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Little Willow

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Booklist: Sleuths and Spies

One of my regular teen customers requested a booklist of super sleuths and sassy spies. I could have listed many, many spy-tastic books, but I decided to create a shorter list which focused on my absolute favorites and those which I most highly recommend as well as some recent releases.

Super Sleuths: Classic Realistic Mystery Series - rated G - for ages 7 and up

Nancy Drew - The original series and spinoffs were written by various authors and are published under the collective pseudonym Carolyn Keene. I read the original series. I also liked The Nancy Drew Casefiles and The Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys crossovers. I have not read The Nancy Drew Notebooks, and I'm not a big fan of the graphic novels. I didn't see the first TV series, but I watched the second. I was entertained by the original movies starring Bonita Granville, and I really liked the movie starring Maggie Lawson as a college-aged Nancy. I have yet to see the feature film starring Emma Roberts. For more, please check out my please check out my article about Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.

The Hardy Boys - The original series and spinoffs were written by various authors and are published under the collective pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon. I read the original book series as well as the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys crossovers. I watched the TV show in the 1990s. See above article link for more.

Encyclopedia Brown - Written by Donald J. Sobol. I read the books and, later, watched the short-lived TV show.

The Bobbsey Twins - This series was written by various authors under the collective pseudonym Laura Lee Hope.

The Boxcar Children - The first nineteen books were written by Gertrude Chandler Warner; the 100+ additional titles were written by various authors.

Cherry Ames - The first eight books were written by Helen Wells; Julie Tatham wrote the books after World War II.

Trixie Belden - The first six books were written by Julie Campbell Tatham, while the remaining 32 books were written by various ghostwriters under the name Kathryn Kenny

Meg - 6 books by Holly Beth Walker, a pseudonym for Gladys Baker Bond.

Gumshoe Series: Kid Detectives

Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat (and sometimes Mitchell Sharmat) and illustrations by Martha Weston
- For ages 5 and up. Easy to read, easy to follow. Great for kids making the transition from picture books to chapter books.

Chet Gecko by Bruce Hale
- For ages 7 and up. This fourth grade gecko wears a trenchcoat and a fedora. Most of his detective work takes place at his elementary school, which is populated by various species. The titles spoof those of classic mysteries. For example, The Postman Always Rings Twice becomes The Possum Always Rings Twice. This series is numbered but can be read out of order without causing any confusion.

The Baby-Sitters Club Mysteries by Ann M. Martin (and ghostwriters)
- For ages 8 and up. The baby-sitters solve crimes in their spare time. I love the BSC.

Judy Moody, Girl Detective by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter Reynolds
- For ages 7 and up. In the ninth volume in the Judy Moody series, spunky young Judy discovers Nancy Drew books and decides to follow in her new idol's footsteps. It's so nice to read a book about a character who loves to read!

Live and Let Spy

Spy Mice by Heather Vogel Frederick, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
- For ages 7 and up. Two kids become friends with mice that are spies. They are also skateboarders and gymnasts! (The gymnast mice tumble and flip on human-sized keyboards in order to type messages.) Some evil rats try to thwart the mice, but with the help of their human friends and some friendly pigeons, the mice always save the day. NIMH fans will dig these books.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
- For ages 8 and up. No spy list is complete without Harriet M. Welsh! To this day, I associate composition books with Harriet. Fitzhugh's next two books, The Long Secret and Sport, are also set in Harriet's world but aren't as spy-oriented. I have yet to read the Harriet books written by Helen Ericson.

Maggie Brooklyn mysteries by Leslie Margolis
- For ages 8 and up. Maggie: student by day, dog-walker (and mystery solver) after school. Very sweet, upbeat stories, and an ode to the city. These books would make a perfect family film, be it a feature or a Disney Channel Original Movie - and I'd be happy to adapt the screenplay (and cast it!) if Leslie needs someone to do so! :) The series so far:
-- A Girl's Best Friend
-- Vanishing Acts

The Gallagher Girls books by Ally Carter
- For ages 10 and up. Gallagher Academy is a private school for girls who are educated and trained to become spies. These stories are cute, clean, and funny. The series contains six books:
-- I'd Tell You I'd Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You
-- Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy
-- Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover
-- Only the Good Spy Young
-- Out of Sight, Out of Time
-- United We Spy
Read more about the books.

