5 Essential Classic Mystery Novels for Kids

Classic Mystery Novels for Kids

Part III of IV: Classic mystery novels for kids. We will discuss how to read these classics with today’s children.

Classic Mystery Novels for Kids

Classic Mystery Novels: A Special Place in Children’s Literature

Classic mystery novels have long held a special place in children’s literature, captivating young readers with their intriguing plots and the thrill of solving puzzles.

As a child, I loved reading all things mystery and horror. I inhaled them. Something about classic mystery novels makes me feel like I am transported to a far away land. I still love them, although now that I am an adult, I’ve noticed there are a few things that could potentially be problematic. That’s why I’ve curated this list of beloved titles. I try to discuss the good and the bad in honest reviews of them.

Classic Mystery Novels: Enthralling for Young Readers

These books enthrall young minds by presenting them with mysteries to unravel, secrets to uncover, and clues to piece together. Series like “Nancy Drew Mystery Stories” and “The Hardy Boys” have become iconic, enduring in popularity and continuing to captivate readers across generations.

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Classic Mystery Novels: Intellectual Challenges

The fascination and engagement surrounding mystery novels stem from the inherent desire to solve a puzzle and discover the truth. They serve as intellectual challenges for young readers, encouraging critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and deductive reasoning.

Classic Mystery Novels: Develop Cognitive Skills

As children navigate the intricate webs of clues, they develop logical thinking, attention to detail, and the ability to draw connections. Classic mystery novels not only entertain but also cultivate valuable cognitive skills that can benefit children throughout their lives.

I “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

Sherlock Holmes was my favorite as a young adult.

Although primarily written for adults, the Sherlock Holmes stories featuring the iconic detective and his loyal friend Dr. Watson have also appealed to younger readers. I read these classic mystery novels when I was around age 11.

Classic mystery novels, include famous stories like “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “A Scandal in Bohemia,” showcase Holmes’ brilliant deductive reasoning as he solves perplexing mysteries.

I am an adult now and have had plenty of time to reflect on some of these classic mystery novels. These are some of the potential issues with Sherlock Holmes.

Representation of Women:

The portrayal of female characters in the Sherlock Holmes stories have been criticized for being limited and often reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes.

Female characters are frequently depicted as damsels in distress, objects of romance, or used as plot devices. They lack agency and depth, which has been a subject of critique. My female friends and I read them as kids and I didn’t notice it then, but it does annoy me as an adult.

Diversity and Representation:

The stories predominantly feature white, male characters, with limited representation of diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

The books are set within a certain area of middle class or well-to-do society, without a lot of diversity.


Some of the stories involve depictions of characters and cultures from non-Western backgrounds, and critics argue that these depictions can be steeped in orientalist stereotypes.

The portrayal of non-Western characters and settings may perpetuate exoticized or simplified views of different cultures.

Ethics and Methods:

Sherlock Holmes’ methods, such as his reliance on deductive reasoning and sometimes questionable investigative techniques, have been a subject of ethical debate.

Some readers have raised concerns about the potential for Holmes’ methods to infringe upon privacy rights or lead to harmful outcomes.

II “Nancy Drew Mystery Stories” by Carolyn Keene:

Nancy Drew is a mystery lovers classic!

This long-running series follows the adventures of Nancy Drew, an intelligent and resourceful teenage detective. Nancy, along with her friends Bess and George, solves mysteries in their town, uncovering hidden secrets and unmasking culprits.

The series is known for its exciting plots, clever sleuthing, and Nancy’s empowering portrayal as a strong and independent young woman.

Outdated Gender Roles:

Nancy Drew is often portrayed as a talented and independent detective, but the series has been criticized for reinforcing traditional gender roles. Some argue that Nancy’s abilities and intelligence are often attributed to her exceptional “feminine intuition,” suggesting that her success is tied to her gender rather than her skills or dedication.

Lack of Diversity:

The early Nancy Drew books featured a predominantly white cast of characters, with limited representation of diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, and cultural backgrounds. This was common in books from around this time.

Class and Privilege:

Nancy Drew is depicted as coming from a well-off family with access to resources, which can create a class-based privilege in the stories. Critics argue that this portrayal perpetuates a narrow view of societal realities and fails to address the challenges faced by individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Cultural Sensitivity:

Some readers have raised concerns about cultural sensitivity in certain Nancy Drew stories. The portrayal of characters from different cultural backgrounds may sometimes rely on stereotypes or present a simplified view of diverse cultures.


