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Mysteries for Young Readers

posted by: February 24, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Captain CoconutCover art for The Queen's ShadowCover art for Warren the 13thYoung sleuths looking for a case to solve can have their pick with the latest selection of new titles. Each of these books holds secret lessons on science and math that will help burgeoning detectives spot clues and decode puzzles.


Captain Coconut and the Case of the Missing Bananas by Anushka Ravishankar introduces a new “First Chapter” series from India, led by the crazy and entertaining Captain Coconut, detective extraordinaire. When he’s not inventing booby traps and reading pulpy detective stories, the Captain has readers using simple arithmetic to solve crimes. Chapters are interjected with Bollywood-esque songs praising Captain Coconut’s numerous talents while the accompanying illustrations belie many jokes at the Captain’s expense.


The Queen’s Shadow, by acclaimed picture book author Cybèle Young, uses the framework of a mystery in an animal kingdom to study the special kinds of vision different animals have — from the trinocular vision of the mantis shrimp to the panoramic eyesight of goats. Young interjects her narrative with sidebars detailing these feats and uses her illustrations to demonstrate the ways animals’ vision differs from our own. Readers will be impressed by the creatures she features, some of whom are strange and exotic, but many of which are fairly common and all the more interesting when seen in this new light.


Fans of Gravity Falls and Roald Dahl will want to check out Warren the 13th and the All Seeing Eye, an action-packed story about an orphan who cares for the hotel his ancestors built. Minded by his devious aunt and dim-witted uncle, Warren’s days of riding dumbwaiters and exploring hedge mazes are interrupted when he takes up the task of thwarting his scheming relatives’ plans for treasure hunting. To prevent the mysterious “All Seeing Eye” from falling into the wrong hands, Warren must uncover the secrets of the Warren Hotel with some creative thinking and the help of his friends. With a cast as kooky as the Addams family, Warren the 13th is a fast paced, art-driven story first conceived by its illustrator, Will Staehle, and further developed by writer Tania Del Rio, who has promised a sequel this fall.




The Marvels

posted by: February 23, 2016 - 7:00am

The MarvelsIf I could award a book for best cover design, Brian Selznick's The Marvels would be the winner. One of the reasons why I selected The Marvels is because the book cover had me at “Hello!” It is a large, navy blue and gold book with gold trimmed pages. Do not let the page count intimidate you, even though it's nearly 700 pages (Yikes!). It's part pictures and part words (Yay!).


The first half of The Marvels is in illustration. The drawings tell a story set in 1766 about a 12-year-old boy named Billy Marvel, who becomes the lone survivor of a horrid shipwreck caused by a storm. After an English ship saves him, he settles in London and works at the Royal Theatre. This theatre becomes the place where several generations of Billy’s family perform and become well-known actors.


The second half of The Marvels is in prose. This story takes place in London and is set in 1990. It focuses on another young boy named Joseph Jervis, who runs away from boarding school to track down his best bud, Blink. Unable to find him, Joseph seeks help from his long time, no-see estranged uncle, Albert Nightingale, to assist him with locating his friend. While searching for his uncle’s address, Joseph meets a new acquaintance, Frankie, who helps him find his uncle’s home. At first, Albert is reluctant to have Joseph stay at his home, but he gives in once he sees that his nephew is unwell. After experiencing the presence of ghosts, hearing weird noises and seeing enchanting portraits throughout the home, Joseph quickly notices that his uncle and his house are very mysterious. He and Frankie gather that it may have something to do with the Marvels and the Royal Theatre. They both go on a mission to discover Albert’s connection to the theatre and the Marvels.


My favorite part about The Marvels is the wonderful job the author has done telling the story through the amazing illustrations. Although this is a children’s book, I want to point out that it has LGBT themes and it brings up the topic of AIDS. The story has some heart-breaking moments and an unexpected twist. Overall, this was a good read.


Fans of Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck will relish his latest release The Marvels.



posted by: February 10, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for HoodooIn Ronald L. Smith’s novel Hoodoo, twelve-year-old Hoodoo Hatcher’s family has a history of practicing hoodoo or folk magic. Despite his name Hoodoo can’t cast a single spell. His grandmother, Mama Frances, tells him that his heart-shaped birthmark under his eye is a sign he’s marked for magic and his ability to conjure will come in time, but Hoodoo’s time is rapidly running out. A mysterious and malevolent man called the Stranger has appeared in town and he’s stalking Hoodoo. Hoodoo has to discover the truth about his family’s past and find a way to conjure before the Stranger destroys Hoodoo and everyone he loves.


Part coming-of-age story, part Southern Gothic tale, Hoodoo is creepy and mysterious, perfect for any middle schooler who enjoys the supernatural. Even though the story is set in 1930s Alabama during Jim Crow, Hoodoo’s world is a self-contained society with its own secrets and powers. Hoodoo is a likeable and relatable narrator, struggling not just with supernatural forces but also with bullies and his first crush.


