The best middle grade mystery books with heart that take place in the real (but seemingly fantastical) world

Courtney King Walker Author Of Molly Pepper & the Night Train
By Courtney King Walker

The Books I Picked & Why

When You Reach Me

By Rebecca Stead

Book cover of When You Reach Me

Why this book?

This sweet story is more of a subtle mystery, with puzzles and clues that seem unrelated but come together for a surprising, even bittersweet, end. I love quiet contemporary stories that hint of mystery but also tug at my heart, that make impossible things in a regular world seem possible. This might be the best combination of mystery, puzzles, and character development for middle grade that I’ve ever read.

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The Westing Game

By Ellen Raskin

Book cover of The Westing Game

Why this book?

The quintessential mystery from my childhood that ignited my love for riddles and sent my imagination flying. With its creepy old house, a worm-filled corpse, an apartment filled with eccentric characters, and a plucky, inquisitive protagonist named Turtle, this book is the gold standard for middle grade mystery. It’s the kind of story that makes a kid feel like their voice and perspective is needed in a world filled with not-always-discerning adults. It also has one of the best riddles of all time that to this day still makes me smile whenever I hear a certain patriotic song.

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Book Scavenger

By Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Book cover of Book Scavenger

Why this book?

As much about friendship as it is about solving puzzles, Book Scavenger definitely has heart. One thing I especially love about this story is how each character uses their unique personality to help solve the big mystery while at the same time proving their loyalty when things get rough. Sure, you assume that the main character, Emily, will solve the clues before the bad guys do, but the best stories give us a glimpse of true character and heart. They make us wish we could be so lucky to fall into such a fun mystery, but also give us hope that we too might have or be the kind of friend who would drop everything for each other, even if that means putting our own dreams on hold.

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Nooks & Crannies

By Jessica Lawson, Natalie Andrewson

Book cover of Nooks & Crannies

Why this book?

This story differs from the others on my list, as it takes place in England in the early twentieth century. Setting and time period aside, the plucky main character Tabitha along with her pet rat and fellow detective (in her mind) steal the show and our hearts. We can’t help but root for her despite all she comes up against and all who belittle her as she follows clues in her unique and endearing manner through a giant and possibly haunted estate. Nooks & Crannies does a fine job balancing humor and wit with more serious subjects such as murder and abuse, and is sure to appeal to fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

By Chris Grabenstein

Book cover of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

Why this book?

What I enjoyed most about this clever, clue-filled book was its not-so-subtle nod to so many of my favorite children’s books. The excitement for a game taking place inside a library chockfull of outrageous tricks and clever surprises will be fun for any reader, but what drew me most into the heart of the story is the idea that the best books stay with us for a lifetime. Which is why I’m convinced Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is actually the author’s love note to children’s fiction. A fun, puzzle-filled one at that.

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