Welcome to Week Three of “Book ‘Em”! Each Tuesday through January, we’re blogging about our favorite YA and MG mystery reads of 2011.
While I read several thrilling YA mysteries this year, as one of our two resident middle-grade authors at Sleuths, Spies & Alibis, I thought it might be nice to shine a spotlight on my favorite 2011 middle-grade mystery releases.
The Mystery of the Missing Everything / Ben H. Winters, Harper Children’s 2011 (see also: The Secret Life of Ms. Finkelman)
Ben H. Winters kicked off our Interrogation Room interview series in September, when we tortured out of him the secret to his prodigious output (no internet!). A multi-talented author equally comfortable writing for adults and kids, Winters has written a clever, funny follow-up to the Edgar-nominated The Secret Life of Ms. Finkelman. Bethesda Fields, eighth grader at Mary Todd Lincoln Middle School, must rescue the student body from the Week of Thousand Quizzes and restore a cancelled field trip to Taproot Valley by tracking down the thief of Principal Van Vreeland's most beloved school trophy. I love Winters’ tongue-in-cheek, playful style — and marvel at how well he blends mystery with a dead-on, hilarious portrayal of middle school life.
The Wizard of Dark Street / Shawn Thomas Odyssey, Egmont, 2011
Shawn Thomas Odyssey’s debut is a wonderfully sinister middle-grade mystery/fantasy whose well-constructed mystery kept me guessing until the end. Twelve year old Oona Crate is next in line to become the Wizard of Dark Street, a one-street town that exists on the border between 1876 New York and the fairy world. However, Oona has shunned magic after a horrible accident wants to be a detective instead of a wizard. When Oona’s uncle is (perhaps) murdered by an enchanted dagger, she certainly has her detective work cut out for her. This is complex, fast-paced, cinematic middle grade mystery that adults will enjoy just as much as middle-graders. Shawn Thomas Odyssey has agreed to come in for questioning in our Interrogation Room, so stay tuned for more from him!
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery, Balzer + Bray, 2011 (also: The Mysterious Howling)
I sang this hilarious middle-grade romp’s praises last week in our Under Cover feature, but it definitely belongs on my “Best Of…” list for 2011. You can feel how much fun Maryrose Wood is having as she spins the misadventures of the wolf-like Children of Ashton Place in London in this part-mystery, part-satire.
The Spaghetti Detectives, Andreas Steinhöfel, The Chicken House (Scholastic), 2011
I first read this mystery in German in 2009, when it was awarded the German equivalent of the Newberry, the German Youth Literature Prize, and I was both surprised — and glad — to see it out in the U.S. Narrated in the first-person by Rico, a child “proddity” (as his mother calls him) whose learning disability gives him a unique perspective on the world, the book is both a wonderfully original mystery and a touching friendship story. It subject matter might be startling for those used to American middle grade mysteries, though: Rico must save his new dear friend from child kidnapper Mr. 2000, who demands from parents the very reasonable sum of 2,000 Euros as ransom — but threatens to amputate body parts if parents don’t pay the full amount! The American edition’s cover art makes the story seem like a lighthearted mystery about a comic duo, and while it is a funny story about two unlikely friends with radically different strengths, its dark humor makes it a better read for older middle grade readers. It’s too bad that this book seemed to be marketed for readers much younger than it’s appropriate for, as it really is an original, clever book that deserves to find its American audience!