In the past, we have assembled super-teams of the best puzzle solvers in horror films, television, and literature, both for adults and for teens. The goal was to highlight characters who stand out, the ones you’d want on your side, because they’re quick-witted, decisive, and immensely capable.
In the latest installment in this delightful series, we turn our attention to books for children and younger readers, seeking out the quickest minds and the deftest problem solvers, many of whom are some of the first puzzlers enthusiastic readers will encounter on the printed page.
So let’s meet (or revisit) some wickedly bright minds from kid-friendly reads.
Winston Breen (The Puzzling World of Winston Breen series)
One of the savviest puzzlers in fiction, Winston isn’t just a master at solving puzzles. He understands that the best part of a puzzle is sharing it with others, watching as they’re stumped, then work their way through it, just as he did.
Across three novels, Winston pits his puzzly brain against shifty characters, decades-old mysteries, and some immensely clever brain teasers, and always making sure that, along the way, people learn how to tackle any problem in a fair, careful, and puzzly way.
Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown and Sally Kimball (Encyclopedia Brown series)
For many younger readers, myself included, Encyclopedia Brown served as the perfect introduction to critical thinking, deduction, and logic puzzles. A gateway drug to Holmes and other methodical inductive detectives, Brown stories showed readers how to examine cause and effect, looking for clues and inconsistencies that could always be assembled like a jigsaw into a picture of the truth.
Plus his friend and bodyguard Sally Kimball was a top-notch puzzler in her own right. Often noticing clues that even escape Brown’s keen gaze, Sally had more than a few solutions to her credit, and nearly stumped the title character herself in her debut.
Harriet M. Welsch (Harriet the Spy)
Less overtly puzzly than the previous names, Harriet uses her attention to detail and immaculate note-taking to document everything around her. Harriet’s spy notebook does come back to bite her when it’s discovered and used against her, but instead of wilting in the face of such obstacles, Harriet learns to apply her knowledge and skills to outwitting those who would mistreat her.
Yes, Harriet does make some mistakes along the way, but her intentions are good, and few puzzles could withstand the determination and laser-like focus of Harriet the Spy.
Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews (The Three Investigators series)
When your motto is “We Investigate Anything,” you better be prepared for everything. Thankfully, that’s the case with Jones, Crenshaw, and Andrews, a team of teenage crime solvers who tackled some of the strangest (and seemingly supernatural mysteries) of any young detective team in literature.
Always outwitting their foes and unraveling problems through reason and logic (along with a fair bit of cleverness), the boys rarely needed more than a phone, a tape recorder, and access to the local library to crack any puzzle, no matter how peculiar. Alfred Hitchcock himself was impressed by the ingenuity and dedication of the Three Investigators, and would later point clients in their direction!
Claudia Kincaid (The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)
A 12-year-old girl who feels unappreciated by her family, Claudia sets off with her brother to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Along the way, she manages to outwit the regular guard patrols in the museum, unravel an old woman’s esoteric filing system, and solve the mystery of a statue at the museum that baffled many.
Claudia is resourceful, strong-willed, and a deft researcher, and the questions she cracks in this book only hint at her full puzzle-solving potential.
Theodore Roosevelt Fitzroy (Funjungle series)
When one of the biggest zoos in the world is your home, you’re bound to encounter some strangeness. But for Teddy Fitzroy, that’s just a usual day. The son of two Funjungle employees, Teddy is a curious young man who has solved some devious mysteries and crimes during his time at the zoo.
Employing admirable attention to detail, the brashness to challenge authority, and the bravery to put himself in harm’s way in order to help others, Teddy is part puzzler and part adventurer, often protecting innocent animals from danger along the way. His attention to detail is excellent and his ability to gather information is head-and-shoulders above most of the other characters. He’s the best investigator Funjungle could hope for.
Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, Jr. (The Great Brain series)
Hey, what can I say? Not all puzzlers are totally pure of heart. Tom Fitzgerald, aka T.D., aka The Great Brain, is a ten-year-old master of mischief and enterprise, always engaging in clever schemes to line his own pockets, even as he accomplishes good deeds.
He possesses an impressive intellect, solving bank robberies and finding lost children (and rocking horses) with the same aplomb and sly cunning that he employs to stockpiling cash. There’s more than a little Tom Sawyer here, but with a devious puzzly mind capable of thinking several steps ahead to outwit foes (and siblings) alike.
Jane, Katharine, Mark, and Martha (plus their descendants) (Tales of Magic series)
Puzzles, brain teasers, and riddles can be tough enough on their own, but when you start adding magic to mix, then you’re dealing with something else entirely. Fortunately, this quartet of child conundrum-crackers are immensely capable of tackling any challenge tossed their way, be it a coin that causes “half-magic,” an enchanted lake, malfunctioning wishing wells, and time travel.
In each story, the children must puzzle out how the magic works, and then find a clever way to manipulate or outmaneuver the magical effects to save the day. These cagey kids would be a boon to any team of puzzlers.
Did I miss any world-class puzzlers from famous (or obscure) works of children’s lit? Let me know in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you!
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