HOOKED ON BOOKS: In books for youth, kids make great sleuths
Young people grapple with mysteries, just like any other age group. Perhaps these tales of juvenile detectives will get you hooked on a books.
News flash: Kid detectives are a force to reckon with in the world of books. It’s a fact well-known to grown-up fans of Donald J. Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown and Anthony Horowitz’s Diamond Brothers and, even farther back, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.
Today’s kids need to hear that news, too. So, here are some more up-to-date books featuring young sleuths.
‘The Goldfish Boy’ by Lisa Thompson
Matthew is a kid trapped by his fears and anxieties. Obsessed with germs, he spends a lot of time looking out of upstairs windows at his neighbors’ yards, earning the nickname in this book’s title. And so he becomes a key witness to the disappearance of a toddler next door.
As he pursues his own investigation, Matthew’s struggle to stretch his horizons beyond that lonely window is truly heroic. This book depicts Matthew’s condition in a thoughtful way, and the emotions you feel as you watch him grow are well earned.
‘Three Times Lucky’ by Sheila Turnage
Mo is a mouthy 11-year-old who, as a baby, washed ashore in a flash flood. Raised by the kindly but eccentric people of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, she’s the despair of her schoolteacher, a waitress at the town cafe and the adopted granddaughter of the richest lady in town.
With her outrageous attitude, Mo is a big fish in a small pond. So when the clues at a murder scene implicate her best friend, Dale, she forms the Desperado Detective Agency to prove his innocence and solve the crime.
It’s a hilarious, heart-warming mystery of manners, flavored with the small-town south.
‘Framed!’ by James Ponti
Florian Bates, 12, has moved around so much that he’s developed a strategy to survive the social snakepit of a new school. He calls it TOAST: the Theory of All Small Things.
It’s about focusing on deceptively tiny details. When he uses this technique to help the FBI solve an art heist, Florian becomes a federal asset. But all this special treatment comes with risks, as he learns when a Romanian gangster kidnaps him.
It’s a smart book full of action, laughs and fun facts about art, law enforcement and Washington, D.C. It might inspire young readers to try a bit of TOAST.
‘The Case of the Missing Marquess’ by Nancy Springer
The story of Sherlock Holmes’s little-known half-sister, Enola, starts on her 14th birthday, when her mother walks out of the house and never comes back.
Once her grown-up brothers get involved, they plan to send her to a young ladies’ finishing school. Naturally, Enola runs for it. While dodging Mycroft and Sherlock, she seeks a vanished, 12-year-old viscount named (heh) Tewksbury, leading to narrow scrapes in London’s toughest neighborhoods.
Women’s historic lack of equality lies at the heart of this book. Radical for her time in her attitude about it, Enola confronts the issue and solves the mystery with dashing resourcefulness.
‘The Book of Lost Things’ by Cynthia Voigt
Max’s parents, a pair of flamboyant actors, are so overjoyed about their new gig that they forget to check whether their employer exists. As their ship sails out of sight, it disappears with all hands on board.
Max is determined to stay in the family home until they return. So he dons the guise of Mr. Max, who styles himself a “solutioneer.” Nobody but his Grammie knows he’s an unsupervised minor, even as builds a network of clients, allies and even a houseguest. He just hopes someday to solve his own problem and find his parents.
He’s a remarkably independent kid with a knack for disappearing in a role. This enables him to live a life most youngsters can only imagine. I think they’ll appreciate his offbeat but honest way of dealing with things.