Quicksmiths

Middle grade & YA books with riddles & puzzles

Are you a Sherlock Holmes, a Bilbo Baggins, or an Alice in Wonderland? If so, try these recommendations to feed your brain a cryptic feast. Don’t expect the same old formulas for riddles in these recommendations; many have a fresh take at looking at the age-old human game of puzzle-solving. Scroll on to explore middle-grade and YA fantasy must-reads with riddles and puzzles cleverly woven into the stories.

If you find this list useful, and want to get a copy of a recommended book, please consider purchasing them using the Amazon links on this page or via Bookshop.org. These links pay a very small commission and it helps me (Loris) to keep writing as well as supporting the brilliant authors whose works are recommended here. Quick reviews and links for Quicksmiths books are included at the top for those who haven’t read them.

The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith

The delivery of a mysterious gold coin triggers a trail of clues that leads Kip Bramley - daydreamer, chess fiend, and puzzle lover - away from the troubles of his everyday world. Offered a place at Quicksmiths - a school for sideways thinkers - he soon finds his place among the newest riddle recruits. Guided by the clues left by the enigmatic Eartha Quicksmith, Kip and his new friends uncover ancient secrets and face mind-bending challenges in a world where hidden science and Strange Energies bend reality out of shape.

Things to love

  • Renaissance riddles: The great riddle maestro and enormous thinker Eartha Quicksmith leaves cryptic clues to help a chosen few avert disaster in the future. 
  • Puzzling plots: The rollercoaster of ten riddles must be solved in ten days, if Team Glowflyer are to find the mysterious treasure known as the Ark of Ideas.
  • Interactive: The book contains a bonus visual riddle and hidden object game, so you can participate actively in the story, as well as solving the ten riddles and other puzzles along with Kip and his friends.

Top tip: Don’t be daunted if you can’t crack the riddles on your own before the characters do – don’t forget Team Glowflyer has six members all helping to solve the riddles!

Reading range: 9-13

The Myriad Mysteries of Eartha Quicksmith

In book 2 of the upper middle grade Quicksmiths series, Kip and his friends face old enemies and new dangers, and discover that Strange Energy is even stranger than they had first imagined. When a freak accident separates the team, Kip and Timmi are plunged into the Myriads, a labyrinth of multiverses swirling with danger, surprise and intrigue.

Things to love

  • Multiverse mayhem: Take the oddest things you can think of, throw in some eyestalks, a ziggurat, some purple mini-gorillas, and a shapeshifting scarab beetle, shake them up in a bag of other odds and ends, and you might just end up with something like the Myriads.
  • Puzzling plots: Having seen Kip and Timmi’s dilemma in her Futurescope, Eartha has laid intricate plans to help. Girl Friday android, Incognita, and a book of cryptic poetry guide the travellers through the multiverse. But an evil army is marching…
  • Interactive: The book contains a bonus visual riddle and hidden object game, so you can participate actively in the story, as well as solving the main riddles along with Kip and his friends.

Top tip: Visit the Fun Stuff area of the Quicksmiths website to get help with finding all the hidden Myriadwave symbols in the book, and with solving the ‘odd-one-out’ riddle hidden in the ten illustrated chapter headings.

Reading range: 9-13

The Hobbit

Bilbo Baggins, a reluctant hobbit, is whisked away from his cozy home in the Shire by a group of dwarves and a grey wizard named Gandalf. Together, they embark on an epic quest to reclaim the lost Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Along the way, Bilbo encounters trolls, goblins, and giant spiders, but it's a dark, damp cave where he meets Gollum and engages in a game of riddles that truly tests his wits and courage.