Smith currently lives in Baltimore and he recently won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award. His writing is smooth and easy, with a rhythm to it that lends well to reading the book out loud. Hoodoo is a good read for any fan of scary stories, but fans of Lemony Snicket should definitely check this book out. Read the Between the Covers author interview of Ronald L. Smith here.


There’s a Mystery in My History

posted by: February 17, 2015 - 7:00am

The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan StratfordWhat would have happened if the author of Frankenstein and the world’s first computer programmer met as girls in early 19th century London? Why, they would have joined forces and become private detectives! Follow along as Mary Shelley and Ada Lovelace sort through a false confession, eliminate some odd suspects and finally solve the mystery of a stolen necklace in The Case of the Missing Moonstone, book one of The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series by Jordan Stratford.


Brilliant, yet socially inept Ada Bryon is not happy about the departure of her governess and the arrival of her new tutor, Peebs. However, this change does bring to Ada the first true friend she has ever known, the adventurous and kind Mary Godwin. The girls notice the newspaper contains several articles about crime so they decide to form a “private and secret constabulary for the apprehension of clever criminals.” It isn’t long after they run their advertisement for the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency that they accept their first case and begin their adventures.


A host of historical figures, including Charles Dickens and Charles Babbage, make appearances in this fun children’s book. While Stratford has admittedly taken liberties with regards to the timeline (Mary Shelley was actually 18 years older than Ada Lovelace), the setting and character behaviors are historically accurate. A humorous, action-packed story, this book features strong female characters who use math, science and deductive reasoning skills to solve the crime in a vivid, alternative historical setting. I wouldn’t be surprised to find this one on school reading lists this summer.


Good Intentions Gone Wrong

posted by: January 21, 2015 - 7:00am

Dangerous Deception by Peg KehretEmmy Rushford is a precocious and civic-minded 6th grader. When her class is assigned to do a community service project, Emmy thinks she has a great idea: Her group will collect food for a local less fortunate family. On the surface, this may sound like a good idea, but Emmy is not telling the whole story to her classmates or her family. In Peg Kehret’s book, Dangerous Deception, Emmy begins innocently enough but she is soon put in harm’s way.


Kehret makes Emmy a rather mature-for-her-years but believable character who wants to do good but naively believes she can handle some very adult issues. The family that Emmy is trying to help is in trouble. However, she cannot turn to her parents or teacher for help without exposing some lies she has told. Kehret sets up a dilemma for her heroine that may seem a bit beyond the abilities of most 6th graders, but she keeps Emmy from becoming a superhero. She is flawed but well-intentioned, and young readers may learn a lesson or two from some of Emmy’s poor decisions. 


A Hidden Masterpiece

posted by: July 28, 2014 - 8:00am

Cover art for Under the EggTheodora Tenpenny has more than her share of burdens for a 13-year-old. With the death of her beloved grandfather Jack, Theo has been thrust into the role as head of the household which includes taking care of her sweet but thoroughly withdrawn mother, tending to the family’s crumbling, 200-year-old Greenwich Village townhome, fending off creditors and trying to make ends meet with a legacy of less than $500. Fortunately, her grandfather’s dying words have given her some hope. “Look under the egg,” he tells her, hinting that a supposed fortune lies waiting there.  In Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s Under the Egg, this clue sets the plucky and resourceful Theo on a series of adventures that she could never have anticipated.


Fitzgerald does an amazing job of capturing not only what Theo is feeling as she is forced to take over the role of parent to her ineffectual mother, but how Theo manages to still behave like a typical 13-year-old girl. One thing Theo yearns for almost as much as a way out of her financial nightmare is to have a friend.  When she meets Bodhi, the daughter of a Hollywood couple temporarily living down the street from Theo, the two girls instantly bond.  They decide to team up to figure out the mystery surrounding an odd painting that Theo discovers in Jack’s studio.  Is this the work of the world-renowned artist Raphael? If so, how did Theo’s grandfather acquire it? Soon Theo discovers that Jack also worked with the famous “Monuments Men” group during World War II, and she is confronted by even more questions. It’s up to Theo and Bodhi to solve these questions and discover the real mystery lying “under the egg.”  


Family Mouse at the Manor House

posted by: March 12, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Mouseton AbbeyWant to share your love of Downton Abbey with your little one? Look no further than Mouseton Abbey: The Missing Diamond by Nick Page. This estate, populated by mice and presided over by Roquefort, the present Lord Mouseton, has an impressive history — it was originally a monastery and even survived the War of the Fondues!


