I first discovered THE PUZZLING WORLD OF WINSTON BREEN a few years ago, doing research for a middle grade mystery I was writing at the time. This summer, I suggested it to my older son, who loves chess and math and word play. He loved it and discovered there were more! Of course, I had to finish reading
about Breen’s adventures.
What’s not to like about a kid whose passion is solving puzzles?
Here are the synopses (from Amazon):
THE POTATO CHIP PUZZLE:
When a local potato chip tycoon invites area kids to an all-day puzzle hunt, Winston Breen is psyched. But it turns out the day is not all fun and games. Their teacher is being overly competitive, the puzzles are hard (even for Winston), and someone in the contest is playing dirty in order to win the fifty-thousand-dollar grand prize! Trying to stop the mystery cheater before it's too late takes an already tough challenge to a whole new level. . . .
Winston Breen and his friends Mal and Jake accompany Mr. Penrose for a weekend of puzzles and games at the mansion of a famous musician. Over the course of the weekend, some guests’ prizes and belongings inexplicably disappear. As the group continues with the elaborate puzzles—which the reader is invited to solve too—some of the guests try to figure out who is stealing things, and others become suspects. But in the end it’s Winston who stumbles upon several clues, and eventually discovers the real culprit. A fast-paced whodunit, this latest Winston Breen installment will have readers hooked!
What’s fun about Winston Breen:
1. Puzzles! I love how the reader gets to solve the puzzles right along with Winston. The puzzles that have to do with the main plot are solved in the text, but Winston is often doing other puzzles, which are inserted in the text with answers in the back. My son was bent over a piece of paper solving them all while he read.
2. Eccentric adults: Part of the fun of both these books is how an eccentric adult sets up puzzles for other characters to solve. I thought the potato chip tycoon and the famous pianist were some of the most interesting characters—especially the pianist in Puzzler’s Mansion.
3. Realistic middle school friendships: I liked how Winston and his best friends have each other’s backs. Boy-girl friendships are more common in kidlit (not so common in real life, I think) for this age, so I found that Winston's dude friends very realistic. His crushing on a beautiful older woman and a pretty girl his age also fit his age.
4. Interesting, climatic endings: Both books had memorable climaxes, from riding lawnmowers and secret passages to a race against the clock to stop bad guys at a picnic. I was on the edge of my seat!
5. Inspiring themes: I loved the themes of honesty and loyalty in POTATO CHIP PUZZLER and the theme of finding a balance between real life and your passion as a creative person in PUZZLER’S MANSION. As Richard, the pianist and owner of the mansion, says: "Whatever your passion is--even if you're great at it--it can't be the only thing you do."
These books reminded me a lot of MR. LEMONCELLO'S LIBRARY They would appeal to kids who love puzzles—and not just math puzzles, but word puzzles as well—and kids who like puzzle mysteries like THE WESTING GAME.
Have you read any good puzzle mysteries lately? Do you do puzzles? (If you haven't already guessed, I'm a word puzzle girl.)
(This post contains an Amazon affiliate link, only because it's easier for me to post book covers that way. Thank you for your support!)
To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.