March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

On the Radar: Top Picks from the Editors at Junior Library Guild: Mysteries for Elementary Sleuths

Start with a missing object, ask a few questions, throw in some red herrings and what do you have? An unputdownable mystery! This fall’s releases offer openers and new entries in fun whodunit series, and standalones that will keep your patrons sleuthing for clues.

Boys surfing on blue coverBARNETT, Mac. Brixton Brothers: Danger Goes Berserk. illus. by Matthew Myers. S & S. 2012. ISBN 9781442439771. JLG Level: ME : Mystery/Adventure Elementary (Grades 2-6)

Twelve-year-old detective Steve Brixton has a new case. The problem is that he will have to learn how to surf in order to go undercover to solve it. He and partner Dana suit up to solve the mystery of a stolen surfboard. In the midst of one case, two more evolve, leading readers to wonder how or if they are connected. From laugh-out-loud moments to nail-biting adventures, old and new fans will root for the middle schoolers as they encounter chaotic dangers.

Illus book cover of boy and girlFARREY, Brian. The Vengekeep Prophecies. illus. by Brett Helquist. HarperCollins/Harper. 2012. ISBN 9780062049285. JLG Level: ME : Mystery/Adventure Elementary (Grades 2-6)

Born into a family of thieves, Jaxter’s time has come to join in. Yet in the midst of his first heist, his clumsiness causes building to get on fire and lands his clan in the gaol. A prophecy found on the town’s tapestry names his kin as the saviors of Vengekeep. Jaxter and Callie leave town to find a way to stop the prophecies from coming true, otherwise they’re in for lots more trouble.

This standalone fantasy novel is filled with mystery and adventure. Fantastical creatures, non-magic spells, and period-type exclamations (zoc, bangers!) blend easily into a world where magic is believable. Readers will hope that Farrey has further adventures to offer us and that the Grimjinxes will return.

Red cover boy and girl puppetsSCHLITZ, Laura Amy. Splendors and Glooms. Candlewick. 2012. ISBN 9780763653804. JLG Level: B+ : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5-7)

Highly discussed as a Newbery contender, Schlitz offers a mystery filled with magic, adventure, and suspense. Clara is the only child in her family and is treated with kid gloves. Loving the thrill of a puppet show, she invites danger into her life when it is brought to her party. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall work for the master puppeteer, Grisini, and have a very difficult life. When Clara disappears and Grisini does as well, it’s up to the remaining two children to solve the mystery. What they find out puts them in greater danger than they’ve ever been in before.

Set in Victorian London, Schlitz creates a  Dickens-like world where magic is entirely possible. From witch and magician to drunken landlady, the characters are so well-developed, you’d recognize them in a crowded room. It’s a tale that lingers long after the pages close.

Book cover with silohutte of gumshoeSNICKET, Lemony. Who Could That Be at This Hour? Little, Brown. 2012. ISBN 9780316123082. JLG Level: ME : Mystery/Adventure Elementary (Grades 2-6)

Chalk up another winner for Lemony Snicket. A boy is mysteriously whisked away after climbing out of a bathroom window while his adult companions sleep off a potion that was in their tea. Off to solve a mystery with a less-than-competent sponsor, Lemony seems to know more about getting the answers, even if he does ask the wrong questions. The first in a series of four, readers who clamor for more Snicket will be thrilled to begin the journey with him once again.

Book cover of kids in antarcticaSTEPHENS, John. The Fire Chronicle. Knopf. 2012. ISBN 9780375968716. JLG Level: B+ : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5-7)

After the children are discovered by their enemies, Kate is separated from her brother and sister. Michael and Emma are left on their own in Antarctica to find the legendary book of fire. Kate fights fires of her own in 1899 New York. Rafe seems to know her, but the adults are doing everything they can to separate the two. As the dangers for all three siblings grow stronger, their intertwining fates bring the three closer together. How long will they stay together?

The second of The Books of Beginning series will keep readers in suspense with alternating chapters between the separated siblings. New monsters, dangers, and magic wait around every corner. Stephens brings back characters and introduces new ones. Readers will have to wait for all their answers to their gripping questions, as The Fire Chronicle ends in a tremendous cliff-hanger.

For ideas about how to use these books and links to supportive sites, check out the Junior Library Guild blog, Shelf Life.

Junior Library Guild is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at


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Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.