At Mouseton Abbey, it's Cheesemas, and Roquefort has misplaced the Great Big Cheesy Diamond, which is a tradition for the family’s Cheesemas banquet. Lady Brie, the Countess of Mouseton, is well acquainted with her husband’s habit of losing things and even tried buying him a planner at one point (which he lost). Soon, everyone at Mouseton Abbey from Roquefort and Lady Brie’s three daughters to the household staff is on a search for the diamond. But with last-minute banquet preparations underway, Roquefort is causing more disorder and housekeeping angst as he tears apart rooms and upsets cooking preparations in search of the treasure. Will the family find the diamond and be able to keep their Cheesemas tradition?


Adorable knitted mouse characters set in delightfully sketched rooms make this a fun and enchanting story, and the humor and mice misadventures will be appreciated by both adults and children. There is even a character chart in the beginning of the book with names and titles (Lady Gouda, in dress and demeanor, bears more than a passing resemblance to Downton’s Lady Violet). With the mice’s names — Wensleydale, Ricotta, Fontina — it could be a lesson in cheeses as well as aristocratic country estates!


Danger: High Voltage Fun!

posted by: January 6, 2014 - 6:00am

Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger LabDo you enjoy a good mystery? Are you fascinated by science and technology? If you answered “yes,” then Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith is definitely for you. This is the first book in a new series that follow 11-year-old siblings Nick and Tesla as they spend a summer in California with their quirky uncle Newt, an eccentric and somewhat absent-minded inventor.


The twins almost have free range of their uncle’s lab in the basement of his home. They build a rocket out of PVC pipe and an empty soda bottle and some other odds and ends they find around the house. Something goes wrong on the rocket’s maiden launch. Instead of just going up and back down, the rocket ends up in the yard of a spooky old house. But this is not just any spooky old house. This one is surrounded by a fence and guarded by dogs. Even worse, when the rocket didn’t initially take off like they expected, Tesla got too close while checking a seal. The rocket took off with the necklace her parents had given her.  Will they be able to retrieve the rocket and Tesla’s necklace? Who’s the mysterious girl in the creepy house’s upstairs window? And why is a black SUV following them wherever they go?


This book is great for kids who have advanced past first chapter books. There are five illustrated experiments that show the reader – with the help of an adult, of course – how to make the gadgets that Nick and Tesla make in the story. A fast-paced adventure novel, Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab is sure to bring out your inner mad-scientist.


A Forgotten Town

posted by: November 8, 2013 - 6:00am

BelowTwelve years ago on the day she was born, Cassie Romano’s town was flooded to make way for a new dam and the residents of Old Lower Grange were moved uphill to a brand new town, New Lower Grange.  The whole town turned out to celebrate the flooding except for Cassie’s family. They were busy racing to the hospital to deliver Cassie eight weeks earlier than planned. In Meg McKinlay’s children’s novel, Below, Cassie is envious of her family’s memories of a place she will never know and she grows up imagining a mysterious town underneath the still waters of the manmade lake. Fascinated with the past, she has spent hours studying old pictures, maps and historic documents and knows where every oak tree stood and where every road leads.


When a summertime drought causes the water levels in the lake to recede dramatically, Cassie and her friend Liam stumble on a long kept secret, a secret that was submerged under 200 of water. Despite their own physical limitations, they work together to solve the mystery below the water.

Below is based on the author’s own experience as a teenager standing next to a drowned town and wondering what remained underneath the water and the mud.


Four Pearls and a Whole Lot of Diamonds

posted by: May 1, 2013 - 7:55am

Hold FastBlue Balliett has created an unforgettable character in Early Pearl, the eleven-year-old heroine of Hold Fast. Early’s life is happy despite a lack of money. Her parents, Dashiell and Summer, and her four-year-old brother Jubiliation form a tight-knit family that enjoys reading, words, and puzzles. Dash works as a shelver in the Chicago Public Library with a dream of one day becoming a librarian. Sum stays at home to take care of Jubie, but once he starts school, she wants to work with kids who need help. They all long for a home of their own someday, but until then are content in their cozy apartment on Chicago’s South Side.


All that changes when Dash suddenly vanishes and the Pearl family is shattered. Forced to retreat to a shelter, Sum grows depressed, Jubie sick, and Early is anxious and determined to find out the truth about her father. Early becomes desperate to hold her family together and find her father. She realizes that he hasn’t left without a trace, and with the help of her dad’s former teacher, tracks down the patterns and rhythms of Dash’s days prior to his disappearance. 


Early is a wise and spunky young girl; Balliett infuses the story with the poetry and spirit of Langston Hughes, as evidenced by the book’s title, which is from his poem "Dreams". This is also an interesting glimpse into life as a shelter kid and offers an honest look at homelessness. The mystery will keep readers engaged, especially with the public library at the center of an international crime ring. Enjoy getting to know this most special Pearl family, which is blissfully reunited despite great obstacles, thanks to the persistently clever Early who followed her heart and held fast to her dreams. 



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