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Sleuths, Detectives, and Spies

Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
 | May 22, 2017

Readers of all ages are invited to uncover clues, identify suspects, gather evidence, crack codes, and solve crimes alongside the sleuths in these well-crafted mystery and detective stories.

Ages 4–8

A Case in Any CaseA Case in Any Case (Detective Gordon #3). Ulf Nilsson. Trans. Julia Marshall. Ill. Gitte Spee. 2017. Gecko.

Detective Gordon, a toad and longtime chief detective, has taken an extensive leave (a retirement, perhaps). Buffy, a young mouse, is now Detective Buffy. She takes her responsibilities seriously but misses Gordon, especially at night when she hears scrabbling noises at the police station windows. When two kindergarteners (a squirrel named Evert and a rabbit called Karen) go missing on a class excursion to the forest, the police officers don their spiffy police hats, organize a search party, and set out to safely return the children. A smattering of silly songs and an abundance of soft illustrations add to the fun of this chapter book, which makes a great read-aloud choice.

King & KaylaKing & Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats (King & Kayla). Dori Hillestad Butler. Ill. Nancy Meyers. 2017. Peachtree.

King, a big golden dog, helps his owner, Kayla, figure out who stole the peanut butter dog treats she made for her friend’s new puppy. King is the chief suspect, but he didn’t take the treats…so who did? King does everything he can (in dog-speak, which Kayla doesn’t understand) to lead her in the right direction. While Kayla busily writes pages about what she knows—and doesn’t know—about the case, King follows his nose to the stinky culprit. This mystery for beginning readers, told from King’s point of view, is broken into five bite-sized chapters with clues in the pictures and storyline.

Olivia the SpyOlivia the Spy. Ian Falconer. 2017. Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

Olivia’s know-it-all, free-spirited, self-assured behavior has gotten her in trouble. After overhearing her mother say that she wished to send her away “until she develops some sense,” Olivia decides to investigate. She then hears her parents agree that they should take her to an institution. Worried, Olivia asks her teacher, “What is an institution?” Her answer convinces Olivia she’s going to prison. Olivia (and young readers) learn a gentle lesson about eavesdropping, although Olivia still contends that she wasn’t eavesdropping. Welcome back, Olivia.

Ages 9–11

The Case of the Counterfeit CriminalsThe Case of the Counterfeit Criminals (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency #3). Jordan Stratford. Ill. Kelly Murphy. 2017. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.

In this historical-mystery-steampunk mash-up, the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency—run by two young girls, Ada Byron Lovelace (the first computer programmer) and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (the author of Frankenstein)—takes on a new case that involves fossil hunter Mary Anning and her beloved missing dog. Fossil fakers are blackmailing Anning; to get her dog back, she must authenticate fake dinosaur bones at the British Museum within three days. With Ada orchestrating the case, clues come together with word games, logic puzzles, sinister doll-like minions, Charles Dickens, smoke bombs, and rollicking action. The book includes short character biographies. Readers who missed the first two books in this mystery series will want to catch up while awaiting the release of the fourth book.

The Goldfish Boy. Lisa Thompson. 2017. Scholastic.

The Goldfish BoyTwelve-year-old Matthew Corbin (Goldfish Boy) is a different sort of sleuth. Blaming himself for his baby brother’s death five years earlier, Matthew has psychological problems that leave him unable to leave his house, fearful of germs, and obsessed with cleanliness. He spends his days peering out his bedroom window, watching the activity in the cul-de-sac neighborhood. When a toddler next door goes missing, Matthew investigates. Taking an everyone-is-a-suspect approach, and with two neighbor kids doing the legwork, he strives to solve the case of the disappearing child that has baffled the police.

The Impossible Clue. Sarah Rubin. 2017. Chicken House/Scholastic.

The Impossible clueSeventh-grade math whiz Alice Jones is recruited to find Dr. Learner, a scientist who disappeared from a locked room while working on a top-secret invisibility suit. Using keen observation, logic, and common sense, Alice (assisted by classmates Sammy and Kevin) searches for clues to this seemingly insolvable mystery. Alice soon realizes she is not the only one looking for Dr. Learner. With screeching car tires and danger around each corner, Alice knows mysterious men are hot on her trail. This middle-grade mystery invites inquisitive readers to search for answers alongside these three young sleuths.