Things to love

  • A world of wonders: Tolkien’s world-building is second to none, making every turn of the page a new adventure. From the tranquil Shire to the eerie Mirkwood and the majestic Lonely Mountain, each location in Middle-earth is somehow steeped in ancient mythology and yet entirely original.
  • Puzzling plots: The ‘Riddles in the Dark’ contest between Bilbo and Gollum is legendary. These riddles are not just clever brain teasers; they are a life-or-death challenge that shows Bilbo’s growing bravery and cunning, and Golem’s desperation.
  • Unlikely hero: Bilbo starts as a timid homebody but transforms into a resourceful and courageous hero. His growth throughout the journey, especially after the riddles with Gollum, makes him a character to root for. His cleverness and bravery highlight that even the smallest person can change the course of the future.

Top tip: if you really, REALLY, love the Hobbit like me, you can visit places that inspired J.R.R. Tolkein in the UK, or if you recently found some dragon gold you can even pop over to Hobbiton in New Zealand.

Reading range: 8-12

Escape Room

When Ami arrives at the Escape Room, she thinks it's just a game. But as the doors close behind her and a voice announces the start of the challenge, she realizes this is no ordinary escape room. Along with four other kids, Ami must solve a series of increasingly difficult puzzles to find the key to freedom. Each room presents new dangers and enigmas, and the stakes are higher than they could have ever imagined.

Things to love

  • Mystery mansion: The Escape Room is a labyrinth of imagination, each room presenting a unique and thrilling challenge. From an ancient Mayan tomb, to a deserted shopping centre (or is it?) to futuristic space stations, every setting is meticulously designed, and the detail is captivating.
  • Puzzling plots: The puzzles are the beating heart of this book. Each one is a cleverly crafted conundrum that requires teamwork and out-of-the-box thinking. They can be a little abstract and poetic, so keep an open mind and don’t expect to solve them yourself … just enjoy the adventure!
  • Diverse cast: Ami’s teammates each bring unique strengths to the group. Adjoa is resourceful and quick-thinking, Ibrahim is analytical and detail-oriented, Oscar brings creativity and lateral thinking, and Min is brave and determined.

Top tip: Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, there’s a plot twist at the end that is itself a kind of puzzle, offering a mind-bending revelation as you reach the final page.

Reading range: 8-12

Wonderscape

When Arthur, Ren, and Cecily stumble upon an abandoned house, they find themselves thrust into the Wonderscape—a futuristic, in-game world where they must navigate through different realms inspired by historical figures. As they journey through these vividly imaginative landscapes, they must solve puzzles and complete quests to find their way back home.

Things to love

  • Realm of wonders: Wonderscape’s multiple realms are each inspired by a famous person from history. From sailing with Isaac Newton on a scientific ship to exploring futuristic desert marketplaces, each realm offers a new adventure and a unique set of challenges.
  • Puzzling plots: Arthur, Ren, and Cecily must solve riddles that test various skills, from intellectual challenges like deciphering hidden messages in Isaac Newton’s notes, to physical tasks that require quick thinking and agility. It’s a kind of future Crystal Maze on a planetary scale (if you’re old enough to know what that is.)
  • Yeah I got skills: In Wonderscape, characters earn Wonderskills and wear Wondercloaks that provide them with special abilities and items needed to progress – the closest to a real video game you will ever get in a book!

Top tip: Don’t feel small of brain if your general knowledge doesn’t match that of Arthur, Ren, and Cecily—these kids are walking encyclopedias!

Reading range: 8-12

The 13th Reality, The Journal of Curious Letters

Tick Higginbottom's life changes dramatically when he receives a mysterious letter, leading him to a series of clues and riddles. These puzzles are part of a recruitment test for the Realitants, a group tasked with protecting multiple realities from a looming threat. As Tick solves these riddles, he meets new friends who join him on his quest to unravel the mysteries of the 13th Reality.

