Archive for Mystery

Ruby Redfort: Take Your Last Breath

Written by Lauren Child

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Ruby’s parents get thrown overboard a ship. They are assumed dead. All the sea animals seem to have gone crazy. Bodies keep showing up strangled. And it all has something to do with Redfort family’s long lost rubies. Now our new junior detective must disobey and lie to her superiors at Spectrum to save the day again. She continues to lean on her best friends, especially Clancy, to come to her rescue every time that she goes out on a limb, and even a wooden plank, as she deals with pirates and giant sea animals. An additional variance includes Clancy’s fear of water in this seafaring adventure where modern pirates clash with psychopathic bad guys. The story starts out a little confusing until the pieces start to make more sense like any good mystery.

The multiple twists and turns of this 5th grade comprehensive reading book keeps readers actively involved as the action causes them to stay focused because they do not want to miss anything. Each chapter leaves subtle clues to where Ruby looks next and even musical notes add a creative touch to how she solves this mystery.

These fun loving characters add layers and dimensions to this plot driven book where the past catches up with the present in this teenage detective novel where everything happens for a reason and science even plays a role in it. This book belongs on any reading list for mystery buffs that enjoy light reading combined with creative intrigue.

  • Ruby RedfortTitle: Ruby Redfort
  • Author: Lauren Child
  • Publisher: Harper Collins Publishing
  • Reviewer: Julia Beiker
  • Hardcover Edition
  • ISBN 13: 978-0-7636-5468-9
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Lexile Score 910

Being Henry David

Written by Cal Armistead 

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Many books are about finding yourself, but what if you really had no idea at all who you are? What if you wake up in New York’s Penn Station with a copy of Thoreau’s Walden as your only possession? No name. Nothing. You can only guess you’re about seventeen years old. Using Thoreau as his guide, “Hank” gets back to essentials. He doesn’t want to go to the police in case he’s running from them. He ends up accepting help from another kid, who introduces him to his sister and shows him a spot to sleep in an alley. Then he really gets into trouble. He’s injured in a knife fight and uses his opponent’s cash to leave town and work his way to Concord, Massachusetts, Thoreau’s home. In Concord, he follows Thoreau’s footsteps and befriends a Thoreau impersonator and a local girl. Slowly, his memory returns, but he’s still not sure why he’s running. The word sister means something to him. He knows how to play a guitar, but he doesn’t realize he’s playing a Beatles song. Eventually, he decides he needs to follow through on Thoreau’s plan to climb Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. This also means something to him outside the reference to Thoreau.

Kids as young as fifth grade can get a lot out of this adventure. It has a few scary moments, but the rewards outweigh the trauma in the end. An excellent guide for discussion and reading activities appears on the publisher’s website ( This book has already received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and is recommended by The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

  • Being Henry DavidTitle: Being Henry David
  • Written By: Cal Armistead
  • Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Hard cover: 304 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8075-0615-8
  • Genre: Young adult, self-discovery
  • Lexile Score: 780

Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries

Written by Elizabeth MacLeod

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How did King Tut die? Who was the man in the Iron Mask? Who killed the Mayan royal family? Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries probes into these mysteries and more through the lens of forensic analysis. This book, aimed at the fifth grade level, builds on the intrigue of ancient murder, disappearing royalty, sabotage, and other crimes. It will appeal to history enthusiasts as well as those with an analytical mind who enjoy solving puzzles.

Seven historical puzzles are presented in separate chapters. Each begins with a “Crime-Solver’s Arsenal” blurb that addresses one forensic tool or technique (such as DNA analysis, deductive reasoning, medical imagery) used by modern investigators to delve into age old conundrums. The mystery itself is presented in a you-are-there voice and includes sensory details that bring the story to life but make this section feel fictionalized. Historical information is presented in two sections of varying length, followed by sections on clues, suspects/speculation, and verdict.

Bones Never Lie hooks readers with the gruesome deaths of the past and allows them to see the value of deductive reasoning, analyzing all the evidence, questioning the source of information and the use of technology in a historical context. As is true with many crimes, a number of the mysteries in the book are unresolved. This may disappoint readers, but has the advantage of exposing readers to the many historical questions which remain to be solved.

Upon first reading, readers may be confused by the non-chronological presentation of the mysteries. This approach allows MacLeod to sequence the book by forensic technique, building conceptually from the more well-known archeological techniques to the more complex DNA analysis.

