Introducing mysteries with a great picture book

I’ve had a great time introducing mysteries to 3rd graders. Reading mysteries is such fun, but it also sharpens your reading skills – getting you to notice clues as you read, pay attention to character’s motives, and making predictions. All of these are important skills. We kicked off our unit in the library by reading Private I. Guana, by Nina Laden – it was such a fun picture book that really set the tone for reading mysteries. Kids (and parents) who love word play and puns will especially like this book.

Private I. Guana
by Nina Laden
CA: Chronicle, 1995
ages 7 – 11
available at your local library

Can Private I. Guana help find Leon, the missing chameleon? It’s tricky, finding an animal that can change colors at will. But this ace detective searches high and low, until he comes across the Lizard Lounge – a slimy sort of place, where only the most cold-blooded reptiles hang out (pause, get it – cold-blooded reptiles?). Yes, this book was full of puns like that. We had fun talking about the different meanings.

I have to tell you, the best part of reading this was telling the kids how much fun it is reading mysteries more than one time. It wasn’t until my 3rd time reading this, that I got the joke that Leon‘s name is part of the word chameleon. They loved that – that they got something before I did. It also let me encourage them to reread mysteries they loved in 2nd grade, like the A to Z mysteries. Now that they’re stronger readers, they’ll pick up more of the clues along the way. It can really help readers’ fluency to reread favorite books. They can then use these strategies to read new books.

Here are some of the mysteries that flew off our shelves this week:

Chet Gecko series, by Bruce Hale – kids who like puns, jokes and the tone of Private I. Guana will love the Chet Gecko series. Just wait until they find out the Chet is the finest detective lizard at Emerson Elementary! This is great for 3rd and 4th graders who want to get into a new series that makes them laugh, but also solve crimes along the way.

A to Z Mysteries, the A to Z Mysteries Super Editions, and the Capitol Mysteries, by Ron Roy – our 2nd and 3rd graders love getting into these mysteries. They have just the right blend of consistent characters and engaging plots. Dink, Josh and Ruth Rose are 3rd graders who know just how to solve their town’s mysteries – with some good sleuthing and clever thinking. In the longer “Super Editions”, the kids travel to new places for some exciting adventures.

Joe Sherlock, Kid Detective, by Dave Keane – I had a lot of fun reading the Joe Sherlock mysteries. Joe’s a kid I could relate to. No matter how hard he tries, he keeps bungling things up. Dave Keane mixes in lots of jokes, absurd situations and plenty of laughs in this series for 2nd and 3rd graders. This is only available right now as an ebook and in libraries, but it’s worth seeking out if you want a funny mystery.

Thea Stilton adventure mysteries – our kids have already been Geronimo Stilton fans, and they’re excited to read the Thea Stilton books. While the Geronimo Stilton books seem to be more adventures with funny twists, Thea Stilton loves solving mysteries. Here’s the description from the first in the series, Thea Stilton and the Dragon’s Code:

“When Geronimo’s sister, Thea, is invited to teach a journalism class at a college on Mouse Island, she has no idea that she’s going to be called on to help solve a mystery. But when a student disappears, it’s up to Thea and five of her students to find out what happened. A nail-biting mystery ensues, complete with secret passages, underground tunnels, and more than a few surprises along the way. Readers will love following the clues to help Thea and her new friends through their first adventure together!”

What are your favorite mysteries to read with your children? I’m especially looking for picture book mysteries to read aloud so we can talk about how we read mysteries.

Mary Ann Scheuer is the librarian at Emerson Elementary School, a public K-5 school in Berkeley, CA. She’s also the mom of 3 kids, ages 6 – 12. She is passionate about helping children, families and teachers find books that make them excited about reading. Find more great ideas for reading on her blog, Great Kid Books,