The best middle grade mysteries for kids who love riddles and puzzles

Who am I?

I’ve always enjoyed puzzles, riddles, and games that involve using logical reasoning to solve. I’ve read many mysteries, for both adults and children, over the years, and my favorite kinds are the ones where the reader can play “detective” right along with the main character. That means that they often involve clues that are more like riddles or puzzles. My own middle-grade novel, Seven Riddles to Nowhere, was designed to have this same kind of “play along” effect.

I wrote...

7 Riddles to Nowhere

By A.J. Cattapan,

Book cover of 7 Riddles to Nowhere

What is my book about?

All seventh grader Kameron Boyd wants is to keep his little Catholic school from closing. It's the only school where they've made life as a selective mute somewhat bearable. As the school faces financial distress, Kam learns he is one of many potential heirs to a fortune large enough to keep his school open.

With the school’s bully as one of the other competitors, Kam and his friends race to solve the riddles first. Their journey takes them through the churches of Chicago to decipher the hidden meanings in artwork all while avoiding the mysterious men following them. But creepy men in trench coats won't stop them! They're on a quest--not only to keep the school open but to help Kam recover his voice.

The books I picked & why

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The Westing Game

By Ellen Raskin,

Book cover of The Westing Game

Why this book?

The Westing Game is a riddle-solving mystery book that I used to read with my middle school students when I taught reading to a combined fifth and sixth-grade class. They loved trying to solve the pieces of this puzzle along with the characters. In this classic mystery book, sixteen people, who all live in the same apartment building, attend the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. They are shocked to learn that one of them is actually Westing’s murderer. They are paired up and given a set of clues. The heir to Westing’s fortune will be the one to discover the murderer. 

The Mysterious Benedict Society

By Trenton Lee Stewart, Carson Ellis (illustrator),

Book cover of The Mysterious Benedict Society

Why this book?

I had the pleasure of meeting the author Trenton Lee Stewart when he came to visit one of the schools I used to teach at. He read a portion of the first book in The Mysterious Benedict Society series, and I knew right away this was a book my students and I would enjoy. The main character is an orphan named Reynie, whose tutor shows him an ad in the paper looking for “gifted children.” At his tutor’s prompting, Reynie decides to apply for this program. After passing a very peculiar “entrance exam,” Reynie is inducted into the Mysterious Benedict Society, where he and other very bright children must solve a series of riddles and puzzles in order to thwart a mad scientist with evil intentions.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

By Chris Grabenstein,

Book cover of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

Why this book?

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library was recommended to me by a bookstore employee who knew I had a love for riddles and middle-grade books. This is definitely a book for anyone who loves children’s literature and solving puzzles. The main character Kyle loves playing board games designed by his hero Luigi Lemoncello. When Mr. Lemoncello designs a new library in Kyle’s town, a special contest is held to celebrate the library’s grand opening. Kyle wins a spot in this “lock-in” contest where twelve students are locked into the library at night. The winner must solve a series of riddles (all based on books and libraries) in order to escape from the library.

When You Reach Me

By Rebecca Stead,

Book cover of When You Reach Me

Why this book?

Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that there’s a surprise twist in this book that completely caught me off guard—and, as a mystery writer myself, I usually catch onto these things so it’s hard to surprise me! The story seems pretty ordinary at first. Miranda is a sixth-grader in the 1970s, and her mom is slated to be a contestant on a game show. While Miranda helps her mom prep for her appearance, mysterious notes that seem to predict the future start appearing. To make matters worse, her best friend dumps her, and her hidden apartment key is stolen. Miranda must solve the mystery behind these notes in order to avoid impending doom.

Chasing Vermeer

By Blue Balliett, Brett Helquist (illustrator),

Book cover of Chasing Vermeer

Why this book?

This story takes place in my hometown of Chicago near the campus of the University of Chicago, and I’ve taken my own sixth-grade students on a field trip to a museum located right on this campus. Chasing Vermeer is about two sixth graders, Petra and Calder, who join forces when a painting by the artist Vermeer disappears. They have to solve a number of mathematical puzzles and connect a series of rather random events to see if they can uncover an international art scandal.

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