Literature Connections to
Mystery Festival

Teacher's Guides > Mystery Festival

Naturally, the books listed below are mysteries of one kind or another. While some are simple and others more complex, they all have in common the collection of evidence or clues, and all use analysis to make inferences or conclusions. The distinction between evidence and inference is emphasized in the Mystery Festival unit and comes alive through its application to a diverse collection of mysterious situations. Some teachers also make use of newspaper articles to further explore the evidence/inference distinction—using articles that describe a crime (usually unsolved), the evidence, and some possible inferences.

There are of course numerous books that focus on solving mysteries. Many of them can make wonderful connections to science and math activities. The process of science and mathematics is, after all, parallel to that of detection and making inferences to solve a problem.

You and your students no doubt have your own favorite mystery stories/books and authors. There are a number of well-known series, such as those involving the Boxcar Children, Encyclopedia Brown, Einstein Anderson, Two-Minute Mysteries, and even the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries. Teachers who tested these activities also suggested, among many nominations: Nate the Great books by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat; the Piggins series by Jane Yolen; and the Miss Mallard series by Robert Quackenbush. There are also many new books that combine environmental awareness and respect for diverse cultures with a compelling mystery plot. We would especially welcome hearing about those mysteries that include details of scientific tests and evaluation of evidence similar to those in Mystery Festival.

Age-appropriate nonfiction books that focus on how famous cases were solved scientifically, or tell more about the work of forensic scientists, would also make good accompaniments to this unit. Such accounts would be particularly apt if they involved one or more of the scientific tests that students conduct in Mystery Festival. Students could be asked to write the story of a great scientific discovery in typical mystery-story style. The classic book Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif is as exciting as any fictional mystery, as is The Double Helix by James D. Watson, recounting how the puzzle pieces were put together in the search for the structure of DNA.

Cam Jensen and the Mystery of the Gold Coins
Chip Rogers: Computer Whiz
The Eleventh Hour
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Let’s Go Dinosaur Tracking
The Missing ‘Gator of Gumbo Limbo: An Ecological Mystery
Motel of the Mysteries
Mystery Day
The Mystery of the Stranger in the Barn
New Guys Around the Block
The One Hundredth Thing About Caroline
The Real Thief
Susannah and the Blue House Mystery
Susannah and the Poison Green Halloween
The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues
The Trouble With Lemons
The Westing Game
Who Really Killed Cock Robin?
Whose Footprints?

