Do you feel that tingle of excitement when you pick up a new mystery book? The anticipation of what intrigue it holds within its covers? Do you wonder about the plot twists and turns that will inevitably happen before you finally reach the ending where the mystery will be solved? Do you wonder if you’ll be able to figure out the mystery before the author lets you in on the secret?
A good mystery book leaves you guessing. It holds your attention. It draws you in to the bizarre, the fantastic, the out-of-the-ordinary. It takes you on a journey of discovery and reasoning. It makes you think, without making you think too hard.
Good mystery books are hard to find! Particularly when it comes to finding good mystery books for children! My family loves a good mystery story, but when I tried to find mystery books that would intrigue my children and were written on their level, I found this gap.
You see, there are the super simple mysteries – the ones that are solved by Clifford the Big Red Dog or Curious George that delight toddlers and even reach into the preschool age. Then, there are the more complex mysteries like the original Nancy Drew mysteries and, of course, Sherlock Holmes that intrigue older minds. But what about the younger children? Where are all the good mystery books for those who were reading well, but not ready for Sherlock just yet? Where are the books that draw in and delight the younger elementary readers?
It felt like living in a mystery book just trying to find a mystery book for younger kids! And not just any mystery book, but a good mystery book. One that held all the elements of intrigue, good characters, and a good plot line. A story that kept you interested and intrigued until the end.
But then, just like a detective finding a clue, I stumbled across something that would change the course of my search for a mystery book…
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This particular day, I had logged on to our library’s online catalog looking for a book. When my search results turned up, another book on the list captured my attention: ‘The Absent Author’ by Ron Roy. Alliteration and playing with words have always fascinated me, so I took a closer look. A number of other books had come up along with this one, bearing titles like:
The Talking T-Rex
The more books I saw, the more I was intrigued. You see, I had not stumbled across just one mystery book, but a series of 26 mystery books! One for each letter of the alphabet. And the author had alliterated each and every title – even down to the letters Q, X, and Z! The titles alone started to create this sense of anticipation, this air of mystery.
But more than that, the titles seemed to imply a sense of fun and playfulness, a sense of figuring things out, taking jumbled-up things and putting them together the way they belong. It gave the impression of a childhood playfulness interwoven with a mystery element.
Needless to say, we checked out a couple of these mysteries from the library and my kids and I dove in! Before the first book was done, we were hooked! Ron Roy not only delivers a fantastic title to his audience, but the content behind the title delivers as well!
You see, the A to Z Mysteries are written for younger elementary students. They are easy chapter books that typically stay under the 100 page mark (while still containing a few illustrations). The writing style is engaging. It is easy to read, but at the same time gives a bit of a challenge. The reader is encouraged to keep reading simply because they are able to read so much of these books all on their own. And while these books are fun to read together, your child doesn’t have to wait for an adult to read to them. Challenging words are included, but they make sense in the context of the book and are interwoven with easier words. The end result has the effect of expanding your child’s vocabulary, encouraging them instead of discouraging them with writing that is too far above their heads.
One of the elements that makes the A to Z Mysteries so unforgettable and easy to connect with is the unlikely trio that comes together to solve the mysteries.
Donald David Duncan, or Dink to his friends, comes across at first glance as the unofficial ringleader. But the more you read about Dink, the more you realize that as much as he is sometimes the ringleader, he would be lost without his friends. Dink demonstrates a big heart for helping people, a nose for following the clues, and the level-headed thinking to put the puzzle together. But Dink can get fixated on one thing and he needs Josh and Ruth Rose to balance him out.
Josh at first seems like the stereotypical sidekick best friend of the super-sleuth, but as you read the books, you find that Josh does not fit into that mold as well as you may have thought at first. Josh and Dink have a great friendship that is brought to light in every book. Josh brings a lot to the table in challenging Dink to look at things from another angle and wanting to do things that push the others a little out of their comfort zone. And Josh is always hungry, no matter what time of day it is!
Ruth Rose is a far cry from a typical girl! She is loud – even to Josh and Dink! She is very excitable. She is a true friend, no matter what, but she does have her quirks. One of the first things that you will see about Ruth Rose is that she likes to dress in one color – and only one color. Oh, she will rotate what color she wears, but from her hair bows down to her shoes and socks, she likes to dress all in one color for each day. No matter what, though, Ruth Rose is always up for an adventure!
When you stop and think about it, nothing truly spectacular jump out from any of these three characters. No super powers. No one comes across as super smart in school. There is not much that would make characters like this stand out. But in their normal-ness, in their typical-ness lies their relatability. You could easily imagine yourself in Dink’s shoes, having theses things happen, putting together the pieces of what is going on around you.
You can imagine yourself as a part of this dynamic trio. You can relate to the characters – to what they are feeling, to what they are saying, to what is happening around them. And that connection creates a captivating element that draws you in. It makes you a part of the book. A part of the action. A part of the character’s lives. It draws you in and leaves you wanting to read more and more about this unlikely team.
So often today, children put each other down. They elevate themselves by hurting others with their words or actions. Yet, this is not found in the A to Z Mystery books. It is a refreshing read. A book that you can allow your children to enjoy without wondering what they might be learning from the characters.
Oh, to be sure, Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose tease each other a little. (Josh is always up for a snack, after all!) But, it is never over the top. It is never done in a degrading manner. It is never done to make someone feel bad. It is done in good fun, in friendship.
