What’s a Tween To Do: Building a Middle-Grade Mystery Summer Reading List

No more Nancy Drew books for our tweens!
No more Nancy Drew books for our tweens!
School’s out, and your tween is ready to toss the backpack and books in a corner. But summer is a great time to discover new books, those that are not on the required reading list—and what better genre than mystery to get your kid excited about reading.

Forget about Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys—there’s a whole new selection of mysteries for the eight-to-twelve crowd, and it’s growing each season. These MG (Middle Grade) mysteries can be hard to spot though, since there’s usually no special section within the kids’ department to identify the genre. So to make it easy, here’s a list of books to consider for your tween’s summer reading stash:

The Classic MG Mystery

Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn
Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn
• Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn
If ever there was a classic MG mystery, this would be it. Seventh-grader Logan moved to a new town, only to find that there was a murder in his house. Together with neighbor kid Arthur, he goes on a search for the killer that takes him to an abandoned amusement park. Closed for the Season won an Edgar for Best Juvenile in 2010, and is an excellent choice for the reluctant reader.

• The Postcard by Tony Abbott
Another Edgar Award winner, The Postcard is a bit longer in narrative, and more suited for the ten-and-up reader. Thirteen-year-old Jason goes to St. Petersburg, Florida to help clean out his deceased grandmother’s house, and quickly gets caught in the mystery of her life, including mysterious postcards.

MG PI Stories

The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiolo
The Big Splash by Jack D. Farraiolo
• The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiolo
Noir goes to middle school in this book, featuring Matt Stevens who tries to keep the halls of Franklin Middle School free from crime. But when the school’s “crime boss” offers Matt a job he can’t refuse, he seems in over his head to stop the water gun-packing bad guys in the school. A fun MG twist on the noir PI novel; expect sequel The Quick Fix in October of 2012.

• The Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett
A modern take on the classic kids’ detective story, this book is the first in the Brixton Brothers mystery series. Twelve-year-old Steve Brixton gets caught in a mystery involving quilts, secret societies, and America’s secrets—a fun, fast-paced PI series perfect for the more reluctant reader.

Mysteries for Girls

• The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour by Michael D. Beil
Another series, this book is the first of the Red Blazer Girls stories—books that are reminiscent of Nancy Drew. Sophie and her two friends go to a private school, and quickly get caught in a scavenger hunt involving cards, math, and a boy. Great for girls, with three more in the series if you find this one is a hit with your tween.

I So Don’t Do Mysteries by Barrie Summy
I So Don’t Do Mysteries by Barrie Summy
• I So Don’t Do Mysteries by Barrie Summy
Sherry (short for Sherlock) Holmes Baldwin is going to San Diego to help her (ghost) mom solve a crime involving rhinos and a crazy chef. She’d rather be hanging with her friends and going to the mall, but Sherry steps up to do a Nancy Drew. Fun, snappy dialogue for your girl reader; probably best for ages ten and up. There are now 4 in the series, including I So Don’t Do Spooky, Makeup, and Famous.

Ghostly Mysteries

• The Black Heart Crypt by Chris Grabenstein
This is the fourth in Grabenstein’s Haunted Mysteries series; The Black Heart Crypt was nominated for an Agatha in 2012. It’s the story of Zack, who has to fight ghosts on Halloween—ghosts that have murder in mind on the one night a year when they can come close enough to the human plane. The humor, fast pace, and fun characters make this series great for your reluctant reader tween.

• Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison
Gilda Joyce wants to communicate with spirits from the other side—especially once she visits her family in San Francisco who are tormented by a ghost. Gilda is a gutsy go-getter who takes her psychic investigating very seriously. The story is fun but also resonates—a perfect series with many more books for your middle-grader to continue with.


Mysteries with Literary Flair

• Tangerine by Edward Bloor
This is a classic that may even be on your tween’s required reading list. The story follows Paul, a kid who just moved to Florida and is forever standing in his jock brother Steve’s shadow. But there’s a mystery to solve, something Paul can’t seem to put his finger on. . . Tangerine is a great example of how a mix of literary and mystery can make a perfect book—it’s a worthy read for all ages.

Vanished by Sheela Chari
Vanished by Sheela Chari
• Vanished by Sheela Chari
An Edgar nominee for Best Juvenile in 2012, Vanished is the story of Neela who loses her beloved veena, an instrument from India given to her by her grandmother. Neela goes on a hunt for clues to find it, taking her all the way to India and a mysterious curse. A great coming-of-age story entwined in a mystery—a book best for your more patient, pensive reader.

A final note on selecting MG mysteries: don’t judge a book by its cover. Unlike mysteries written for adults, MG books tend to have images of their protagonist on the cover—but note that a boy or girl on the cover doesn’t mean that book is gender-specific.

And consider reading some of these titles yourself. You wouldn’t be the first adult hooked on kids’ books. . .  What are you encouraging your tween to read this summer?

F.T. Bradley’s debut Double Vision (Harper Children’s, October 2012) is the first in the MG mystery/thriller series featuring Linc Baker. Follow her blog YA Sleuth and Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor for YA and MG mystery news.


  1. Allison Brennan

    Fabulous list! I need books for my 9 year old daughter who is a HUGE reader and loves mysteries. Nancy Drew is just too out-dated, and I don’t like the new releases as much.

  2. taragel

    One of my favorite middle grade mystery series (and I’m 36!) is Peter Abrahams’ excellent Echo Falls trilogy featuring the completely fantastic and clever Ingrid Levin-Hill, who aspires to be like a mini Sherlock Holmes, although she’s sort of like a mini Veronica Mars to my thinking. Ingrid wants to be an actress when she grows up and has a small flair for the dramatic but really she is unique and incredibly resourceful (her Grandpa often helps in that department as does her friend Joey’s dad, who happens to be the sheriff) and just generally smart and kickass. I really hope he’ll be writing more of these.

  3. F.T. Bradley

    Glad this list is useful, Allison! I love reading and writing MG mysteries.

    Peter Abrahams’ Echo Falls books are great; let’s hope we’ll see more of them. I also loved his YA Reality Check (I believe it got an Edgar nomination a few years ago).

  4. DeAnna K.

    I had my 10yo daughter take a look at the list. “I think I only want Ghostly Mysteries, mom.” We got to the first one, she read the blurb, and wants that now instead. We may end up working our way through all of them 🙂

  5. Kristin Franseen

    Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes series (which just wrapped up a year or so ago) is also fun. It stars Sherlock and Mycroft’s (much) younger 14-year old sister, who comes to London searching for their missing mother. Her being a Holmes and all, there are the requisite adventures, secret codes, and disguises, but Springer clearly shows her work in terms of research on the Victorian era. (And they’re not a bad read for adults, either!)

  6. F.T. Bradley

    Glad there’s some useful books in there, DeAnna! I’m always surprised by what my kids like to read (still haven’t figured it out 🙂

    I’ll have to read the Enola Holmes! Nancy Springer is one of my favorite authors.

  7. Barrie Summy

    Wow! I’m honored to be included in the group! Thank you.

  8. Gail Hedrick

    What a neat posting and great list! Do you review ebooks? I have a middle-grade mystery, Danger at Baird’s Den, and would love an honest review.
    What does your process entail?
    Thanks, and again, this is a great list and should be a help to parents (and kids).

  9. F.T. Bradley

    You’re welcome, Barrie! Your books are very popular with the MGers I know.

    Gail–I don’t review books, but I’ll check out yours all the same!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *