Last week, I brought home one of my favorite childhood books, The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery by Graeme Base. In the story, Horace the elephant has a birthday party, and someone ate his birthday feast. The picture book has extremely intricate illustrations which hold the clues and keys to the mystery. The solution is at the end of the book in a “sealed” envelope.

My husband and I spent HOURS on a Friday night, reading the book, looking for clues and discussing the story. He was surprised to learn that after 30+ years, I still haven’t figured out the answer—and I have no intention of opening the envelope.

The power of mystery is true for all ages!

Mysteries in the Classroom: A Genre to Captivate All Ages

Mystery is such a powerful genre. It has the ability to captivate audiences of all ages and stages, engaging readers with unpredictable plot twists and dynamic characters. And it is great for reluctant or struggling readers too!

Experiencing the mystery genre (whether through read alouds, shared or independent reading) also provides opportunities for students to think critically—to ask questions, make inferences, draw conclusions, analyze characters, reason deductively and to make connections.

Want to hook your readers with a “Whodunit” tale? Here are some ways to incorporate mysteries in the classroom:

1. Make Your Mystery a Read Aloud

Mysteries make great read alouds. Whether a chapter book or picture book, mysteries in the classroom can be used for modeling lessons on drawing conclusions, asking questions, or as mentor text to help students learn more about the characteristics of the genre including story elements, character traits, craft and structure. Mystery picture books can even be used with the youngest readers.

Recommended Mystery Read Alouds:

Mysteries in the Classroom: Detective LaRue

Mysteries in the Classroom: I Want My Hat Back

Mysteries in the Classroom: The Missing Mitten MysteryDetective LaRue (Grades P-3, Level N, Lexile AD950) by Mark Teague

The Missing Mitten Mystery (Grades P-1, Level L, Lexile AD500) by Steven Kellogg

Tuesday (Grades P-3, Lexile NP) by Davi Wiesner

The Cow Who Clucked (Grades P-1, Level J, Lexile AD340) by Denise Fleming

I Want My Hat Back (Grades P-2, Level J, Lexile 90) by Jon Klassen

2. Integrate Mysteries into Independent Reading

Mysteries come in many varieties and span multiple levels, themes and interests, providing students with “just right” books to practice higher level thinking skills. From classics to new mystery reads, these books spark curiosity and engage even the most reluctant and struggling students. Here are a few mysteries that will make students want to drop everything and read:

Recommended Classic Mystery Series: 

Nancy Drew

The Boxcar Children

Encyclopedia Brown

Young Cam Jansen


Recommended New Mystery Series:

Sammy Keyes

The Name of This Book Is Secret (The Secret Series)

The 39 Clues

3. Use Leveled Mysteries for Guided Reading and Book Clubs

Mysteries come in a variety of levels as well, and can be used to support guided reading instruction and book clubs. Teachers can use mysteries as part of guided reading to model and scaffold students as they think critically and practice reading skills and strategies. Using mysteries as part of guided reading or book clubs is a great way to expose students to a variety of genres, and to encourage purposeful student dialogue, critical thinking skills and increased participation. Here are a few curated collections of leveled mysteries you can use for guided reading and book clubs.

Recommended Collections of Leveled Mysteries: 

4. Don’t Forget About Real Life Mysteries 

There are many unanswered questions and real life mysteries. Mystery is a genre that expands from fiction to nonfiction. Help students compare/contrast, make connections and build schema by incorporating nonfiction mysteries into reading instruction.

Recommended Nonfiction Mysteries: 

Unsolved Crime Mysteries (Grades 3-5, Level W) by Sean Stewart Price

Escape From Alcatraz: The Mystery Of The Three Men Who Escaped From The Rock (Grades 3-6) by Eric Mark Braun

Science Detectives (Grades K-2, Level M, Lexile 410) by Dona Rice

5. Teach Students to Become Mystery Writers 

Reading and writing are reciprocal processes. Students who read about mysteries can use their knowledge and craft to be mystery writers. Writing mysteries is a great way to help students understand the relationship between reading and writing and to grow as writers.

Recommended Titles for Teaching Mystery Writing: 

Mysteries in the Classroom: How to Write a Mystery

Mysteries in the Classroom: Write a Mystery


How To Write A Mystery by Cecilia Minden and Kate Roth

Write A Mystery In 5 Simple Steps by Amy Dunkleberger




How do you use mysteries in the classroom? Share your ideas in the comments! And for more great mystery collections to support your curriculum, be sure to visit