Ages 12–14

First Class Murder (Wells and Wong Mysteries #3). Robin Stevens. 2017. Simon & Schuster.

First Class MurderIt’s the summer of 1935, and schoolmates Daisy Wong and Hazel Wells take a European excursion on the famed Orient Express. Soon after boarding, they sense that the other passengers have something to hide. During dinner, a scream is heard coming from one of the compartments in the Calais-Simplon-Istanbul Carriage. When the locked door is knocked down, Mrs. Daunt, the wealthy wife of William Daunt (owner of Daunt’s Diet Pills), is found dead. A locked-room murder, a jewel theft, a suspected spy, forged documents, and a first-class car full of likely suspects are all elements of a case that the crime-solving Wells & Wong Detective Society duo cannot resist taking on. Readers may want to read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express to compare plots.

Vampires on the Run (Quinnie Boyd Mystery #2). C. M. Surrisi. 2017. Carolrhoda/Lerner.

Vampires on the RunThirteen-year-old Quinnie Boyd suspects that Ella’s Aunt Cecil and Uncle Edgar (writers of the popular Count La Plasma series), who are visiting for the summer, are real vampires, killing animals and wreaking havoc in the small Maine town of Maiden Rock. Why else would they avoid sunlight and cover mirrors? And who are the two unknown fishermen lurking around Ella’s home, apparently stalking the writers in the middle of the night? Quinnie, Ella, Ben (a sailing expert), and Dominic (a technology surveillance geek) decide to investigate, leading to two stolen boats and a high-speed chase. These fearless teens could end up grounded for the summer, or much worse. This adventurous, spooky, funny mystery is an engaging read for middle-grade readers.

Ages 15+

Missing. Kelley Armstrong. 2017. Crown/Random House.

MissingLike most teens, 17-year-old Crane Winter can’t wait to leave Reeve’s End, KY—her depressed, coal-mining hometown in Appalachia. Her only regret will be leaving the wilderness that she loves and where she spends much of her time to escape her abusive, alcoholic father. When she rescues Lennon Bishop, a stranger who has been attacked in the woods, she learns that he is trying to find out what happened to a missing friend. When Lennon also goes missing, Crane begins to question what really  happens to teens who leave Reeve’s End. The menace of an elusive stalker and a pack of feral dogs prevails throughout this fast-paced, suspenseful thriller.

Splinter. Sasha Dawn. 2017. Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner.

SplinterWhen 16-year old Sami’s mother disappeared 10 years ago, Sami was convinced that she had deserted her, even though the police suspected foul play. When Sami was found wandering, no amount of questioning could restore her recollections of that day and no investigation turned up answers—or a body. Each November on the anniversary of her mother’s disappearance, Sami still receives a postcard that she turns over to the local sheriff. When new evidence surfaces that involves another missing person, a box of stained clothes, and old photographs, her father is back in the spotlight as a suspect. With the new investigation underway, her dad and stepmother separated, and the neighbors’ teenage nephew in town for the summer, Sami’s world becomes splintered in ways she could never have imagined.

You Don’t Know My Name. Kristen Orlando. 2017. Swoon Reads/Feiwel and Friends.

You Don't Know My NameSeventeen-year-old Reagan Hillis changes names and identities constantly as her parents—top-secret spies—move around the world. She’s been trained to follow in their footsteps as a spy. This year in New Albany, OH, Reagan finally begins to feel like a normal teenager as she gets to know Luke, a neighbor and classmate, who is in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) with plans for a military career. When Reagan’s parents are kidnapped in retaliation for a murder, Reagan barely escapes being taken, too. Both she and Luke, who was with her, are put in protective custody. In a whirlwind of intrigue and suspense, Reagan and Luke head to South America to rescue her parents before they are killed. This fast-paced thriller delivers on action, hooking readers into the sequel.

Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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