In his writing, Ron Roy accurately portrays a good, positive friendship between these three characters without resorting to cutting words. What is more, the reader never feels talked down to. Ron Roy is an adult writing to children, yet he addresses them as equals. He meets them on their level and brings them along on an unforgettable adventure punctuated by positive friendships.
As all great mystery readers know, there needs to be a good plot, a good story line to carry through the book. Having great characters is essential, but if there is nothing substantial for those characters to do, the story is going to fall flat.
Ron Roy does a masterful job in creating an engaging story, developing each character, as well as creating and solving a mystery in a short amount of time.
Like any great mystery story, there is suspense. There is intrigue. There is this point where you hit the edge of your seat, wondering what will come next, wanting to turn the page and keep going so that you can solve the mystery with Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose.
The incredible element that emerges in Ron Roy’s writing is that he hits this element of suspense, he delivers this incredible amount of engagement. But at the same time, it is never too much. He never forgets that he is writing to younger kids and while he grabs and holds their attention through a gripping story line, he never takes it to the point of giving them nightmares. He never takes it over the top or over the line.
On top of all that, he includes many elements of fun. Sometimes it is the characters having fun together, sometimes it is bringing out their quirks, sometimes it is through different things that they do. No matter what, the books, the story line remain fun even as the characters walk through some suspenseful situations.
There are not many books written for younger elementary students that encourage deep critical thinking. When we think of detectives who use logic, critical thinking, and deductive reasoning to solve mysteries the greats come to mind: Sherlock Holmes, Colombo, even Nancy Drew (the classic, original Nancy Drew!). But there are not many good detective stories that draw out and explore this logic, critical thinking, and deductive reasoning element for younger kids.
Ron Roy changes all that with this mystery series. Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose have to work together, to notice things, to use critical thinking and deductive reasoning. To pull all the pieces together and solve the mystery each and every time.
The answer to the mystery, the final piece of the puzzle is not clearly spelled out from the start. You as the reader have to go along on the journey with Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose to gather the different pieces and clues needed to solve the mystery along with them.
As an adult reading these books, it is pretty easy to figure out in advance what is going to happen. It is pretty easy to put the pieces and the clues together and figure out where the plot is going. Yet, at the same time, there are plot twists that even the adults cannot fully anticipate. And even though the book is written by an adult, it is not written for adults. It is written for elementary age children.
Watching my children read these books, putting the pieces together one by one, and working to figure out the mystery before Dink and Josh and Ruth Rose do is a wonderful thing! But there’s this engaging element that comes into play as well. They not only try to figure out the mystery and solve the mystery before the book tells them the conclusion of the mystery, they want to keep reading until the end of the book to make sure that what they think is the correct conclusion is actually the correct conclusion.
And here’s the best part of it all: Sometimes, their predictions are spot on and they are able to guess the correct ending of the book. And other times, there is a plot twist, a new bend in the road of the story line that they didn’t see coming which keeps them guessing until the author reveals the true conclusion at the end of the book. Far from discouraging the reader, these surprises excite them and keep them coming back for more and more of these fabulous mysteries.
One of the wonderful things that emerges as you read this series is the friendship development between Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose. When Ron Roy first started writing this series, he must have known that he would be giving his readers an opportunity to get to know these characters over a long period of time. He doesn’t rush things. He allows the unveiling of their characters to happen naturally, over time.
To be sure, you learn a lot about this trio in the first book alone. You are given an inside view into their friendship so that by the end of the first book, you feel like you know the characters. And yet, you want to know them more.
Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose display and live out the value of friendship. They look out for each other. They challenge each other. They have fun together. They stick together. They compromise and take turns. Yes, sometimes they get on each other’s nerves, but at the same time, together they are a force to be reckoned with.
You are given a long glimpse into their friendship and that glimpse leaves you wanting more. Wanting to know more of these characters, more of their friendship, and more of the mysteries that they get to solve.
The characters are well-rounded and developed as each book is capable of standing on its own, but the more that you read the series, the more that you begin to see a greater character development. You are able to get to know the characters much better as time goes on and as you continue to dive into the stories with them.
It is at that point that something magical happens: Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose no longer remain characters in a book, but turn into friends. They start to become real to the reader. There is a kinship, a connection that each person reading the book can make with one or all of these remarkable characters. You meet a new friend through the pages of a book. You become friends with that character.
The trio that Ron Roy has put together is nothing short of brilliant. Each character is unique and endears readers to them, yet at the same time, this trio is far better and far more impactful together than they are apart.
It is rare to find a children’s mystery series that speaks to boys and girls alike. One that is uplifting and encouraging. One that engages and intrigues. One that delivers a great story line while developing very real, very relatable characters. Ron Roy presents a masterpiece tapestry with this 26-book series as he develops characters and friendships, speaks directly to children without using the degrading language that, sadly, is so prevalent in many children’s conversations today, and brings the reader along for a mystery ride all at the same time.
The A to Z Mysteries are among our favorite books and I cannot recommend them highly enough to you! If you’re looking for a mystery book for your child or even if you’re just looking for a new and wonderful book, be sure to read Ron Roy’s incredible series. It’s very easy to figure out what book comes first, just sing your A B C’s…
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Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.