Tae Keller’s newest middle grade book, Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone, opens with new girl Jennifer Chan declared missing at her middle school. As whispers begin, her next-door neighbor Mallory Moss worries that Jennifer may have been abducted by aliens (which Jennifer believed existed). Mallory reunites with two former friends begging them to help her find Jennifer following clues from her time with Jennifer and the diary Jennifer left behind. The story alternates between past and present as readers discover that Mallory’s search is also motivated by an ulterior motive: the need to prove that she and her popular friends didn’t run Jennifer Chan out of town with their bullying.
Maizy Chen’s Last Chance follows Maizy and her mother who return to Last Chance, Minnesota when Maizy’s grandfather becomes ill. We learn that Maizy’s mom had her with the help of a sperm donor and seems to have taken a less traditional, unexpected career route since her parents expected her to take over their historical Chinese restaurant The Golden Palace. However, Maizy’s grandparents love her, and Maizy quickly bonds with them, especially her grandfather. One day, she sees pictures of several Chinese young men and when she asks her grandfather about them, he begins to tell her a sprawling story about their family’s history in Last Chance, which is interwoven with love, racism, and community. At the same time, The Golden Palace experiences a hate crime and Maizy is shocked to discover who the perpetrator is.
When Winter Robeson came to visit his cousin, Eden in the summer of 1965, he had another agenda. Winter is a 13-year-old boy visiting Los Angeles from Mississippi. Unbeknownst to Eden and her family, Winter isn’t just there to see Disneyland — he’s looking for his father J.T. Robeson who came to LA 12 years ago and never returned. Eventually, he gets Eden to help him on his search. Not long after, the Watts Riot erupts.
The best middle-grade mysteries to me are those that have more than just a mystery as the plot. But, I have to admit, many great middle-grade mystery books are also just about the mystery (at least it’s the central plot) — and that’s fine too. For today’s list, I’ve included the best middle-grade mysteries as well as a sprinkling of early readers (chapter books) aimed at younger readers. I’ve marked which ones are part of a series, so if your kids enjoy series, you can get your hands on those picks.
Fast Pitch is a companion title to Nic Stone’s Clean Getaway, which I really enjoyed! It stars Scoob’s crush Shenice, an U12 softball team captain whose concentration is shot when she stumbles upon a decades-long family mystery. Shenice and her team are preparing to win the Fastpitch World Series, when she discovers that a crime her great-grand father was accused of — which cost him his reputation and place in the Negro leagues — may have actually been a set-up all along. And now, Shenice is the only one who can clear his name.
Curtis Pith is a huge fan of the cooking show, Super Chef, and not just because he loves cooking. He has a huge secret: the host of the show, Lucas Taylor is his father. So when Taylor announces a final season of the show, but for kids, Curtis knows he has to apply. Once he’s accepted and meets the four other kids, it’s straight to work. Between contests, homesickness, and figuring out how to keep his secret while observing Lucas Taylor’s changing behavior, Curtis has his hands full. But will he be The Last Super Chef?
Maddy Gaines is an anxious girl still coping with the grief of her father’s death — and also adjusting to her new stepfather. Home conditions are good: her mother is patient and reassuring, and she and her stepdad go on regular outings together by themselves. One day, Maddy sees on the news that a boy named Billy Holcomb has gone missing. Then several weeks after, she runs into another boy who looks a lot like Billy, except his hair is different and he’s taller than Billy was, and oh — his name is Eric.
Madi and her friends Jack and Aaron make a rescue at Lake Wild, saving two beaver kits, but they have a problem. Madi’s parents have said she cannot bring home any more strays. In fact, if she does, she’ll lose her trip to see acclaimed primatologist Jane Goodall. But neither Aaron nor Jack can take in the kits and their local shelter is full. Besides, the kids find that the kits’ parents have been shot dead. Madi takes them, hiding them in a shed on her parents’ property until she can figure out her next steps.
Georgia’s father was a renowned fine artist in New York before he died from cancer while only in his fifties. It’s been two years since he died, and her mom seems to be absorbed in managing his estate and trying to keep the family afloat financially. Georgia is still deeply grieving and dealing with several complicated feelings about her father, the world’s view of him, and her friendship with her oldest and best friend, Theo, who was also close to her dad.
Twelve-year old Sara Martinez is a hacker bouncing from foster home to foster home in Brooklyn, New York. After getting arrested for hacking into the NYC foster care system to expose her foster parents as criminals, she meets a man named Mother who is not a lawyer but convinces her to take on her case. Mother somehow wins and Sara gets released only to join a team of kid spies operating out of a base in Scotland.
The Amelia Six is the story of six clever girls who are invited to spend a night in Amelia Earhart’s home because of their achievements in STEM (specifically flying and aeronautics). Although all big-time Earhart fans, each of the girls are different. There’s shy, anxious Amelia (Millie) whose mom left her to go be a pilot. Then there are twins Robin and Wren who run a YouTube channel, Thea who builds things, like the side car she arrives in with her aunt’s motorcycle, Nathalie and her pet rat and Cassie whose parents work at NASA.