How to Write a Picture Book Mystery

Mysteries in a Picture Book

Picture book mysteries are rarely for the pre-school set; instead, the audience is the early grades, K-3. For these kids, the core of the mystery needs to be something gentle, non-threatening. No murders here. But strange situations, natural disasters and chase scenes work well.

  • Puzzles or Strange Situations. In The Mystery of Eatum Hall, by John Kelly and Cathy Tincknell, Glenda and Horace Pork-Fowler, a goose and hog of “large proportions” are invited to a weekend of free gourmet food at Eatum Hall. In spite of great feasting, it’s a strange place and an even stranger pie-eating festival is planned for the last day. Will they eat their way out of this Hall? Lots of visual puns and fun.
  • Natural Disasters. Author/illustrator Ellen Stohl Walsh has a great series of picture book mysteries about two mice, Dot and Jabber, who must solve mysteries dealing with nature. In the Mystery of the Missing Stream, a storm knocks limbs and leaves into the stream, drying it up. Dot and Jabber must travel upstream to find and dislodge this dam. Though it’s a gentle mystery, it still have the appeal of clues for kids to follow.
  • Chase Scene. In my book, Searching for Oliver K. Woodman, a wooden woman detective, Imogene Poplar, P.I. chases the wooden man, Oliver K. Woodman across the United States. Clues are provided in newspapers, by glimpses of the missing hero, and stories told in letters or postcards. It’s essentially a chase scene, one of the major components in a mystery. Again, the clues are easy to follow, but provide variety to keep a reader’s interest.

Because they require more complicated thinking skills, mysteries really take off when kids reach the easy-reader level. But picture book mysteries are still successful in introducing the genre to kids.


Read a selection of mystery picture books. What kind of mystery is presented? What age range is the book for?
Locate information on several publisher who might publish picture book mysteries.

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