Sometimes, crime fiction lovers get “hooked” by a series that wasn’t specifically written for young people. For instance, many schools’ Language Arts education programs include at least some of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. That’s, in fact, how I first encountered Holmes. The first Holmes story I read was The Adventure of the Red-Headed League, in which Mr. Jabez Wilson accepts a very unusual job offer. He’s engaged to copy the encyclopedia. He’s been led to believe that this job is provided for him by a group called The Red-Headed League. When he goes to work one day and finds workplace locked up and a sign announcing that the red-headed league is disbanded,
Agatha Christie’s novels weren’t specifically written for children, either; however, they, too, are included in several schools’ Language Arts curricula. One of her novels that students study is Murder on the Orient Express, in which Hercule Poirot takes a three-day journey through Europe on the famous Orient Express, only to get drawn into a murder investigation. Wealthy American businessman Samuel Ratchett is stabbed on the second night of the journey, and Poirot is asked to find the murderer as quickly as he can. The goal is for him to tell the police who board the train at the next border who the murderer is.
Students also study Christie’s And Then There Were None (AKA Ten Little Indians), which was said to be Christie’s favorite. In that novel, ten disparate people are brought to
The first full-length Agatha Christie novel I read was Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, in which Hercule Poirot investigates the death of a charwoman whom everyone thinks was killed by her unpleasant lodger. I first read that one as a young teenager and I still have the habit ; ).
There are other examples, too, of course, of crime fiction novels that are not specifically geared towards children, but that “hook” young readers. There are also lots of books and series that are aimed at young people. One of the most enduring is the Nancy Drew series. Written by a number of authors under the name Carolyn Keene, this series features Nancy, the teenage daughter of attorney Carson Drew. Since 1930, when The Mystery of the Old Clock was published, the series has undergone several changes, mostly to make it appealing to new generations of readers. Today, the Nancy Drew series remains one of the most popular mystery series for young readers.
The Hardy Boys mysteries have also enjoyed enduring popularity. This series, created by the same book-packaging company that created the Nancy Drew series, features Frank and Joe Hardy. They’re the teenage sons of detective Fenton Hardy and his wife, Laura. Beginning with 1927’s The Tower Treasure, the series has been beloved for generations. Part of the reason its popularity has continued is that, like the Nancy Drew series, the Hardy Boys mysteries have been extensively rewritten to reflect changing times and values.
Beatrix “Trixie” Belden is also responsible for addicting many young people to crime fiction. She’s a teenage sleuth who lives with her parents and three brothers in upstate
Since 1963, Donald J. Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown series has also been drawing new young readers to the mystery genre. Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown is the son of the police chief of fictional Idaville. In these mysteries, the reader solves the case along with Brown, and the key to the cases is a wrong fact or inconsistency somewhere in the story. The reader is invited to spot that mistake and use it as the key to the solution. In the “Answers” section of the Brown mysteries, the amateur sleuth himself explains the solution and points out that key fact. These books, more than some others, encourage the reader to “play armchair detective.”
The Boxcar Children series, created by Gertrude Chandler Warner, is focused on not just one or two, but four children. Siblings, Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny Alden were placed in the custody of their grandfather when their parents died. They thought he would be cruel to them, so they ran away from the orphanage where they lived when they found out he was to be their guardian. The children find an abandoned railway boxcar where they live until Violet becomes ill, and they need to take her to a doctor. The doctor realizes that these are the missing grandchildren of John Alden, who’s both wealthy and kind, despite what his grandchildren thought about him. So the doctor unites the family, and the Alden children go to live with their grandfather, who moves their boxcar to his back yard for them. The Alden children solve mysteries both at home and while they’re away on holidays.
There are also several more recent mystery series aimed at young people. David A. Adler, for instance, has created two mystery series, among his other writing. One is the Cam Jansen series, which features the adventures of Jennifer “
Bill Galvan’s Scrapyard Detective series is also aimed at young readers. This series is focused on a group of middle school students who’ve formed their own club – The Scrapyard Detectives. They take their name from their meeting place, which is the scrapyard owned by the father of one of the main characters. These stories center on local mysteries that the group solves. Those mysteries are at the center of the stories, but the stories also have lessons integrated into them.
These are just a few examples of the many mysteries and detectives stories that have been responsible for addicting young people to crime fiction. How did you get “hooked?”