Also by Ally Carter: Follow a 15-year-old thief, Kat, as she leads her group in dangerous heists and cons all around the world in the Heist Society novels. For ages 12 and up. The series so far:
-- Heist Society
-- Uncommon Criminals
-- Perfect Scoundrels

Ally Carter also wrote a novella called Double Crossed which is a crossover between Gallagher Girls and Heist Society.

The Specialists series by Shannon Greenland
- For ages 12 and up. Teens with impressive smarts and strengths are recruited by a secret organization to work together and take down the bad guys. There are four books in the series:
-- Model Spy
-- Down to the Wire
-- The Winning Element
-- Native Tongue

The Squad by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
- For ages 12 and up. The last thing Toby Klein ever wanted to be was a cheerleader, but she suddenly finds herself as a squad recruit. She's just as shocked to see herself in the uniform as she is to discover the squad is actually a team of spies. These high school girls cheer their team one moment and help the government fight evil figures the next. If the cheerleaders from Bring It On were made into government agents, they would be Toby and her teammates. Fans of the original Charlie's Angels TV series who also like pop culture and high school spirit will like this series. There are two books in the series:
-- Perfect Cover
-- Killer Spirit

Fingerprints by Melinda Metz
- For ages 12 and up. This series blends intrigue, family secrets, and a supernatural power. Rae hears voices in her head. After a breakdown and hospitalization, she realizes that she has these voices are the thoughts of others, and that she hears them only when she touches an object that the original thinker (for lack of a better term) touched at an earlier time. This is a unique twist on psychic ability, incorporating the transfer of memories and the senses. There are seven books in the Fingerprints series. Read them in order:
-- #1 Gifted Touch
-- #2 Haunted
-- #3 Trust Me
-- #4 Secrets
-- #5 Betrayed
-- #6 Revelations
-- #7 Payback (the final book)
Read more about this series and other characters with psychic abilities.

Also Known As by Robin Benway
- For ages 12 and up. Maggie, the daughter of spies, has been a safecracker since she was a little kid. She loves living the life of a spy, working with her parents for a super-secret organization that rights wrongs and moving from location to location all over the world for different jobs. Now 16 years old, she finally gets a solo operation, and it's a doozy: attend school with kids her age (which she's never done) and pretend to be an average girl while befriending a guy whose father may be writing an article that will blow the organization's cover. Think of I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter crossed with a touch of True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet by Lola Douglas. If you like rom-coms, you'll like the AKA series. Read them in order:
-- #1 Also Known As
-- #2 Going Rogue
-- Additional titles to come

The Kiki Strike books by Kirsten Miller
- For ages 12 and up. The simply-titled Kiki Strike introduces The Irregulars, six teenage girls who discover an underground city in New York. Each girl has an unusual hobby or interesting interest, with one girl skilled in chemistry, another an inventor, another a master of disguise, and so on. Though they are led by the seemingly fearless Kiki, the novels are narrated by Ananka Fishbein, arguably the most regular of the Irregulars. Read them in order:
-- #1 Inside the Shadow City
-- #2 The Empress's Tomb
-- #3 The Darkness Dwellers

How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller
- For ages 14 and up. Unrelated to the Kiki Strike series but also located in New York, this novel shows readers what really happens at Mandel Academy. Formerly known as the Grand Street School, it's a cutthroat institution, filled with students who are learning how to be criminals.

Trickster's Choice by Tamora Pierce
Trickster's Queen by Tamora Pierce
- For teens. Called a "duology" and referred to as The Daughter of the Lioness series or the Tricksters series, these two novels take place in Pierce's land of Tortall, where knights, spies, and many others use magic to their benefit. Alianne (aka Aly) wants nothing more than to be a spy. She gets her wish, but not under the best of circumstances: while on a solo voyage, she is captured and enslaved, then contacted by a trickster god named Kyprioth and commanded to serve and protect a family with royal lineage. Pierce's loyal readers will enjoy seeing Aly, for she is the daughter of Alanna, the heroine of Pierce's first series.

