Get Clued In: Chapter Book Mysteries & Lesson Plan Tie-Ins

Five chapter book mystery series with activities and lesson plan ideas.
As twilight falls earlier and earlier and chilly winds blow through much of the land, fall is the perfect time to pick up a mystery book. If you’re considering doing a mystery genre study or just want some mysteries to share with your students, here are a few of my favorites. The Buried Bones Mystery (Clubhouse Mysteries #1) by Sharon Draper (Aladdin, 2011). After their beloved basketball court is vandalized and closed down, Ziggy and his friends decide to build a clubhouse in Ziggy’s backyard and bury their treasure. But while digging in Ziggy’s yard, they discover there’s something already buried: a box of bones. Where did the bones come from? Who did they belong to? And how did they get into Ziggy’s backyard? This book is not only a satisfying mystery story, but each book in the series has some basis in real historical events, making this an easy series to pair with nonfiction titles. It features a diverse cast of boys who do some of their own research, making this a good tie-in with library research lessons as well. Originally published in 2006 as Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs, this series was repackaged and re-released in 2011.

 Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

 Sharon Draper provides discussion questions for all of her books on her website. Ziggy and his friends do research about bones to try to figure out where their box of bones came from. Read Bones by Steve Jenkins and look at the different types of bones from humans and animals. Compare and contrast some of the bones in that book.   The Impossible Clue by Sarah Rubin (Chicken House, 2017). Alice Jones is a smart, science-minded girl who notices everything. No wonder her classmates come to her when there is a mystery to be solved. When a scientist goes missing at a local science research lab, Alice is reluctant to help at first, but as she learns about their research on invisibility she’s intrigued. It seems too ironic to be true: a scientist researching invisibility disappears? Is there foul play involved or is something else going on? Alice is a character firmly grounded in STEM and she sees the world through a lens of science and math concepts, giving this mystery a unique spin.

 Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

This book is a natural fit for pairing with science research and science experiments. Check out the Smithsonian Institution’s curriculum and resources for ideas.   The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley (Scholastic, 2017). Jin, Alex, and Elvin are three kids with nothing in common, brought together to solve a mystery in their Harlem neighborhood. Elvin’s grandfather was attacked in the middle of the night in the Zora Neale Hurston Community Garden, the same place a long-lost painting by a Harlem artist was recently discovered. Why was he out there at night and what could he have found that would make someone attack him? The clues lead our young sleuths on an art history hunt through Harlem with stakes larger than any of them would have imagined. This is a book with an incredible sense of place, making this a great model for writing setting. The art history will please kids who like books like Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett (Scholastic, 2004) or Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (Dial, 2014).

Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

 Integrate art into your classroom with lesson plans from the Metropolitan Museum of Art  or CRISPA’s Art Museum Mysteries Revealed set of lesson plans. Explore setting writing with a lesson plan from Read Write Think.   The Case of the Haunted History Museum (Museum Mysteries) by Steve Brezenoff (Stone Arch, 2015). Wilson and his friends are exploring the new pterosaur exhibit at the Natural History Museum when one of the models falls from the ceiling, almost injuring museum guests. Could the museum be haunted like the security guards suggest? These four friends don’t think so and they’re eager to dive in and help figure out why strange things have been happening. Each book in this series explores a different museum or exhibit with the kids getting pretty free reign to go behind the scenes and stay after hours since each of them has a parent who works at one of the museums. Facts about the various exhibits and about museums in general are incorporated organically throughout the narrative. Kids who love science and history or who gravitate towards nonfiction will dig this mystery series.

Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

Each of these books includes features at the end like a glossary, discussion questions, and writing prompts, making them easy to incorporate into classroom use. These books also lend themselves well to pairing with nonfiction subjects that deal with the exhibits the kids explore. For The Case of the Haunted History Museum, check out the dinosaur lesson plans from the American Museum of Natural History  or The Field Museum’s Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries. Other topics explored in this series include art history, the Vietnam War, Sally Ride, and the history of flight.   The Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang (Aladdin, 2017). Mia is not thrilled to be spending a month of her summer vacation in China visiting her mother's hometown. When Ying, a childhood nemesis of her Aunt Lin's, shows up and they start to talk about the treasure hunting they used to do when they were young, Mia is intrigued. And when her aunt disappears, Mia is suspicious. She’s convinced that her aunt has been kidnapped, forced to help solve the final clues leading to Emperor Zhu Yunwen’s ancient lost treasure. To find her aunt, Mia must solve the clues and find the treasure herself, but she’s not the only one searching and the journey will be more dangerous than Mia could have ever guessed. This is an exciting mystery/adventure, perfect for kids who like solving riddles and enjoy armchair traveling. Zhang’s descriptions of the Chinese countryside and cities make readers feel like they’re there. Hand this one to kids who like the history mysteries in "39 Clues" or books like Dumpling Days by Grace Lin.

Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

Just like Mia is exploring China in the book, students can explore China in the classroom with this lesson plan from Scholastic. Columbia University’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute has compiled a collection of teaching resources on China from a variety of sources.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Community matters. Stay up to date on breaking news, trends, reviews, and more.

Get access to 6000+ annual reviews of books, databases, and more

As low as $12/month