The best middle grade mystery novels that begin with a document

Luisana Duarte Armendáriz Author Of Julieta and the Diamond Enigma
By Luisana Duarte Armendáriz

Who am I?

I’ve been a lover of mystery stories since I became an independent reader. I still have my first copy of Sherlock Holmes’ adventures, a Santillana abridged version in Spanish, which is now in tatters because of how much I read it. When I started writing for children, I never imagined myself as an author of mysteries, but as I began developing my first story, my central character and the plot begged to be a mystery. Since I’m also passionate about research—currently in grad school for an English Ph.D.—I’m mesmerized by the cultural cosmos that can be imbued into stories, so I try to share knowledge through interesting tidbits. 


I wrote...

Julieta and the Diamond Enigma

By Luisana Duarte Armendáriz,

Book cover of Julieta and the Diamond Enigma

What is my book about?

Nine-year-old Julieta is finally about to put a purple pin in her family's world-traveling map! She's off to Paris to help her art-handler dad collect pieces for a new exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Sadly, they must leave Julieta's very pregnant mother behind, but they're sure they'll be back before the baby is born. Julieta sees the best of Paris: the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré-Coeur, and plenty of great art. But things go awry when she and Dad walk in on a thief stealing the Louvre's most prized piece—a priceless cursed diamond with a shady history. When Julieta runs for help, she accidentally frees the thief instead! Now, Dad's job is in danger and he's become a suspect. Can Julieta determine who the thief really is before it's too late?

The books I picked & why

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The Parker Inheritance

By Varian Johnson,

Book cover of The Parker Inheritance

Why this book?

I love mysterious letters. And if these lead to a series of cascading events and a beautifully developed puzzle, the better. The Parker Inheritance not only includes these elements, but also takes readers on a journey to the past. When Candice finds a letter addressed to her grandmother, who was run out of town, she’s unsure if she should read it. However, when she reads about an injustice committed decades ago, she decides to decipher the clues in the letter and, along with Brandon (her neighbor), uncover the town’s hidden past.


When You Reach Me

By Rebecca Stead,

Book cover of When You Reach Me

Why this book?

Time-travel mystery? Yes, please! Miranda has been receiving letters from a stranger, who knows the future. When her mother is invited to participate in the $20,000 Dollar Pyramid, Miranda can no longer ignore the fact that her secret correspondent does in fact know the future. When You Reach Me takes place in New York during 1978 and 1979 and follows the ‘ordinary sixth-grader’ as she races against time to possibly prevent a death she has been warned about by the mysterious letter-writer. 


The Mysterious Benedict Society

By Trenton Lee Stewart, Carson Ellis (illustrator),

Book cover of The Mysterious Benedict Society

Why this book?

“Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?” This is the message on a cryptic ad that Reynie’s tutor finds in the newspaper. After spending the weekend to determine if, in fact, he is a gifted child, Reynie meets three other special children—who are alone in the world—and are taken to Mr. Benedict’s school. Here, they learn that the world is more dangerous than they previously imagined. At the institute, they prepare, along with other children with extraordinary gifts and talents to become spies and vanquish evil-doers.


The Westing Game

By Ellen Raskin,

Book cover of The Westing Game

Why this book?

A children’s mystery book classic and winner of the 1978 Newbery medal, The Westing Game is the only murder mystery I'm recommending. When the newly-moved-in tenants of the Westing Estate are invited to a will reading, they are read Samuel W. Westing’s obituary and invited to play a game to discover the murder’s culprit. With an outrageous cast of characters and layers of puzzles, The Westing Game is the perfect mystery book for puzzle lovers. 


Chasing Vermeer

By Blue Balliett, Brett Helquist (illustrator),

Book cover of Chasing Vermeer

Why this book?

Letters from unknown senders always spark my curiosity. And books about stolen art are my jam. Chasing Vermeer brings three strangers together when they all receive a letter asking for help to solve the mystery of a stolen Vermeer painting. But, they can’t go to the authorities or they could be in grave danger. This book is perfect for puzzle lovers and code-breaking aficionados who along with Petra and Calder will solve pentominoes to receive clues that will solve the puzzle.   


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