Russell Ginns | The Children’s Book Review | April 20, 2018
Russell Ginns, author of Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans, shares 5 of his favorite puzzling middle grade books . . .
Sometimes the best way to tell a story is to let it unfold—forward, backwards, up down, and from secret seeds planted deep inside the page. I love stories that twist and turn—and have more to them than meets the eye. It’s especially fun when readers are left to discover secrets on their own. It puts the audience on the same footing as the story’s characters and can draw everyone further into the world.
In addition, I’m always on the lookout for clever mechanisms and tricks to tell stories in unusual ways. Our lives are filled with interactivity and gaming and puzzling choices. Books are perfect for clever surprises and smart fun!
Here are some of my favorite puzzling books, and a few clever classics, too.
Written by Siobhan Dowd
I love how this mystery relies on a main character that sees the world in unusual ways. Because his brain “runs on a different operating system,” we find clues and solve the puzzle by NOT thinking like a typical investigator.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Yearling | 2009 (Reprint) | ISBN: 978-0385751841
Written by Jason Shiga
Okay. This one isn’t a full-blown novel, but it’s so clever. Part graphic novel, part flow-chart, Meanwhile begins with a simple choice: Chocolate or Vanilla. Everything twists and turns from there. Hundreds of options take the reader around the universe through time and space. It’s silly, and rather dark, too.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Harry N. Abrams | 2010 | ISBN: 978-0810984233
Written by Louis Sachar
Of course, everybody knows about Holes. But I still cite it often. It’s my favorite example of a book with a serious theme, done in such a fun, playful way that it sneaks up on you. While readers are jumping around in time, and puzzling over the story twists and coincidences, they’re drawn into a powerful story about loss and real human weakness.
Ages 10+ | Publisher: Yearling | 2009 | ISBN: 978-0440414803
Written by Blue Balliett
Here is another well-known book, and part of an ultra-popular series. But we all love it because of how it embraces mysterious challenges and give the reader plenty to do and solve. A mystery unfolds, and there are mental shape-folding puzzles along the way.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks | 2005 | ISBN: 978-0439372978
Written by Catherine Newman
This book—which pays tribute to From the Mixed-up Files of Basil E. Frankenweiler—uses IKEA as the jumping off point for an adventure. It takes advantage of everyone’s love of design and objects to tell a more meaningful story about people and relationships.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0399553882
Written by Russell Ginns
Publisher’s Synopsis: Get ready for round-the-world adventure with Sam Spinner and her brother Nipper in the first book in a new hilarious, puzzle-packed series filled with super-secret messages! Perfect for fans of Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and classics like Holes.
Samantha Spinner’s uncle Paul disappeared, and here’s what he left:
* Samantha’s sister got a check for $2,400,000,000.
* Samantha’s brother got the New York Yankees.
* And Samantha got a rusty red umbrella with a tag hanging off its worn handle. The tag says “Watch out for the RAIN.”
Thanks a lot, Uncle Paul.
After all the strawberry waffles, stories, and puzzles they’ve shared, how could he just leave without saying goodbye? And what is the meaning of that mysterious message?
The answer is simple. Sam knows in her heart that Uncle Paul is in danger. And if he taught her anything, it’s that not everything is exactly what it seems. Which is why we should pay close attention to that rusty red umbrella, and never trust a monkey at a hula-hoop contest.
The RAIN is coming and Samantha Spinner is about to find herself mixed up in some super-important, super-dangerous, super-secret plans.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers | 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-1524720001
About The Author
Russell Ginns is a writer and game designer who specializes in puzzles, songs, and smart fun. He has worked on projects for a wide variety of organizations and publications, including Sesame Workshop, Nintendo, NASA and Hooked on Phonics. Russell lives and writes in Washington, DC. To learn more about him, visit russellginns.com and go to samanthaspinner.com to join in the fun!
Russell Ginns, author of Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans, selected these ‘5 Favorite Puzzling Middle Grade Books, and a Few Clever Classics, Too.’ Discover more articles on The Children’s Book Review tagged with Middle Grade Books.