Cam Jensen and the Mystery of the Gold Coins
by David A. Adler; illustrated by Susanna Natti
Viking Press, New York. 1982
Dell Publishing, New York. 1984
Grades: 3–5
Cam Jensen uses her photographic memory to solve a theft of two gold coins. Cam and her friend Eric carry around their 5th grade science projects throughout the book and the final scenes take place at the school science fair. (Other titles in the series include Cam Jensen and the Mystery at the Monkey House and Cam Jensen and the Mystery of the Dinosaur Bones in which she notices that three bones are missing from a museum’s mounted dinosaur.)
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Chip Rogers: Computer Whiz
by Seymour Simon; illustrated by Steve Miller
William Morrow, New York. 1984
Out of print
Grades: 4–8
Two youngsters, a boy and a girl, solve a gem theft from a science museum by using a computer to classify clues. A computer is also used to weigh variables in choosing a basketball team. Although some details about programming the computer may be a little dated, this is still a good book revolving directly around sorting out evidence, deciding whether or not a crime has been committed, solving it, and demonstrating the role computers can play in human endeavors. By the author of the Einstein Anderson series.
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The Eleventh Hour
by Graeme Base
Harry N. Abrams, New York. 1989
Grades: 4–9
This uniquely illustrated picture book is about an elephant’s eleventh birthday party. In addition to being an illustrative and poetic tour de force, this book is a compelling mystery. We learn that one of the animals at the party has gobbled up the special birthday banquet (elephants being magnificent chefs, of course). All eleven animals are suspects, and the solution is contained in clues provided throughout the book. The end of the book has sealed pages to encourage you not to open the pages and find out who did it until you think you have it solved!
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From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
by E.L. Konigsburg
Atheneum, New York. 1967
Dell Publishing, New York. 1977
Grades: 5–8
Twelve-year-old Claudia and her younger brother run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and stumble upon a mystery involving a statue attributed to Michelangelo. This book is a classic, and has been recommended to GEMS by many teachers. Because of the detecting techniques, which include a mention of fingerprinting, this is a good connection to Mystery Festival.
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The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
by Arthur Conan Doyle
Viking Penguin, New York. 1990
Grades: 6–Adult
These classic short stories are masterly examples of deduction. Many of the puzzling cases are solved by Holmes in his chemistry lab as he analyzes fingerprints, inks, tobaccos, mud, etc. to solve the crime and catch the criminal. As noted in the guide’s background section, inspiration for the first real crime lab is said to have come from these very stories. Various collections of these stories are available from many different publishers and in many editions and make a great connection to Mystery Festival.
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Let’s Go Dinosaur Tracking
by Miriam Schlein; illustrated by Kate Duke
HarperCollins, New York. 1991
Grades: 2–5
The many different types of tracks dinosaurs left behind and what these giant steps reveal are explored. Was the creature running … chasing a lizard … browsing on its hind legs for leaves … traveling in pairs or in a pack … walking underwater? At the end of the book, you can measure your stride and compare the difference when walking slowly, walking fast, and running. The process involved in attempting to draw conclusions about an animal’s behavior or movement patterns from its tracks is similar to the way inferences are drawn from evidence in this guide’s activities.
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The Missing ‘Gator of Gumbo Limbo: An Ecological Mystery
by Jean C. George
HarperCollins, New York. 1992
Grades: 4–7
Sixth-grader Liza K becomes a nature detective while searching for Dajun, a giant alligator who plays a part in a waterhole’s oxygen-algae cycle, and is marked for extinction by local officials. She is motivated to study the delicate ecological balance by her desire to keep her outdoor environment beautiful. This “ecological mystery” combines precise scientific information and important environmental concerns with excellent characterization, a strong female role model, and an exciting, complex plot. For older students, this book connects their detective work in Mystery Festival to the real world needs of environmental protection.
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Motel of the Mysteries
by David Macaulay
Houghton Mifflin, Boston. 1979
Grades: 6-Adult
Presupposing that all knowledge of our present culture has been lost, an amateur archaeologist of the future discovers clues to the lost civilization of “Usa” from a supposed tomb, Room #26 at the Motel of the Mysteries, which is protected by a sacred seal (“Do Not Disturb” sign). This book is an elaborate and logically constructed train of inferences based on partial evidence, within a pseudo-archaeological context. Reading this book, whose conclusions they know to be askew, can encourage students to maintain a healthy and irreverent skepticism about their own and other’s inferences and conclusions, while providing insight into the intricacies and pitfalls of the reasoning involved. This book can help deepen the practical experiences students have gained in distinguishing evidence from inference. It also helps demonstrate, in a humorous and effective way, the connection between detective work and the science of archaeology.
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Mystery Day
by Harriet Ziefert; illustrated by Richard Brown
Little, Brown & Co., Boston. 1988
Grades: 1–4
Mystery Day is a school day full of surprises for Mr. Rose’s students. They have to guess the identity of five mystery powders. The students test their guesses with simple experiments as they look at the powders, touch them, taste them, and mix them with various liquids to see what happens. Once they are correctly guessed, several powders are mixed together and the investigation process starts all over again. This book works well with the Mr. Bear activities.
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The Mystery of the Stranger in the Barn
by True Kelley
Dodd, Mead, & Co., New York. 1986
Grades: K–4
A discarded hat and disappearing objects seem to prove that a mysterious stranger is hiding out in the barn, but no one ever sees anyone. A good opportunity to contrast evidence and inference.
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New Guys Around the Block
by Rosa Guy
Dell Publishing, New York. 1992
Grades: 7–10
Imamu is a “street smart” genuinely caring boy who lives in a very tough area of Harlem, surrounded by inner city social ills. He wants to do good, but it’s often a struggle for him in his surroundings. Imamu and his friends are suspects, and have to dodge the police, as they attempt to solve a series of phantom burglaries. The author has made a laudable attempt at preserving the authenticity of street language, while cleaning it up considerably.
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The One Hundredth Thing About Caroline
by Lois Lowry
Houghton Mifflin, Boston. 1983
Dell Publishing, New York. 1991
Grades: 5–9
Fast-moving and often humorous book about 11-year-old Caroline, an aspiring paleontologist, and her friend Stacy’s attempts to conduct investigations. Caroline becomes convinced that a neighbor has ominous plans to “eliminate” the children and Stacy speculates about the private life of a famous neighbor. Due to hasty misinterpretations of real evidence, both prove to be wildly wrong in their inferences. Gathering evidence, weighing it, and deciding what makes sense are good accompanying themes. A somewhat inaccurate portrayal of “color blindness” is a minor flaw.
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The Real Thief
by William Steig
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York. 1973
Grades: 4–8
King Basil and Gawain, devoted Chief Guard, are the only two in the kingdom who have keys to the Royal Treasury. When rubies, gold ducats, and finally the world-famous Kalikak diamond disappear, Gawain is brought to trial for the thefts. But is he the real thief? As the mystery unfolds, it becomes clear that it is important to investigate fully before making judgments or drawing conclusions.
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Susannah and the Blue House Mystery
by Patricia Elmore
E.P. Dutton, New York. 1980
Scholastic, New York. 1990
Grades: 5–7
Susannah (an amateur herpetologist) and Lucy have formed a detective agency. They check into the death of a kindly old antique dealer who lived in the mysterious “Blue House.” They attempt to piece together clues hoping to find the treasure they think he has left to one of them. The detectives evaluate evidence, work together to solve problems, and prevent a camouflaged theft from taking place.
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Susannah and the Poison Green Halloween
by Patricia Elmore
E.P. Dutton, New York. 1982
Scholastic, New York. 1990
Grades: 5–7
Susannah and her friends try to figure out who put the poison in their Halloween candy when they trick-or-treated at the Eucalyptus Arms apartments. Tricky clues, changing main suspects, and some medical chemistry make this an excellent choice, with lots of inference and mystery. (There is also mention of a field trip to the Lawrence Hall of Science!)
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The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues
by Ellen Raskin
E.P. Dutton, New York. 1975
Penguin Books, New York. 1989
Grades: 6–9
Answering an advertisement for a portrait painter’s assistant in New York City involves a 17-year-old in several mysteries and their ultimate solution, such as the “Case of the Face on the Five Dollar Bill” where the smudged thumbprint of the counterfeiter is a clue.
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The Trouble With Lemons
by Daniel Hayes
David R. Godine, Publisher, Boston. 1991
Grades: 6–9
In this suspenseful page turner with great character development, two 8th graders who think of themselves as misfits (“lemons”) discover a body and attempt to solve what they think is a murder. Woven throughout the adventures are explorations of self-acceptance and understanding others, as well as accurate portrayals of the agonies of adolescence. In a great twist at the end, they find out they have jumped to conclusions about the death. Nice connection to the Felix mystery in the sense that this GEMS guide leaves open the question of how—and even whether—Felix dies. The lesson about not jumping to conclusions is one of the basic messages in Mystery Festival.
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The Westing Game
by Ellen Raskin
E.P. Dutton, New York. 1978
Avon, New York. 1984
Grades: 6–10
The mysterious death of an eccentric millionaire brings together an unlikely assortment of 16 beneficiaries. According to instructions contained in his will, they are divided into eight pairs and given a set of clues to solve his murder and thus claim the inheritance. Newbery award winner.
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Who Really Killed Cock Robin?
by Jean Craighead George
HarperCollins, New York. 1991
Grades: 3–7
This compelling ecological mystery examines the importance of keeping nature in balance, and provides an inspiring account of a young environmental hero who becomes a scientific detective.
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Whose Footprints?
by Masayuki Yabuuchi
Philomel Books, New York. 1983
Grades: K–4
A good guessing game for younger students that depicts the footprints of a duck, cat, bear, horse, hippopotamus, and goat.
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To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of
reflection.


— Jules Henri Poincaré


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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