Things to love

  • 13 Realities:  Tick’s journey take him to various stops within the Realities where the inhabitants are different from our world, explained by vague references to quantum physics. Don’t expect all the Realities to be boggle-mindingly mind-boggling. In one of them everyone is very tall. Oh.
  • Puzzling plots: This book is a slow-burn read and builds to a big event much later in the book. But if you can’t get enough puzzles in the plot then you’ll enjoy this, and there’s plenty of opportunity to solve the logic, word and maths brainteasers yourself.
  • Father-son bond: Like Kip in the Quicksmiths series, Tick’s relationship with his father is heartwarming and very important in his journey of self-discovery. His father, Edgar, is supportive and trusting, providing Tick with the confidence he needs to embark on this dangerous adventure.

Top tip: Keep a notepad handy to help you solve the puzzles along with Tick.

Reading range: 10-14

The Mysterious Benedict Society

When the peculiar Mr. Benedict advertises a test looking for gifted children, Reynie Muldoon and three other talented kids—Sticky Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire—ace the challenge. They are soon recruited for a secret mission to infiltrate the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where they must thwart a nefarious plot orchestrated by the sinister Mr. Curtain.

Things to love

  • The fab four:  Reynie’s logical thinking, Sticky’s amazing memory, Kate’s athleticism, and Constance’s stubbornness make them a formidable force against the challenges they face.
  • Puzzling plots: The book is brimming with puzzles and brainteasers that the children must solve to advance their mission, including  Morse code messages which play a crucial role in their investigation. Looming dangers at the Institute, including mind control and constant surveillance, keep the stakes high.
  • Eccentic eggheads: Mr. Benedict is an enigmatic and endearing character. Despite his narcolepsy, which causes him to fall asleep at inopportune times, his brilliance and kindness shine through. His complex relationship with Mr Curtain adds to the intrigue.

Top tip: There was a Disney+ series which is now off-air, but if you’re a big fan of the Society you might find clips on YouTube to watch as you work your way through all five books.

Reading range: 9-12

Greenglass House

It's winter at Greenglass House, an old inn known for its smuggling history, located in the fictional harbour town of Nagspeake. Twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers' adopted son, looks forward to a quiet holiday. However, the sudden arrival of unexpected guests turns his plans upside down. As strange occurrences unfold and items go missing, Milo teams up with Meddy, the cook’s daughter, to unravel hidden secrets and uncover the guests’ mysterious connections to the old house.

Things to love

  • Enigmatic environment: Greenglass House itself is a character in the story, with its creaky floorboards and secretive past. The setting, an inn for smugglers, adds layers of intrigue and charm, making it an ideal backdrop for the unfolding mystery.
  • Puzzling plots: The story is rich with puzzles and clues that Milo and Meddy must decipher. From mysterious nautical charts to hidden passages, every twist and turn challenges the duo’s detective skills. The story’s slow-burn mystery and characterful subplots create a compelling, snowbound adventure.
  • Eclectic guests: The guests at the inn each bring unique quirks and secrets that add depth to the mystery, among them De Cary Vinge, a customs agent with a hidden agenda, and Clem O. Candler, quick on his feet and mysterious in nature. Each guest is intricately linked to the house’s history, and Milo and Meddy must work together to find out how and why.

Top tip: Best enjoyed on a winter’s day, accompanied by a hot chocolate or hot malt.

Reading range: 8-12

Escape from Mr Lemoncello's Library

Kyle Keeley, a game enthusiast, wins a coveted spot for an overnight adventure in the newly designed library by the world’s most famous game maker, Luigi Lemoncello. However, the challenge intensifies when the twelve kids find themselves locked in and must solve a series of book-related clues and puzzles to escape. The stakes are high, as they navigate the ingenious library to find the hidden escape route and win the ultimate prize.

Things to love

  • Fantastical library: The library, designed by the eccentric Luigi Lemoncello, is a wonderland of innovation and imagination. It features an IMAX theater, interactive dioramas, and electromagnetic hover ladders. Where do I get my ticket?
  • Puzzling plots: From deciphering Dewey Decimal clues to uncovering hidden passages, every puzzle is a step towards escape. These brainteasers are intricately tied to books and libraries, a double delight for riddle lovers who are also book lovers like me!
  • Magic numbers: It’s been twelve years since the town had a library, and twelve twelve-year-olds are selected to attend the exclusive pre-opening event … but only one can be the first to escape and win the prize!

Top tip: Enjoy the Nickelodeon film and see how it stands up to the book

Reading range: 8-12

The Westing Game

Sixteen heirs are summoned to the reading of Samuel W. Westing's will, where they discover they are part of a complex game designed by the eccentric millionaire. The game involves solving a mystery to win Westing's fortune. Each heir is paired with another, and together they must decipher clues to uncover the secret of Westing's death. As they play the Westing Game, they navigate through various twists, turns, and dangers, including blizzards, burglaries, and bombings.

Things to love

  • Ingenious inheritance: Each clue leads the characters deeper into the mystery of Samuel Westing’s death, in this glorious whodunnit. The game requires the characters, like the readers, to use their wit, creativity, and deductive skills, making it a rewarding read for young sleuths.
  • Puzzling plots: The book sparkles with puzzles, word games, and riddles, including cryptic messages and clever wordplay, that the heirs must solve to advance in the game.
  • Sweet sixteen: It’s quite a thing to juggle sixteen characters in a middle grade novel, each with their own quirks and backgrounds. Learning more about each of them makes us suspect and doubt anew, from Turtle Wexler, a determined and clever girl, to Judge J.J. Ford, a sharp and analytical thinker. First published in 1974, The Westing Game is considered a modern classic, with racial and disability character diversity and awareness ahead of its time.

Reading range: 10-13

Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl, a twelve-year-old criminal mastermind, devises a plan to restore his family's fortune by kidnapping a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit. Utilizing his intelligence and vast resources, Artemis navigates a world where magic and technology collide. His interactions with the fairies lead to a series of cunning plans and thrilling confrontations.

Things to love

  • Mastermind of mischief: Artemis Fowl is a unique protagonist—brilliant, resourceful, and morally ambiguous. His complex character adds depth to the story, making his schemes as fascinating as they are daring.
  • Puzzling plots: The narrative involves various puzzles and riddles, such as deciphering the Book of the Fairies, which is written in Gnommish, a complex fairy script. Readers are also invited to decipher Gnommish text using a decoder provided within the book, adding an interactive element to the story.
  • Magic meets technology: The story features a captivating blend of advanced technology and ancient magic. This combination is central to the plot, as Artemis uses cutting-edge gadgets to manipulate magical forces, creating a unique and engaging world where science and fantasy intersect.

Reading range: 9-12

The Name of this Book is Secret

Cass, an adventurous and vigilant survivalist, and Max-Ernest, an aspiring stand-up comedian, team up to unravel the mystery surrounding the death of an old magician. Their quest leads them to discover a box filled with peculiar smells and a cryptic notebook. Along their journey, they encounter the villainous Dr. L and his ageless accomplice Ms. Mauvais, who are determined to uncover the magician's secrets. The children's investigation takes them to the edges of a dark secret, weaving a tale filled with intrigue, danger, and humour.

Things to love

  • Quirky narration: The book’s narrator, who takes great pains not to reveal too much, adds a unique and humorous layer to the storytelling. This playful narrative style pulls you in by making you part of the secret-keeping and puzzle-solving process – for fans of Lemony Snicket.
  • Puzzling plots: The story is filled with brainteasers, including anagrams, coded messages, palindromes, and a riddle in a magician’s journal. These puzzles are integral to the plot, encouraging readers to engage actively with the story and solve the mysteries alongside Cass and Max-Ernest.
  • Oddball adventure: The story is full of the kind of irreverant and eccentric imaginings that I enjoy, from the powerful Midnight Sun society (which seeks the secret to immortality) to The Symphony of Smells, a box of various scents that trigger memories and clues.

Reading range: 9-12

Do you have your own recommendation for a middle grade or YA book with inventions that belongs on this list? Don’t delay – send a message by Thoughtwave Lens here!

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