I inhaled these books as a kid. I don’t think I noticed the lack of representation as a child. I imagined characters were like me until I learned that was not the case. I think it’s good to discuss because modern readers are not used to these types of books, as representation has become more common.

III “The Westing Game” by Ellen Raskin:

I loved reading, "The Westing Game"

In this intriguing novel, sixteen heirs compete to solve the mystery of millionaire Sam Westing’s death and inherit his fortune.

The story combines elements of a classic whodunit with puzzles, clues, and an ensemble cast of memorable characters, making it an engaging and suspenseful read.

While I enjoyed the book when I was a kid, I have a few concerns about certain aspects of the book.

Here are a couple of potential issues:

Stereotypes and Cultural Representations:

Some readers have pointed out that “The Westing Game” contains stereotypical representations of certain characters, particularly those from diverse cultural backgrounds. I agree with this one but I will also admit that I didn’t realize the characters did not look like me at the time.

Ableism and Disability Representation:

The character of Turtle Wexler, who uses a wheelchair, has been a topic of discussion regarding disability representation. Some readers have expressed concerns about the way Turtle’s disability is portrayed and the language used to describe her. It is important to approach the representation of disability in the book with sensitivity and consider the potential impact on readers, particularly those with disabilities.


It is worth noting that “The Westing Game” continues to be highly regarded for its intricate plot, clever twists, and engaging storytelling. I think concerns about this book should be considered within the larger context of the book and its impact.

IV “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E.L. Konigsburg:

"From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler"  was a really fun book to read.

Two siblings, Claudia and Jamie, run away from home and take up residence in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While there, they become embroiled in a mystery surrounding a statue attributed to Michelangelo.

This charming and thought-provoking story combines adventure, art, and a captivating mystery.

Runaway Narrative and Parental Approval:

The story follows two children, Claudia and Jamie, who run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Some readers have expressed concerns about the portrayal of running away from home without proper parental approval or oversight.

Class and Privilege:

Claudia and Jamie come from a relatively affluent background, which allows them to run away to a prestigious museum. The depiction of their access to resources and the ability to live comfortably within the museum environment may not reflect the realities of less privileged children.


The book continues to be celebrated for its exploration of adventure, art, and personal growth. By discussing the parts your family considers problematic, it allows for a more comprehensive understanding of its content and impact.

V “The Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stewart:

"The Mysterious Benedict Society" was made into a movie but the books were so good.

A group of gifted children, each possessing unique talents, is recruited by the enigmatic Mr. Benedict to infiltrate a secretive institution. Their mission is to uncover a nefarious plot that threatens the world.

With brain-teasers, codes, and a thrilling plot, this series offers a delightful blend of mystery, adventure, and friendship.

Points to consider:

Lack of Diversity:

One common concern is the limited representation of diverse characters in the series. Some readers have noted the lack of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity among the main characters and the supporting cast.

Intelligence as Central Theme:

The series heavily focuses on intelligence and problem-solving abilities as defining characteristics of the main characters. While this can be inspiring to young readers, it may inadvertently reinforce the notion that intelligence is the primary measure of worth or value, potentially overshadowing other qualities such as empathy, kindness, or creativity.

The Mysterious Benedict Society,” offers intriguing mysteries, teamwork, and themes of friendship and loyalty. Engaging in discussions about potential shortcomings allows for a more comprehensive understanding of its content and impact. By examining these concerns, readers can appreciate the positive aspects of the series while also recognizing areas that may benefit from further reflection, discussion, and the inclusion of diverse perspectives.

Classic Mystery Novels Conclusion:

Nancy Drew mysteries were a favorite of mine.

It’s essential to acknowledge that, like any form of literature, classic mystery novels may contain elements that are deemed problematic.

Some older classic mystery novels, such as the Nancy Drew books, were written in a different era and may reflect stereotypes or biases that were prevalent at the time. Additionally, concerns may arise regarding the portrayal of violence, language, or themes that are considered inappropriate for young readers.

It is essential to engage in open dialogue around classic mystery novels, considering the intentions of the authors and the context in which these novels were written.

These classic mystery novels foster a love for critical thinking, encourage curiosity, and provide a sense of accomplishment when the puzzle is solved.

Classic mystery novels offer a platform for discussions about societal issues, ethics, and personal values, empowering young readers to think critically and engage with the complexities of the world around them.

If you’ve been following the series, I recommend Part IV: Historical Fiction: Traditional Literature for Kids. If this was your first read, you can begin here, and if you’re looking for something different, try reading one of these.


I am an educator with almost 15 years of experience teaching in Japan, Hawaii, and in Los Angeles. My goal is to change education and the way we view literacy instruction in America.

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