The best middle grade mystery novels that begin with a document

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?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Parker Inheritance

Luisana Duarte Armendáriz Why did I love 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.

By Varian Johnson,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Parker Inheritance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

When Candice finds a letter in an old attic in Lambert, South Carolina,
she isn't sure she should read it. It's addressed to her grandmother,
who left the town in shame. But the letter describes
a young woman. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery
enfolding its writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who
solves the puzzle.

So with the help of Brandon, the quiet boy across the street, she
begins to decipher the clues. The challenge will lead them deep
into Lambert's history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and
one great love; and deeper into…


Book cover of When You Reach Me

Luisana Duarte Armendáriz Why did I love 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. 

By Rebecca Stead,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked When You Reach Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Miranda's life is starting to unravel. Her best friend, Sal, gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The key that Miranda's mum keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives:
'I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own.
I ask two favours. First, you must write me a letter.'

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realises that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she…


Book cover of The Mysterious Benedict Society

Luisana Duarte Armendáriz Why did I love 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.

By Trenton Lee Stewart, Carson Ellis (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Mysterious Benedict Society as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

"Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?"When this peculiar ad appears in the newspaper, dozens of children enroll to take a series of mysterious, mind-bending tests. (And you, dear reader, can test your wits right alongside them.) But in the end just four very special children will succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and resourceful children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules.As our heroes face physical and…


Book cover of The Westing Game

Luisana Duarte Armendáriz Why did I love 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. 

By Ellen Raskin,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Westing Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

A Newbery Medal Winner

"A supersharp mystery...confoundingly clever, and very funny." —Booklist, starred review

 

A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger—and a possible murderer—to inherit his vast fortune, on things for sure: Sam Westing may be dead…but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!

Winner of the Newbery Medal
Winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award
An ALA Notable Book
 

 

"Great fun for those who enjoy illusion, word play, or sleight…


Book cover of Chasing Vermeer

Luisana Duarte Armendáriz Why did I love 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.   

By Blue Balliett, Brett Helquist (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Chasing Vermeer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

This bewitching first novel is a puzzle, wrapped in a mystery, disguised as an adventure and delivered as a work of art. When a book of inexplicable occurences bring Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay together, strange things start to happen- seemingly unrelated events connect, an eccentric old woman seeks their company, and an invaluable Vermeer painting disappears. Before they know it, the two find themselves at the centre of an international art scandal. As Petra and Calder are drawn clue by clue into a mysterious labyrinth they must draw on their powers of intuition, their skills at problem solving, and…


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The City Sings Green & Other Poems About Welcoming Wildlife

By Erica Silverman, Ginnie Hsu (illustrator),

Book cover of The City Sings Green & Other Poems About Welcoming Wildlife

Erica Silverman Author Of Wake Up, City!

New book alert!

Who am I?

I am an award-winning author of picture books and early readers. I have set my stories in many kinds of locations, including a haunted house, an Eastern European shtetl, an English Renaissance village, and a working cattle ranch. For Wake Up, City, I turned to the setting I know best, the city. I drew on memories of walking to kindergarten in early morning Brooklyn. This book is my love song to cities everywhere. As a lifelong city dweller, I worry about the impact of urban spread on the planet, but I feel hopeful, too, because many cities are becoming more nature and wildlife-friendly. The books I'm excited to share celebrate city wildlife. 

Erica's book list on celebrating cities

What is my book about?

A unique and artful blend of poetry, science, and activism, this picture book shows how city dwellers can intervene so that nature can work her magic.

In Oslo, Norway: citizens create a honeybee highway that stretches from one side of the city to the other, offering flowerpots, resting spots, bee boxes, and beehives—even water fountains—every eight hundred feet.

In the Bronx, New York: a community rallies to clean their river and cheers at the return of the long-lost beaver population.

In Busselton, Australia: people make a rope bridge that swings high above speeding cars, creating a safe path for tree-hopping possums and squirrels alike.

Through a mix of lyrical poems, real-life success stories, and bouquet-bright artwork, The City Sings Green explores the environmental impact of humans and showcases the many ways that we can rewild cities across the globe. Together, we can welcome nature back!

The City Sings Green & Other Poems About Welcoming Wildlife

By Erica Silverman, Ginnie Hsu (illustrator),

What is this book about?

A unique and artful blend of poetry, science, and activism, this picture book shows how city dwellers can intervene so that nature can work her magic. Perfect for fans of The Curious Garden and Harlem Grown.

In Oslo, Norway: citizens create a honey-bee highway that stretches from one side of the city to the other, offering flowerpots, resting spots, bee boxes and beehives-even water fountains-every 800 feet.

In the Bronx, New York: a community rallies to clean their river and cheers at the return of the long-lost beaver population.

In Busselton, Australia: people make a rope bridge that swings high…


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