Many kids love trying to solve a riddle. Develop a riddle into a story with a main character sleuth who has huge doses of kid appeal, and you’ve got a winning mystery in your hands. A mystery is like a puzzle where children get to pick up each piece and figure out how it fits into the whole story plot.
In a children’s story, a mystery often has a main character who attempts to solve the puzzle. If not the main character, the main character invites or calls on a supporting character to help solve the riddle. In a series such as a magazine series, beginning reader series, or middle grade novel series such as the Cam Jansen books by David A. Adler, the main character is often a child detective or a group of children or teens who have set up their own detective agency. However, in a stand-alone book such as From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Koningsburg, the main character (or characters) might be ordinary children forced into a situation where there’s a mystery that needs to be solved.
Along with a detective or sleuth who attempts to solve the mystery, there is a trail of clues to follow. There are suspects, or other characters, who have real or imagined motives and opportunities for being the guilty culprit. There can be witnesses, or characters who observed various events. There can be a red herring, or false clue, that takes the detective down a bunny trail momentarily leading away from the actual solution. At the end of the story, the mystery is usually solved in a satisfying way that makes sense to your reader.
In a mystery, the riddle or puzzle becomes the main story problem that the main character attempts to solve. In mysteries for children in early elementary school, these puzzles often deal with the everyday world of a child. The kid (or animal) detective might be called upon to solve the mystery of the missing dog food, the stolen lunchbox, or the mixed-up homework. For stories geared to students in middle grade or high school, the mysteries become more threatening and realistic and can deal with actual crime or even murder.
How This Genre Influences Your Plot
If you choose to write in this genre, it will greatly impact your plot. If you choose to write a mystery, the puzzle to solve becomes the main story problem. The series of events that occur in your plot become the series of attempts the detective makes to try to solve the mystery.