It seems appropriate that the first week of October is Mystery Series Week. Mysteries can be cozy reads perfect for fireside reading, or they can be rather spooky, perfect for Halloween season! Fittingly, it appears that the last mention of Mystery Series Week was in 2011, and the official website is nowhere to be found. Dun dun DUUUUN! In honor of Mystery Series Week (October 4-10), here are some of my favorite mystery series for children:
You can't talk about mystery series for children without mentioning four major classic mysteries for children: The Boxcar Children, Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys. (We also have a handful of the Bobbsey Twins series, but those have not remained popular). The Boxcar Children series (created in 1924 and reissued in 1942) is very popular (probably the most popular classic series) due to it being an accessible series for elementary grade students. Over 100 titles are included in the series, and the reading order doesn't really matter after you read the first one (you can probably even skip reading the first one). The first nineteen books were written by first grade teacher Gertrude Chandler Warner, the creator of the series; the remaining 100+ titles were developed by ghostwriters.
Despite print encyclopedias not being a staple in families' home anymore (we have amazing encyclopedia databases!), I'm always pleasantly surprised and pleased when children ask for Encyclopedia Brown. (I was never much into Nancy Drew, but I loved Encyclopedia Brown, even though I could never figure out the mysteries before turning to the solutions in the back). Donald Sobol is the sole author of the entire series, which he began in 1963. Reading order absolutely does not matter, as everything about Encyclopedia Brown is explained in every first chapter.
The Nancy Drew series has had many spinoffs and imitators, but the original series (first published in 1930) remains rather popular. The convoluted story of its creation is fascinating; adult fans of the series must read Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her. Mildred A. Wirt, the author of the first 23 stories, was what people used to call "a character"; her life story would make for a great movie (hello, Hollywood screenwriters: three awesome characters to write for--Mildred Wirt, publisher Edward Stratemeyer, who was also responsible for the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins series, and his daughter, Harriet Adams--and a dramatic courtroom scene to boot! Plus--1930s fashion and an epic mustache for Mr. Stratemeyer).
The Hardy Boys, originally published in 1927 and later extensively revised in the 1950s (as was Nancy Drew), were also written by several ghostwriters. Like Nancy Drew, the revisions came about because of unfortunate prejudices expressed in the books; although few complained about the reason for the revisions, many have criticized the revisions (for both series) in the belief that the characters lost significant parts of their independence and gained a greater reliance on authority figures (who are usually at odds with vigilante detectives who play by their own rules).
Looking for something more contemporary? Try these fun series:
Enola Holmes is the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, and just as eager to solve mysteries! While characters from the original Sherlock Holmes stories appear in Nancy Springer's books (6 in all), this is a delightfully unique and original series.
Hank the Cowdog is a series I regularly recommend to readers who want something more challenging than A-Z Mysteries, but are not quite ready to tackle more involved mysteries. Hank is the self-identified "Head of Ranch Security" at the M-Cross Ranch in Texas (when he's not doing his actual job herding cattle). This is a funny series that is perfect for children who want mysteries, but aren't ready for the more intense situations that occur in mystery series.
The Lady Grace mysteries are the (fictitious) diaries of Lady Grace Cavendish, who serves as Queen Elizabeth I's youngest maid of honor. Three authors write under the pseudonym of Grace Cavendish. Lady Grace is constantly solving mysteries at court, for which she is rewarded by Her Majesty. Although the books are not lengthy, this is a sophisticated series that involves quite a bit of suspense (and one of the characters is often drunk).
Jane O'Connor's Nancy Clancy series is a mystery chapter book series spinoff of her insanely popular Fancy Nancy picture books and easy readers. Nancy, now in third grade, solves mysteries (items missing at school, a mystery involving a key, etc) with her best friend, Bree. Young mystery fans who are ready for chapter books will delight in this series!
Adult readers of Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series should definitely check out his Precious Ramotswe series (featuring the same Mme. Ramotswe, but in her younger years) written for young readers. Whether she is investigating thievery of her classmates' treats or a missing cow, Precious Ramotswe is a spirited and determined young sleuth.