From the classic jigsaws, crosswords, and sliders to the niche disentanglement puzzles, Rubik’s cubes, and games like Minesweeper, puzzles have been around since the dawn of humanity because people really do just enjoy solving problems. And it makes sense too as the simple idea of answering a riddle, locating all words in a word search, or decoding a cipher or rebus offers a rewarding and satisfying sense of accomplishment.
For those puzzlers out there who get psyched each January 29th (National Puzzle Day) to amp up their puzzling game or for those who simply enjoy puzzles three hundred sixty-five days a year, consider picking up one of these middle grade reads with their own puzzles, riddles, tricks, and mini mysteries. Not only do middle grade books typically allow more room for puzzles where adult and YA novels tend to limit themselves (especially in aspects like book design), but the puzzles themselves are included to be solved. There are no unguessable plot twists or undecipherable codes. These books offer playful content that are designed to engage the brain, present imaginative storytelling, and allow for a maximum sense of achievement. If that sounds like your cup of tea, get your TBR list ready for puzzling season!
Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda
When a series introduces a secret code in the first 3 pages of book one, you know the author’s preparing the reader for a series of fun puzzles. Emily Rodda’s eight book Deltora Quest series, and the following three book Deltora Shadowlands and four book Dragons of Deltora books, are chock full of puzzles, riddles, tricks, and mysteries from gatekeepers with deadly rhymes, partial palindromes with drastically differing messages, and broken signs that said one thing and now read another. Each book manages to include at least three visual puzzles (yes, there’s images!) and stay at approximately 130 pages, all while managing to flesh out the characters, world, and plot without sacrificing pacing, action, and character development. Don’t let the papyrus font and fantastical names fool you. Leif, Barda, and Jasmine’s mission to collect the seven stones of the Belt of Deltora and defeat the Shadow Lord is riddled with high-stake puzzles and clever twists.
Buy book one, The Forests of Silence:
Redwall series by Brian Jacques
Like Rodda, Jacques is fond of world-building, fantasy adventures, and good old-fashioned wordplay. Unlike Rodda though, who flips between visual and word puzzles, Jacques is distinctly positioned in the riddle section of the puzzling community. For anyone who’s read Jacques’ twenty-two book series, the word Redwall brings to mind anthropomorphic rodents, medieval towns and landscapes, some mouthwatering food descriptions, and, of course, some sick rhymes. In the first book, for example, there’s a riddle that assists the protagonist, Matthias, in obtaining a lost sword of Martin the Warrior (who you can read about in another Redwall book called, you guessed it, Martin the Warrior), and throughout the series, among countless songs and poems, there are other riddles, some over twenty lines long, that play major roles in the progression of the narrative.
Buy book one, Redwall:
Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer
Fantasy action/adventure is a great genre for puzzle fiends, even when the narrative itself doesn’t include too many concrete puzzles to work out. Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series is a prime example of how to add that extra bit of fun to an already mysterious, action-packed, grand-scale story, and it’s as simple as adding a code along the footer of each page. The ingenious thing about this is Colfer doesn’t just repeat messages throughout each book or across the series, but he utilizes a language from the narrative (Gnommish) to write full messages written by the characters that help develop the story and immerse the readers in the world further. To decode the messages, you’ll want The Artemis Fowl Files book, which includes other Gnommish passages to translate. For some extra fun, explore the difference in the messages between the US and British editions, and don’t forget to look for codes on the book covers!
Buy book one, Artemis Fowl:
Warren the 13th series by Tania Del Rio and Will Staehle
There’s a lot to love about the Warren the 13th trilogy from Staehle’s exceptional and engaging illustrations to the weird and lovable characters, who are like a mix between the cast of The Addams Family and A Series of Unfortunate Events. The first book follows young bellhop Warren as he deciphers clues in a race against his sinister Aunt Anaconda to obtain the All-Seeing Eye, a magical treasure that will help him retain his rights to his beloved family hotel. At points in the series you’ll come across hidden mysteries in family portraits, riddle-wielding trees, and woods that whisper coded messages. There’s also clever tweeks in the series like the flipped chapter headers for the witch sections (not a puzzle, but clever and spooky!) that make this trilogy a pleasure for the eyes, the brain, and the imagination!
Buy book one, Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye:
Comic Quests series by Various
Split into unofficial subseries, these choose-your-own-adventure comics are geared for middle schoolers but are a blast for any rpg fan, whether you boot-up video games, settle in for tabletop sessions, or dress up and live-action it. There are the four Knights Club comics for those most interested in a medieval fantasy adventure, the two Hocus & Pocus titles best for fans of Pokémon (you get to train animals), and the single Iron Magicians story for those steampunkers out there. No matter which you lean toward, you’ll be sure to cast some spells, battle enemies, venture into fantastical lands, meet colorful characters, and solve some genuinely tricky visual puzzles. From cryptic gravestones and secret passageways to coded doors and riddled advice, this series dishes out puzzle after puzzle and can often leave you pulling out pen and paper to work out the particulars.
Buy book one of Knights Club (Knights Club: The Message of Destiny):
Buy book one of Hocus & Pocus (Hocus & Pocus: The Legend of Grimm’s Woods):
Buy Iron Magicians:
Find Momo series by Andrew Knapp
The Find Momo books may not be specifically for youngsters, but they’re definitely a series that the whole family can enjoy, especially if the family loves other hidden object games like Where’s Waldo? or I Spy. Andrew Knapp’s collection of photos feature his sneaky and photogenic border collie, Momo, and their travels across America and Europe. These aren’t just Instagram-worthy photographs (though they are beautiful). Each photo has Momo hiding away in some corner, in a crowd, on top of stairs, or behind a car, sometimes just with his head peeking out—making them perfect for puzzlers who like to receive that extra dose of endorphins from spotting the almost un-spottable. There are also board book friendly versions for the little ones, the latest one, Let’s Find Momo Outdoors!, publishing this May!
Buy the first book, Find Momo: