We all have guilty pleasures, delights which take our time. My obsession is for new Middle Grade mystery novels. My quest is to find not only the best of the genre; I want to be able to recommend them to children, parents, teachers and librarians. In fact, great middle grade mysteries should appeal to all of us.
To attract these readers, books should contain all the classic mystery elements with great plots offering clues worth pursuing; amateur detectives who are creative, authentic young people, relatable to all ages; and solutions that the young protagonists reach realistically without much assistance from adults. My ideal mystery won’t be too silly, too scary, or too fantastic. The newest trend in children’s mysteries blends genres adding thrilling plots, historical mysteries, and sometimes too many fantasy elements.
The list of the new 2018 titles is getting longer. Not all of these books appeal to me, but they may interest other readers. Please help me to find the best in this list from the first half of 2018. So far I have found only a few that grabbed me, drawing me in to read them in one long sitting. I will save the best for last. And I encourage you to decide.
Some titles are continuations of series, some are debuts, and some are not my style, but here they are. Which mysteries are the best of 2018?
Balliett, Blue: Out of the Wild Night(Scholastic, 2018) This book is a confusing ghost story. Why doesn’t the ghost narrator help the children solve the mystery? Such an unusual mystery from one of my favorite authors (Balliett wrote novels featuring Chicago young sleuths solving mysteries that involve famous art works.) This book is set on Nantucket Island among the graves and homes of present and former residents, with many twists from the ghosts which are ever present.
Freeman, Martha: Zap! (Simon & Shuster, 2018) This diverse book was recommended to me by another school librarian. Spanish is sprinkled throughout the books- context clues help. Homelessness, struggling families, and use of technology for good or ill all are present in this contemporary mystery that revolves around a city’s electrical blackout. Can Luis, Carlos, and Maura restore electricity and connectivity to their community while finding the culprits? Surprisingly strong language and hurtful dialogue from these middle school students although their problems are realistic and poignant. This book may take a second reading for me to assess its worth.
Ginns, Russell: Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans (Random House Children’s Books, 2018) Adventure, Mystery and Detective, Fantasy. This title includes puzzles, drawings similar to a graphic novel and fantastical comings and goings.
Grabenstein, Chris: Sandapalooza Shakeup(Wonderland series #3) (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2018) In this author’s goofy humorous tale, you will be visiting a familiar setting in Florida where a realistic competition between two hotels has guests guessing which place to stay. Do they want superior service, live entertainment or safety from thieves and bungling?
Weyr, Garrett: The Language of Spells (Chronicle Books, 2018) Would you like to read a book about a dragon and a young girl? The mystery begins in 1803 the year when dragons cease to be born. Maggie meets Grisha decades later in a historical, fantasy mystery that mirrors events in Nazi Germany. Let me know what you think.
The book I enjoyed the most is a sequel to The Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. This 2015 bestseller for middle grade readers captured my attention. What bookworm wouldn’t love books about readers searching for clues to find hidden books in parks, bookstores and famous landmarks? Of course, there is always mystery when Emily and James with their family and friends follow clues to the solution. Bertman followed her debut story with #2 The Unbreakable Codeand #3 The Alcatraz Escape. I suggest reading all three in order, but if you are pressed for time, Bertman’s The Alcatraz Escape (Henry Holt and Co., 2018) will provide great entertainment as the children have grown, show their preteen realistic anxieties, and still manage to visit Alcatraz to strive to complete all the puzzles the inventor of the Book Scavenger games provides.
The following titles are still to be read to the end or are later 2018 releases.
Abbott, Tony: Denis Ever After (Katherine Tegan, July 24, 2018) Starred reviews in BL and PW. Read how a surviving twin and his friends solve the mystery of the other twin’s death when the parents are still mute and grieving,
Auxier, Jonathan: Sweep: The Story of A Girl and Her Monster (Penguin/ Random House, Sept. 2018) Historical fiction. Mystery or fantasy or both?
Cervantes, Angela: Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring (Scholastic, 2018) rec by One More Page booksellers. Looks short and well-developed.
Gibbs, Stuart: Waste of Space (Moon Base Alpha Series)(Simon & Shuster, 2018) Sci-Fi, Mystery…
Haddix, Margaret: Children of Jubilee(to be released) (Simon & Shuster, November, 2018)
Hale, Shannon and Dean: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: 2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious (Marvel Press) A format so different that I am having trouble relating. Maybe I am too old for modern, graphic novels…
Johnson, Varian: The Parker Inheritance (rec by Booklist Reader) (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2018) I did not finish this book because the dialogue is stilted….
Lloyd, Natalie: The Problim Children(Katherine Tegen, 2018) [Seems like Lemony Snicket family so far, to me, but my 11-year-old niece wanted to read it!] Check out the spellings of the names of Problim family children!
Ray, Amit: The Mansion Mystery(the Sen Kids) (Independently published, 2018) Indian mystery, very short, mostly digital publishing. Brothers in Kolkata, India, solve a mystery in their home.
Sands, Kevin: Call of the Wraith (Book 4 of Blackthorn Key series, (Aladdin, Sept. 2018)
Sedgwick, Julian: The Wheel of Life and Death (Mysterium, 3) (Hatchette UK 2014 and Carolrhoda, US, 2018)
Happy reading in Summer of 2018!