There's nothing better than a mystery, is there? When you want to lose yourself in a book, just pick up one of the great mystery writers, and off you go. A good detective story is absorbing, relaxing, and it keeps the wheels turning in the old brain. But what about the young brain? As it turns out, preschoolers love a whodunit just as much as their parents do. And it's not too early to get them hooked on the genre: there are plenty of excellent picture book mysteries for young kids. To start your little sleuths off, here's a short reading list of our favorites page-turners.
Alphabet Mystery by Audrey Wood
Lowercase x is missing, and the other letters of the alphabet are on the case. Where has x gone? He ran away, it turns out, because he felt underused and neglected. Can the other letters find him? Can they persuade him to come back? One of a popular series of alphabet books, this clever story is a hit with letter and mystery lovers alike.
Olivia ... and the Missing Toy by Ian Falconer (pictured above)
Olivia, that most marvelous piglet of children's literature, has made a name for herself by being able to do just about anything. She can build a skyscraper from sand, and paint like Jackson Pollack. She can be a one-pig circus, and a one-pig band. So when her favorite toy suddenly disappears, she naturally becomes a detective. Her crime scene search technique is thorough. Her interrogation methods (shouting at her brothers) are well-honed. When the culprit is revealed, on a dark and stormy night, she knows just how to teach him a lesson. Readers of this page-turner will learn a lot about searching for lost toys - a crucial skill for every preschooler!
Miss Nelson Is Missing! By Harry Allard and James Marshall
This mystery is a favorite among Kindergarten teachers, and it's not hard to see why. Lovely Miss Nelson is the nicest teacher in the school. Her students, however, are the naughtiest. She tries her best to get them to settle down, but nothing works. And then... she disappears! In her place, the horrible, witch-like substitute, Miss Viola Swamp takes over and puts the class to work: lots of homework, zero fidgeting, and no story hour. Where is Miss Nelson? The kids are desperate to find her, but get little help from one Detective McSmogg. Can they solve the case? Will Miss Nelson return? It's a nail-biter for sure!
The Mystery of King Karfu by Doug Cushman
Seymour Sleuth is, according to himself, the greatest detective in the world. And Doug Cushman, his creator, is one of the most prolific authors of children's picture book mysteries. We are fans of much of his work, and the Seymour Sleuth series in particular. We like the Egyptian setting and the historical whodunit involving the theft of a secret code to a Pharaoh's lost treasure. But it is the book's clever format, put together in scrapbook style, that makes this mystery so much fun to follow. Kids can examine the evidence, add up the clues, decode ancient messages and deduce the solution all on their own. With plenty of slapstick sleuthing humor thrown in, this is a sure family favorite.
Piggins by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jane Dyer
Are preschoolers ready for a classic English manor house mystery? In the company of Piggins, the porcine butler, they most certainly are. When jewels go missing at a distinguished dinner party, who will solve the case? Believe it or not, your child will. As you read along, the clues are revealed. What fun! And parents and kids alike can appreciate Jane Dyer's splendidly detailed watercolor illustrations. This is the first in a wonderful series, so young mystery fans have much enjoyment ahead.
Once you've cultivated a taste for mystery in your kids, they just can't get enough. Fortunately, early readers have several wonderful detective series waiting for them, of which Nate the Great is, well, one of the greatest. Full of deadpan humor, excellent recurring characters and plenty of pancakes, the writing is impeccably targeted to new readers. Nate is particularly appealing to young boys, but any mystery lover will enjoy. Parents approve of the way Nate always leaves a note for his mother when he heads off into the neighborhood on a new case.
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