by Stuart Gibbs

Einstein knew that the mathematical equation could be used for good or evil. So he hid it really well! When the CIA learns that a terrorist group is looking for it, they go to the one person who can help: 12-year-old Charlotte “Charlie” Thorne. Charlie is your average preteen, except for the fact that has an IQ that rivals Einstein’s and is already in college!

So it’s Charlie vs. the terrorists who want to build bombs powerful enough to blow up countries. The fate of the world rests on Charlie’s shoulders. No pressure. 


fish finelli farberFish Finelli (3-book series)
written by E.S. Farber, illustrated by Jason Beene

It’s summer vacation, and one of Fish’s “jobs” is to entertain his little sister. So Fish and his friends Roger and T.J. take Feenie and her friends on an old whaler to play Pirate. When Fish and his friends get teased by Bryce Billings, Fish tries to cover it up saying they were making a dry run to find Captain Kidd’s Treasure.

Pushed a little further, Fish bets Bryce that he and his friends are going to find Captain Kidd’s lost treasure! And they have exactly 2 weeks to do it. Just as they’re getting started, the boys discover that the library director may be on the same hunt. Can they possibly get there first?

nonfiction middle gradeTwo Truths and a Lie (3-book series)
written by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Lisa K. Webber

Each chapter comprises three stories. Two are truths, the third is a lie made up by the authors. The lie is especially convincing because it is based on an actual event, place, or person, but with one or two important details skewed or made up.

The book actively encourages doing research to determine which story is false, and even includes its own research guide for those who do not know where to begin. An answer guide (in the back) provides more details for the stories and quizzes.


middle grade wholesome mysteryCoop Knows the Scoop
by Taryn Souders

Cooper “Coop” Goodman lives with his grandfather and his mom, who owns A Latte Books, a favorite gathering spot for the locals in this small Georgia town. Coop and his best friends, twins Justice and Liberty Gordon, LOVE mysteries, so when they heard that a body was found buried under the swings at the old playground, they wanted in on the case. 

Then comes the surprise: the body is Coop’s grandmother, Tabby; and Gramps is the prime suspect in her murder. In the process of proving that Gramps didn’t kill his wife, Coop and his friends uncover other town secrets … and someone who doesn’t want them exposing them!


girls who codeSecret Coders (6-book series)
written by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Mike Holmes

Ask Hopper and she’ll tell you Stately Academy looks absolutely haunted! It’s not that other students make fun of her or her boring classes. It’s something else she just can’t put her finger on. The owls have strange eyes, there’s a locked building, a weird janitor, and… secrets.

Everywhere you turn there are puzzles and mysteries for the students to solve. Hopper gains her confidence when she starts to solve them with her new friend, Eni. Using their coding skills, they set out together to discover and find out the secrets that lie within Stately Academy.

Young Adult

ya thriller mysteryOne of Us Is Lying (2-book series)
by Karen M. McManus

Detention. Bayview High. Five students walk in. Only four come out. Simon, the creator of the famous school gossip app, suddenly dies. In the classroom. And it wasn’t an accident. Fingers are pointing at everyone in the room with him: Bronwyn, Addy, Nate, and Cooper.

In investigating the crime, each of the teens takes us into their minds to explain what really happened. The case reveals dangerous situations and teen humiliation showing their innocence. Secrets are uncovered, and people may not be who they seem to be. In trying to solve this case, the town has gone wild. Are these teens telling the truth? Is one of them lying?  Have they been framed?


latinx mystery young adultChasing the Jaguar
by Michele Dominguez Greene

The only thing Martika Galves and Jennifer Colton have in common is that they are high school students getting ready for finals. That changes when Jennifer is kidnapped and Martika starts having dreams that let her see what Jennifer sees. After Martika explains this to her mom, Aurelia takes her to Tiá Tellín, a curandera (a Mayan medicine woman).

From her aunt, Martika learns that she, like her ancestors, has special gifts. With Tiá Tellín’s guidance and the help of her best friend Lola Lopez, Martika decides to help rescue Jennifer. But how accurate are her dreams? The kidnappers have set a deadline and time is running out.


ya mysteryThe Cheerleaders
by Kara Thomas

It’s been nearly five years since five members of the Sunnybrook High School Cheer Team died. Each within one month of the other: two killed in an accident, two murdered, one suicide. Because of the pain of losing five students, the school disbanded the team.

Monica Rayburn knew two things about the event: it wasn’t likely that her sister Jen killed herself. Second, the story that the police made public didn’t make sense. She needs answers. Real answers. With help from others, Monica Rayburn unravels bigger secrets as she searches for clues about what really happened to the members of the cheerleading team. 


dark mystery circus YAConjured
by Sarah Beth Durst

Somewhere in her past, there was a circus. A mysterious place where carousels spun, and trapeze artists flew. Eve remembers a wagon and the enchanting voice of the Storyteller who raised her. She remembers the Magician with tricks that lured children to their deaths. And she remembers running away from this serial killer and his magical schemes. She’s scavenged these puzzle pieces from nightmares in which she had button eyes and threaded lips.

Now, Eve is protected by WitSec, the organization hunting the Magician so they can bring him to justice, But as WitSec becomes more demanding of her and she is caught up in their lies and secrets, Eve wants out. She wants the truth, even if it means and coming face-to-face with her haunted past and the man she spent her life running from.


rags to riches mystery yaThe Inheritance Games (2-book series)
by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Avery Grambs is a bright 16-year-old trying her best to get through high school while also taking care of her sister and having no real place to live. When she is called into the headmaster’s office, she expects it to be for something she didn’t do (again). But it is not. She has been named a beneficiary in the will of the late Tobias Hawthorne.

Avery has no connection to the man, but he has left her his money. She and her sister Libby fly to the Hawthorne Mansion because she must be present for the reading of the will. Tobias left some money to his daughters, and $250,000 to each of his four grandsons. Avery is to receive in excess of $48 billion. There is one condition: to receive the inheritance she must live with all of the family at the Hawthorne Mansion for a full year. There is a lot for Avery to unravel as she moves into a new life – one that she isn’t quite sure she welcomes. 

mystery thriller young adultSadie
by Courtney Summers

Sadie has lived a hard life in the small town of Cold Creek. The combination of her mother being a drug addict and her own battle with stuttering has made the idea of a “normal life” difficult to imagine. The only source of happiness is her little sister Mattie. Sadie has always taken care of Maddie, so when she is found dead, life takes yet another turn for the worse.

Desperate and determined, Sadie embarks on a vengeful journey to find her sister’s killer. When West McCray (radio journalist and podcaster) hears Sadie’s story, he tracks her down. Sadie is on the run, with only one emotion: revenge. Together, McCray and Sadie are intent on finding the person who murdered Mattie. What they didn’t realize is that this astounding story is bigger than them both. 

These are just a few of the mysteries our young readers and teens have loved. If you have additional suggestions, we’d love to hear them. Just add them in the comments.