Who Done It?: Meaningful Murder Mysteries

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Read this book if you haven't already. Read it again if you have read it before.
- For ages 8 and up. I had to put this title in a category of its own. I recommend it to adults as often as I recommend it to kids. If I had a nickel for every time I read this Newbery Award winning book, I would be rich. Not quite as rich as Samuel W. Westing, though. Sixteen people are gathered at the reading of Westing's will and split into eight pairs. The pair that solves the mystery will become heirs to the Westing fortune. This book is filled with intelligent twists and turns, and every single character is memorable. Turtle Wexler is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. That girl rocks.

FBI Candidates: Tracking Down Serial Killers

Body of Evidence series by Christopher Golden
Read them. Read them now.
- For ages 12 and up. Jenna Blake is a pathology assistant who also happens to be a college student. The books detail autopsies, crime scenes, serial killers and detectives as well as Jenna's dorm life, her family life, and her studies. They are incredibly well-written and well-researched. If you watch(ed) CSI or Profiler, then you need to read these books right now. The first book, Body Bags, has one of my favorite opening lines: "Amanda Green died for a cigarette." Within a matter of pages, Amanda is a goner, having been at the wrong place at the wrong time. The first chapter introduces us to Jenna, beginning with the line: "It was a beautiful day to grow up." You'll see this quote at the Bildungsroman website as well as in the sidebar of this blog. There are ten paperback mysteries about Jenna. Reading them in order is highly recommended, so start with Body Bags. Read more about the series.

The Sleeper Conspiracy by Tom Sniegoski
- Ages 12 and up. Government conspiracies, assassins, action, adventure, and narcolepsy. What's not to love? Packed with action, The Sleeper Conspiracy is essentially one book split into two volumes: Book One: Sleeper Code and Book Two: Sleeper Agenda. Bad guys and spies await you! Read my review.

Acceleration by Graham McNamee
- Ages 12 and up. When a teenage boy finds the diary of a would-be stalker and murderer, he feels compelled to track the criminal down before another woman is harmed. This quest becomes personal because the protagonist was unable to save a drowing victim the summer before. A high-octane ending.

The Creek by Jennifer L. Holm
- Ages 10 and up. This is a psychological thriller as well as a coming-of-age story set in a sleepy suburban town. Read my review.

Don't Spook Until You Are Spooken To: Ghostly Tales

The Doll in the Garden by Mary Downing Hahn
- Ages 8 and up. Hahn has written many books wherein a human child befriends a ghost child. The Doll in the Garden includes two girls, a white cat, a beloved doll, and a time-travel hedge. This is the book that taught me all about consumption.

The Ghost Wore Gray by Bruce Coville
- Ages 8 and up. Nina Tanleven (Nine) and her best friend Chris encounter a Confederate soldier who helped slaves escape using the Underground Railroad. This is the second of the three mysteries with featuring Nine and Chris, and I felt it is the best of the three.

The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright
- Ages 8 and up. The epitome of dollhouse mysteries. Good and creepy. Mwah ha ha.

Personal Notes

I have always felt as though I would make an excellent spy or undercover agent. I like solving problems. I like solving mysteries. I really like justice. I would be a detective or FBI agent if those careers didn't require the handling of firearms. So, instead, I will settle for playing those roles on TV or in films.

In elementary school, I co-founded The Clue Club with two of my school friends. Our classmates would come to us with tales of missing lunchpails and damaged schoolbooks. We would charge ten cents per case. We even had a flyer promoting our investigation services posted in the school library. Around that time, I read every classic mystery that my mom had at home as well as those I found at the public library.

Did I mention that I think Turtle Wexler rocks?

Related Booklist: Teen Mystery and Horror

Tags: articles, booklists, books, cybils, reviews, turtle wexler

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  • Red Hands by Christopher Golden

    A new Christopher Golden book is here, and I can't wait to get my hands on it! Here's the jacket flap summary for Red Hands: In bestselling author…

  • Annual Book Fair for Ballou High School

    It's that time again! Colleen Mondor has once again organized a book fair for the students of Ballou Senior High School. This time, the books are…

  • Best Books of 2019

    Total number of books read in 2019: 170 Here is my list of my favorite books I read this year, listed in the order in which they were read. Click…