The text is visually supported by historical photographs (portraits of individuals, photos of letters, etc.), images of modern technology (CT scans, models of DNA, etc), spot art in the margins, and eye-catching chapter openers (an ashen foot with a tag attached,  a hand holding a pistol, etc). Although the spot art of a microscope, test tubes, latex gloves, an evidence bag and more works well in the first chapter, it is repeated throughout the book with no obvious connection to the text it accompanies. It loses its positive effect. Informative sidebars are placed within the frame of an electronic device such as a tablet, a graphic probably intended to appeal to readers interest in current technology, but this technique seemed forced at times.

Teachers might choose to use the book to support curriculum on the fifth grade level and higher as the concepts, vocabulary, reading level and comprehension will challenge upper elementary and some middle school students. Bones Never Lie could also used as for teaching the usefulness of a timeline, index, glossary, and other components found in informational texts. The concept of using grim riddles from the past, combined with intriguing crime-solving tools of the present is the strength of the book and may be just the hook for students entranced by recent forensic shows on television.

  • Bones Never LieTitle:  Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries
  • Author:  Elizabeth MacLeod
  • Publisher: Annick Press
  • Reviewer: Heather L. Montgomery
  • Paperback: 156 p.
  • ISBN: 978-1-55451-482-3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, history, forensics


The Inquisitor’s Apprentice

Written by Chris Moriarty

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The Inquisitor’s Apprentice is a fun, complex, and delightful mystery chapter book for fifth grade level readers and above. The story involves early twentieth-century New York atmosphere and history fictionalized to keep the reader engaged in the activities of the main character, Sacha Kessler, who has the keen ability to see witches and witness magic. These skills are of utmost importance to the police department’s star inquisitor, Maximillian Wolf.

Sacha’s abilities earn him the apprenticeship to the police department and he becomes one of the main investigators to find who wants to kill Thomas Edison. This investigation leads the fifth grade reader on a wild adventure through New York City’s finest neighborhoods where magic prevails in most interesting and secret ways. The story weaves Jewish history and language into the plot, making this a spring board for further lessons on Jewish culture and history, always a great plus for teachers of 5th grade level students.

Although the author includes additional information regarding the parts of New York history that has been fictionalized, the 5th grade level reader will come away with a feeling of knowing more about New York and it’s famous Jewish neighborhoods. And even those students who don’t like reading about witches and magic will enjoy the overall mystery and detective work that the main character encounters.

The book has a twist at the end, and the 5th grade reader will come away with more experience in reading and comprehension of a complex plot, reading fictionalized and interesting history, and how magic and superstition plays an important part in the lives of many. The fifth grade reader will also come away  wanting more of the main character and his inquisitor apprenticeship activities. Kudos to the author for writing what this grade level wants to read. This book is a great addition to the 5th grade level classroom library.

  • Inquisitors ApprenticeTitle: The Inquisitor’s Apprentice
  • Author: Chris Moriarty
  • Illustrations: Mark Edward Geyer
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-5813-4
  • Reviewer: Terri Forehand
  • Edition: Hardback, 345 pages
  • Genre: Juvenile fiction, mystery, magic

Assassins, Traitors, and Spies

Written by Elaine Landau

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This collection of twelve short biographies highlights a cast of historical characters notorious for their hostile actions against the United States. The high-interest content written for pre-teens and early teens is sure to interest casual and curious readers of all sorts. It’s written for just that purpose, although most of the names will likely be unfamiliar to the intended audience. The author does an excellent job of pulling readers in with relevant questions and a snappy tone.

The choices are varied, ranging from a Southern teenaged girl, who spied for the Confederacy during the Civil War, to a young American man who joined the Taliban. The brief biographies stay focused on the specific event and  are organized chronologically beginning during the Revolutionary war with Benedict Arnold and stretching into this century with the likes of John Walker Lindh, Anna Chapman, and Robert Hanssen. (The most sinister mass murders are not included.)  Some of the biographees are either FBI or CIA agents who played roles as both traitor and spy.

Each spread includes several photos (color when available) with captions and occasional insets that define a word or add extra information.  The double-paged treatments are light on details and written to engage readers at about the fifth grade level. Older readers at a lower reading level and slightly younger readers will find this title intriguing as well. The introductory coverage may trigger further reading on the topic or individuals. A list of ‘Further Reading’ will head readers in the right direction.

The author has written hundreds of other books. You can learn more about her and her books at her website:

This website gives more information on the CIA:

This website “Mrs. Covert’s Spy Lessons and Spy Links”has lots of links on all different aspects of spying:

  • Assassins Traitors and SpiesTitle: Assassins, Traitors, and Spies
  • Author: Elaine Landau
  • Publisher: Lerner Publications
  • Reviewer: Carol S. Surges
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-0608-7
  • Genre:  Nonfiction, U.S. History,  Biography
  • Lexile Score: 600