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Our top 10 mystery books for children (aged 8-12)

Jam packed with intrigue, suspense, puzzles and conundrums to solve and fast paced adventure, where the cleverest children outwit the enemy, it’s no surprise that children love mystery books. They’re a safe thrill, a cerebral version of a rollercoaster ride, and by reading carefully and thinking critically, children have the opportunity to piece together the clues and remain one step ahead of the villain, all from the comfort of their sofa. The best mysteries involve relatable characters who find themselves thrown into situations where they’re in way over their heads, but, being naturally inquisitive beings, plunge into a puzzle-solving pursuit, taking them through twists and turns, before finally resolving the mystery just in time to stop the criminals.

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Bean8 has become obsessed with them recently and has been devouring them in great number. With the summer fast approaching (and let’s face it, other than playing with your friends in the sunshine, there’s nothing better than lounging around with your nose in a good book), I thought we’d share some of our favourites with you. These are Bean8’s top 10 mystery books, in order of preference.

1. The Peculiars by Kieran Larwood

The Peculiars by [Larwood, Kieran]

According to Bean8 this is the best book she’s every read! And she’s read a LOT of books, so high praise indeed! Set in Victorian London, it’s about a group of misfits trapped in a nightly sideshow, whose lives collide with a poor mudlark child, who sneaks in to watch the show one night. When the little girl goes missing, the Peculiars vow to find out what’s happened to her, taking them on a journey around the darker parts of the city, amongst childcatchers and grave robbers. Using their skills, including the main protagonist’s highly developed sense of smell as Wolfgirl, the speed and ninja like qualities of Sister Moon, the strength of Gigantus and the climbing abilities of Monkeyboy, they search the underworld for the missing children. Children snatched from the banks of the Thames by some mysterious giant crab like monster… The characters are richly drawn and relatable, forming a strong bond as outcasts of society. The book is fast paced, gripping and unputdownable! Be warned, once your child gets into this book, you’re unlikely to see them again until they’ve reached the end of the mystery!

2. Mysterious Benedict Society Collection by Trenton Lee Stewart

This is without doubt my favourite set of children’s mystery books. The first book in the trilogy actually helped us survive a fairly traumatic time (involving a Transvaal scorpion sting in South Africa), transporting us to another world and away from the stresses of our current predicament.

The first book tells the story of four highly gifted children, who are specially selected and joined together to form the Mysterious Benedict Society. They’re sent out to investigate how a brilliant but evil man, Ledropthra Curtain, plans to take over the world through his facility called L.I.V.E. (the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened). All orphaned, the four children are gifted in different ways, but have to work as a team and use their strengths to figure out what Mr. Curtain is up to and how to stop him. Reynie Muldoon has an exceptional talent for puzzles, codes and riddles. George “Sticky” Washington, with his photographic memory and ability to read books at extreme speed, is like a walking Google. Kate Wetherall is a resourceful girl with a tremendous physical ability. Finally, there’s Constance Contraire, a very small girl with a defiant personality and gift for wordplay and wit. Helped by three eccentric adults, including the genius Mr. Benedict, they alone are the only hope for saving the world from Mr. Curtain’s evil, memory erasing invention: the Whisperer.

I suggest buying the trilogy as a set because once you’ve read the first exciting instalment, I have no doubt you’ll be desperate to read the remaining two books about the rest of the Society’s adventures together. Filled with puzzles, riddles and conundrums, combined with engaging characters, with skills every child would love to possess, and an exciting, fast moving plotline, this is one of the best books on the market for children. I recommend doing this one as a read aloud so you don’t have to miss out yourself!

3. The Ship of Spectres: A Connie Carew Mystery by Patricia Elliott

The Ship of Spectres: Book 2 (The Connie Carew Mysteries) by [Elliott, Patricia]

Another favourite of Bean8’s, this book follows the adventures of Connie Carew as she’s invited by her new friend, Waldo Bamberger, on the maiden voyage of his luxury steamship, the Princess May, to New York City. Excited to be drifting the waves in first class opulence, her puzzle-deducing skills are nevertheless soon required as it appears that someone on board is attempting to harm the passengers. From a ballerina involved in a near fatal accident to a ghostly figure of a teenage boy wandering the ship at night, something is seriously amiss.

As Connie starts to investigate the secrets of all the passengers, they draw ever closer to their destination and impending disaster. Can Connie solve the mystery before a murder takes place?

Set in the beginning of the 20th century as women were gaining more independence for themselves, Connie, as an intelligent and tenacious young woman, makes a perfect heroine for this exciting, funny story with abundant plot twists. Note though that this is the second book in the series (I didn’t realise when I bought it!), so you’d be better off starting with The House of Eyes, her first book in the set of Connie Carew Mysteries.

4. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

When the irascible headmistress of St. Ethelreda’s School for Young Ladies, and her brother, fall dead over Sunday lunch one day, rather than risk being sent back home, the students decide to cover up their deaths. Led by the eldest, Smooth Kitty, they bury the bodies in the vegetable garden and continue to run their own education at the school. However, their bid for freedom and independence is not as simple as they expected, as guests arrive and they have to dress up Stout Alice to pose as their headmistress. And when they deduce that the headmistress and her brother were in fact murdered, they realise there is also a murderer on the loose, and they’re forced to solve the mystery before the murderer strikes again…

This hilarious Victorian romp, with its wonderful level of characterisation, combined with mystery and intrigue, comes highly recommended.

