Girl Detectives Take the Case


With Booklist‘s celebration of the 50 Best Middle-Grade Novels of the Twenty-First Century well underway—and our tenth annual Mystery Month fast approaching—now is the perfect time to revisit this collection of gutsy girls in middle-grade mystery novels, originally published in the January issue of Booklandia

There’s a proud tradition of girl detectives in middle-grade lit. Smart and feisty—and usually unafraid to bend a few rules—these intrepid sleuths remain perennially popular. Here are some recent novels featuring mystery-solving gals who deserve places beside Nancy Drew and Harriet M. Welsch.


The Case of the Time-Capsule BanditThe Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit, by Octavia Spencer

Randi Rhodes—aspiring detective and tae kwon do black belt—worries her sleuthing days are over her when she and her father move to tiny Deer Creek, Tennessee. However, she spies an opportunity to flex her detecting muscles when a valuable time capsule disappears during the Founder’s Day Festival. Randi returns in The Sweetest Heist in History​ (2015).



The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan The Detective’s Assistant, by Kate Hannigan

Pinkerton detective Kate Warne is joined by her 11-year-old niece, Nell, in this exciting and expertly crafted mystery. Disguises, chicanery, and intrigue mix with American history to effortlessly draw in readers.




Finding Mighty by Sheela ChariFinding Mighty, by Sheela Chari

Twelve-year-old Myla finds herself in the middle of a decades-old crime conspiracy after she purchases a mysterious necklace engraved with the Indian symbol om and the word keeper. Fast paced and intricately plotted, Chari’s mystery celebrates diversity, presents graffiti as an art form, and acquaints audiences with parkour.



Friday Barnes, Girl Detective by R. A. SprattFriday Barnes series, by R. A. Spratt and illustrated by Phil Gosier

Friday puts her top-notch detective skills to use at her boarding school, which proves chock-full of mysteries. Track her down in these adventures:


The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald The Gallery, by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

In 1920s New York City, Martha O’Doyle works as a maid in the Sewell mansion, whose mistress is forcibly confined to her bedroom. As certain paintings appear in the art gallery, Martha realizes they contain a message that unlocks the mansion’s many secrets.



Goldie Vance by Hope LarsonGoldie Vance, v.1, by Hope Larson

In a chichi hotel in 1950s Florida, biracial Goldie Vance aspires to be a detective, regularly assisting Walter, the hotel investigator. Older middle-graders can handle this retro graphic-novel mystery, where candy-colored artwork and a refreshingly diverse cast of characters are joined by car chases, espionage, and a plucky heroine.



Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse, by Chris Riddell

Ada Goth resides at Ghastly-Gorm Hall, a sprawling gothic mansion with a broken-down wing, countless corridors, and a secret garden. A humorous mystery takes shape as Ada helps a ghost mouse and stumbles upon far more than hidden mousetraps. The mysteries continue in Goth Girl and the Sinister Symphony​ (2018).



The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth EulbergThe Great Shelby Holmes series, by Elizabeth Eulberg and illustrated by Erwin Madrid

Upon moving to New York City, John Watson meets the strangest kid he’s ever known: Shelby Holmes, detective. Naturally, the two become partners and entertainingly unravel mysteries around their neighborhood. Similarities to Sherlock Holmes abound!


Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, by Dusti Bowling

Thirteen-year-old Aven is adjusting to her new life in Arizona, where her dad was hired to manage a decrepit Wild West theme park. Aven was born without arms, but her upbeat attitude outshines what many would consider a disability—as does her curiosity, which leads her to investigate a mystery about the theme park’s past.



Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantaskey Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter, by Beth Fantaskey

In 1920s Chicago, Isabel dreams of being a crime reporter. After a friend is accused of murder, Isabel is determined to get the real scoop and save her friend.




Lou Lou and Pea and the Mural Mystery by Jill DiamondLou Lou and Pea and the Mural Mystery, by Jill Diamond and illustrated by Lesley Vamos

Someone is vandalizing the neighborhood of El Corazón, and best friends Lou Lou Bombay and Peacock “Pea” Pearl are determined to get to the bottom of it. Spanish words and Mexican traditions appear throughout as the girls piece together clues. Join them for their second mystery in Lou Lou and Pea and the Bicentennial Bonanza (2018).



Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring by Angela CervantesMe, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring, by Angela Cervantes

While her mother completes a university fellowship in Mexico City one summer, biracial Paloma gets a chance to dive into both her Mexican roots and an intriguing mystery when a pair of siblings ask her to help them find a stolen ring that originally belonged to Frida Kahlo.



A Properly Unhaunted Place by William AlexanderA Properly Unhaunted Placeby William Alexander and illustrated by Kelly Murphy

Rosa Díaz’s family specializes in extreme hauntings, which is why she’s directionless when they move to ghost-free Ingot. As Rosa starts investigating why Ingot seems to repel the dead, she teams up with local-boy Jasper. Together, they dig into neighborhood history and find themselves plunged into danger.


The Red Blazer Girls and the Ring of Rocamadour by Michael D. BeilThe Red Blazer Girls series, by Michael D. Beil

In this delightful series, Sophie, Margaret, and Rebecca solve a variety of mysteries within the halls of their school, St. Veronica’s. Fast and funny dialogue and solvable clues make for satisfying reading.


Super Max and the Mystery of Thornwood’s Revenge by Susan VaughtSuper Max and the Mystery of Thornwood’s Revengeby Susan Vaught

Superhero-obsessed, scientifically minded Max gets riled up when someone begins anonymously leaving slanderous posts on Facebook that target her police-chief grandfather. Being confined to a wheelchair in no way impedes her efforts to follow in his footsteps, discover who is behind the messages, and crack the case.


Murder Is Bad Manners by Robin StevensA Wells & Wong Mystery Book series, by Robin Stevens

Here’s a mystery import, set in the 1930s, that does justice to its British roots. Hazel Wong has come from Hong Kong to attend Deepdean boarding school, where she is befriended by upper-crust Daisy Wells. They become a two-girl detective agency, solving silly crimes—until bodies start turning up.

The Wig in the Window by Kristen KittscherThe Wig in the Windowby Kristen Kittscher

On their third midnight spy mission in the neighborhood, Grace targets friend Sophie’s middle-school guidance counselor. Taking their detective work undercover, the girls begin meeting secretly with a self-identified FBI agent, who may not be what he seems.


About the Author:

Julia Smith is a senior editor for Books for Youth at Booklist. She is a graduate of the MLIS program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is also an aspiring aerialist. Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaKate32.

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