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Find more Sniffing Out Clues
From Walter R. Brooks’ pig who turned detective in Freddy the Detective (1932), to Don and Joan Caufield’s bulldog, crow, and cat in The Incredible Detectives (1966), children’s mysteries have long offered a veritable Noah’s ark of possibilities. And why not? Animals’ noses are closer to the ground, all the better to sniff out clues. Here we round up a dozen favorite books featuring sleuths that include a rabbit, a raccoon, a lizard, a guinea pig, rats, bunnies—and, of course, cats and dogs.
Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery. By Deborah and James Howe. Illus. by Alan Daniel. 1979. Atheneum, paper, $5.99 (9781416928171). Gr. 3–5.
A perfectly normal family brings home a perfectly cute baby bunny they find sitting in a seat at the movies. But when the bunny begins to display some aberrant behavior, it’s up to Harold the dog and Chester the cat to solve the mystery. (There’s a pretty good clue in the book’s title.)
The Case of the Missing Monkey. By Cynthia Rylant. Illus. by G. Brian Karas. 2000. Greenwillow, paper, $3.99 (9780064443067). Gr. 1–2.
Beginning readers may acquire a taste for mystery with Rylant’s High-Rise Private Eyes series, featuring rabbit Bunny and raccoon Jack. Here, the two friends employ their sleuthing skills to help the owner of a local diner, The Grill Next Door, recover a little glass monkey that has disappeared from his lunch counter. Kids will enjoy Bunny and Jack’s banter and bickering as much (or more than) the mild mysteries.
Casebook of a Private (Cat’s) Eye. By Mary Stolz. 1999. Illus. by Paula Levy. Cricket, $14.95 (9780812626506). Gr. 3–5.
Eileen O’Kelly, Boston’s only female feline detective, solves mysteries, most of them contained within short chapters, although some continue throughout the book. Not all of the mysteries are equally intriguing, but Levy’s wonderful artwork captures both the 1912 ambience and the individuality of cops and crooks alike.
The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse. By Bruce Hale. 2000. Houghton, paper, $5.99 (9780152024857). Gr. 3–6.
Even though kids won’t have a clue who Raymond Chandler was, his terse, private-eye tone translates surprisingly well to middle-grade mystery, especially when the narrator, Chet Gecko, is a lizard in fourth grade. As in the entertaining books that followed this series starter, the plot here is of less interest than the style. The pencil illustrations are fun, but why do some of the animal characters wear clothes while others don’t? It’s a mystery.
Detective LaRue: Letters from the Investigation. By Mark Teague. 2004. Scholastic, paper, $17.99 (9780439458689). Gr. K–3.
In this sequel to the spot-on Dear Mrs. LaRue (2002), a pair of cats hungry for canary flesh have escaped their apartment and left Ike holding the bag—a bag of incriminating cat treats. “Apparently it is easier for some people to blame a dog than to solve a crime,” sniffs the offended Ike in a letter to his vacationing owner. The noir-inspired premise drifts far from doggy reality, but children will get a thrill out of piecing together the mystery alongside the wily, self-serving, yet eminently lovable Ike.
Hamster and Cheese. By Colleen AF Venable. Illus. by Stephanie Yue. 2010. Lerner/Graphic Universe, paper, $6.95 (9780761354796). Gr. 1–3.
The first book in the Guinea PIG, Pet Shop Private Eye graphic-novel series has a funny premise: befuddled pet-shop owner Mr. Venezi misidentifies the store’s animals, leading the hamsters to think they’re koalas and so on. When Venezi’s sandwiches begin disappearing, Hamisher the koala-hamster asks Sasspants the guinea pig to investigate. A zany pet shop, a fun mystery, and easy-to-follow panels make a strong case for this graphic novel.
A Hare-Raising Tail. By Elizabeth Levy. Illus. by Mordicai Gerstein. 2002. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, paper, $4.99 (9780689846267). Gr. 2–4.
Newly adopted basset hound Fletcher is branded a bunny eater when, after a show-and-tell visit, the class rabbit disappears. But slow moving doesn’t mean slow-witted, and, with the help of his best flea friend, Jasper, Fletcher solves the case.
Malcolm at Midnight. By W. H. Beck. Illus. by Brian Lies. 2012. Houghton, $16.99 (9780547681009). Gr. 4–6.
Undersize rat Malcolm is a fifth-grade class mascot who escapes his cage at night to join the “Midnight Academy,” a group of similarly sprung mascots who are the nighttime “ears, eyes, nose, and whiskers” of McKenna Elementary School. Overcoming some antirodent prejudice, he helps foil the schemes of a vicious cat to poison the school’s water supply. Beck leavens some spookiness with healthy doses of whimsy.
Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—Detectives Extraordinaire! By Polly Horvath. Illus. by Sophie Blackall. 2012. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $16.99 (9780375867552). Gr. 3–6.
Mr. and Mrs. Bunny have just hung their shingle as detectives—convenient timing, as a cadre of sinister foxes has kidnapped Mildred and Flo, the hippie parents of a neighbor girl. The girl, Madeleine, joins forces with the Detective Bunnies and an entertaining rescue ensues. With contemporary resonance and a nostalgic tone, this charming book begs to be read aloud.
The Mystery of the Burmese Bandicoot: The Tails of Frederick and Ishbu. By Judy Cox. Illus. by by Omar Rayyan. 2007. Marshall Cavendish, lib. ed., $16.99 (9780761453765). Gr. 4–7.
In another series starter, rat brothers Frederick and Ishbu escape their classroom cage after the villainous Big Cheese, an opossum who rules the animal underworld, tries to strong-arm Frederick into stealing a valuable statue known as the Burmese Bandicoot. The brothers skip town on a pirate ship but are soon shipwrecked on an island, where they discover the fabled statue and its terrible secret.
Play Dead. By Jane B. Mason and Sarah Hines Stephens. 2013. Scholastic/Children’s Press, paper, $5.99 (9780545436243). Gr. 3–5.
This story is told from the viewpoints of spunky 12-year-old Cassie, the police chief’s daughter; and Dodge, a German shepherd with K-9 experience. As the duo goes undercover to solve the mystery of a local tycoon’s drowning, Cassie contends with a school bully and her watchful mom, while Dodge recruits his pals to help him dig up clues. The first book in the A Dog and His Girl series is an easy-to-solve mystery with just the right amount of suspense.
The Stranger Next Door. By Peg Kehret. 2002. Puffin, paper, $5.99 (9780142412480). Gr. 4–6.
In the tradition of adult-mystery writers Rita Mae Brown and Lillian Jackson Braun, Kehret introduces sleuth and coauthor Pete the Cat, a hefty, self-assured feline who doesn’t shy away from danger or his food dish. As in so many animal tales, the mystery (which revolves around Pete’s owner and a strange-acting new friend) is easily solved: the real problem is getting the humans to understand.
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