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HOOKED ON BOOKS: Kids’ contests make reading magic

These books will lure young readers with the spirit of competition and the allure of mystery and danger.

Books ranging from a 40-year-old children's classic to recent releases draw young readers into fantastic puzzles and contests, ranging from candy making to a high-tech amusement park. Composite by Park Rapids Enterprise staff, Nov. 5, 2021

I once knew someone who competed on a reality TV show. Her experience put a big charge into the whole community. It also showed me there’s something about an elite competition that really sparks the imagination.

Perhaps that’s why so many fun books for young readers explore that idea. In these books, kids take part in a contest filled with puzzles and challenges – often with big prizes at stake. Try them, and they might stir your competitive streak.

Puffin Books, 1978

‘The Westing Game’ by Ellen Raskin

The diverse residents of an apartment building find out they’ve been named in their late landlord’s will. The catch: One of them murdered Mr. Westing, and whoever solves the crime will inherit his fortune.


Supplied with funds and clues, teams of neighbors race to win a real-life game of Clue. Their quirky characters, clashing agendas and complications from a blizzard to a bomb have thrilled readers for more than 40 years. Ultimately, it’s a healing book about misfits learning to fit together.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010

‘The Candymakers’ by Wendy Mass

Four finalists in the New Candy Contest – 12-year-old Logan, Miles, Daisy and Philip – get to create their recipes at a candy factory where the chocolate has a magical secret ingredient.

One of the kids is scarred by trauma. One is a spy. One has a grudge to settle. And one struggles with reality. Together, they form a bond that rises above competition, a lesson on kindness that’ll go to your heart.

It’s a delicious book full of things you’ll wish you could taste or smell, with clever dialogue, odd concepts and an unusual design.

Random House Children's Books, 2017


‘The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine’ by Frank L. Cole

Four kids just won a contest to be the first passengers on the thrill ride of the future: a high-tech roller coaster that turns riders’ private fears into a shared adventure.

Is it done with holograms or robots? Or are the monsters, meteors, volcanoes and villains as real as they seem? These questions keep Trevor, Nika, Cameron and Devin on the edge of their seats – even after they flee the cart partway through the ride.

Each of these kids is special in a way that makes a difference. If you join them, you’ll share in thrills and puzzles that test who you can trust when even your senses are in doubt.

Square Fish, 2016

‘Book Scavenger’ by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

When Emily and her family move to San Francisco, she connects with a neighbor kid over an online game called Book Scavenger – sort of like geocaching, but with books.

James, Emily and her brother Matthew blunder into a Book Scavenger challenge involving dangerous players. Codes, puzzles, rock music and lessons about friendship and forgiveness mix in an exciting mystery for brainy young readers.


Walden Pond Press, 2017

‘The Shadow Cipher’ by Laura Ruby

Twins Tess and Theo and their neighbor Jaime hope to save their 100-year-old apartment building from being bulldozed. To succeed, they must solve a puzzle that has stumped generations of seekers.

In their version of New York, a pair of inventors created marvelous machines no one understands – then vanished just as mysteriously after promising that whoever solves a series of clues will be richly rewarded.

Once they join the hunt, creepy, terrifying and wondrous things start to happen. Each kid brings something special to their quest in a city whose history is too weird to be made up.

Random House, 2013

‘Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library’ by Chris Grabenstein

When a famous game designer builds a high-tech public library in his Ohio hometown, he challenges two groups of local 12-year-olds to escape from it the night before it opens.

Locked in with interactive holograms, games and memorabilia, they must find a way out without going out the front door, setting off alarms or mistreating anyone or anything.

A lot depends on who wins. One team is driven by a love of books. The other is “in it to win it” at all costs. You’ll be drawn in by rebuses, riddles and references to books every kid should read, till you wish Mr. Lemoncello’s games were real.

Robin Fish is an avid reader who blogs about books and other topics at Contact him with questions or suggestions at

Related Topics: BOOKS
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