5. The Clockwork Sparrow (The Sinclair Mysteries) by Katherine Woodfine

This is first book in The Sinclair Mysteries, a quartet of mystery-adventure novels set in Edwardian England. The lead character, Sophie, is left without a penny to her a name when her father dies, and so is thrilled to find a job in the millinery department of Sinclair’s, a large and stylish department store in London. Directly prior to the grand opening, there is a daring theft of the priceless, intricately crafted and jewel-encrusted Clockwork Sparrow. In order to stop the blame falling onto herself, Sophie and her friends Billy, the junior porter and Lil, the department store “mannequin”, set out on a gripping, heroic adventure, to break codes and solve the mystery, facing a plethora of dangers along the way.

6. The Adventure Island Mysteries by Helen Moss

Adventure Island (14 Book Series) by  Helen Moss

A set of 14 books, that I would recommend for children on the younger part of the age range (or in fact even younger), which were devoured by both Bean7&8. The books are set on an island off the coast of Cornwall and follow the escapades of brothers, Scott and Jack Carter, their friend Emily Wild and her intelligent dog, Drift, as they explore a variety of confusing and exhilarating mysteries. Akin to a modern day Famous Five, they have exciting plotlines to keep young readers entranced and hooked until the very end!

7. Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Greenglass House (Greenglass House, #1)

One for older children, we read this as a read aloud together and loved it. The book is set in a huge, mysterious hotel surrounded by large wooded grounds in the smuggling town of Nagspeake. To the owners’ (Nora and Ben Pine along with their adopted 10 year old son Milo) surprise, guests keep pouring in during the normally quiet Christmas period. Soon, the hotel is full of an eclectic mix of people young and old, who all have their own unique and hidden story about or connection with the history of Greenglass House.

At first, Milo is very put out about having to share his parents at this special time with a house full of guests, but when someone drops a strange blue stained map, which he believes will lead to some mysterious treasure buried somewhere in the house, he starts to become more interested in why all these guests have suddenly appeared. With the help of a small girl, Meddy, who he believes to be the daughter of one of the cooks, they pretend to be warriors from a game called Odd Trails, and embark together on a journey to explore the house and its grounds and the secrets hidden by their new guests. Slowly, they start to start to uncover the deep-seeded mysteries of Greenglass House.

Brilliantly written, with no end of intriguing mysteries and the most unexpected plot twist at the end, this was one of our favourite books of the year. There is a sequel, The Ghosts of Greenglass House, which we’d also highly recommended.

8. Dear Scarlett by Fleur Hitchcock

Dear Scarlett

All her life Scarlett has assumed her father was an infamous jewel thief, but when she turns eleven, she receives a box of tools “on her father’s instructions” and starts to wonder whether the clues inside reveal a different man altogether. Along with her friend Ellie, they plunge into a wild, frightening and often funny journey of discovery about her father and his enigmatic life, as they follow the clues. But they are not on their own on this quest and they have to stay one step ahead of the evil mayoress and her chaffeur as they try to evade danger and race to decipher his last clue.

A funny, emotional and gripping book, which will have you on the edge of your seat.

9. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series by Maryrose Wood

Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place (6 Book Series) by  Maryrose Wood

This is a series of six books (the sixth book is due out in July), which follows the adventures of three children found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place. They’re brought into the house by Lord Ashton to be cared for by a new governess, the intelligent Miss Penelope Lumley (a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females). The Incorrigible Children, Alexander, Cassiopeia and Beowulf, have been brought up by wolves, so, despite wanting to teach them about Latin verbs and iambic pentameter, Miss Lumley must first try and squash their canine tendencies.

Armed with an excellent education, Miss Lumley is the perfect heroine: a kind, quick-witted and resourceful young lady, who forms an instant bond with the three Incorrigibles. As you read through the series, the mysteries seem to proliferate. Where does Lord Fredrick go when he’s absent from Ashton Place for long periods? Why has he taken the children in? Who is Old Timothy and what connection does he have to Penelope and the children? Can she solve all of their family mysteries?

Completely kooky and brilliantly funny (it had all of us in stitches at many points), with many keen references and witty turns of phrase, this is an excellent choice of summer read. We can’t wait to get our hands on the final installment – bring on July!

10. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

Another book that we shared as a read aloud and greatly enjoyed, especially as it aligned perfectly with our New York trip. In the book, two children, twelve-year old Claudia and her little brother Jamie, run away from their boring suburban home in Connecticut, and hide in the Metropolitan Musuem of Art (the Met) in NYC.

As they settle into their new home, they find ways to evade being caught, bathe in the fountain, use “wishing coins” for money and sleep in an antique bed. But then a new exhibit draws their attention: a statue of an angel bought for only $225, but suspected to be scuplted by Michelangelo. Claudia is determined to discover whether it is really an authentic Michelangelo piece and in her journey to unearth the truth, they are led to the eccentric and secretive Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, who holds the key to the mystery.

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And finally, we’ve just started reading Katie Watson and the Painter’s Plot, which is looks to be another thrilling mystery, in which an enchanted painting whisks Katie back in time to Shakespearean England, and dumps her right in the middle of a perilous adventure! Sounds fun!

Happy reading!

 

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