We Recommend: Something Harder than Nancy Drew?

Ah, another episode of We Recommend, in which we attempt, by hook or by crook, to find the absolutely perfect book for people who write in. Got a kid in your life who needs a recommendation? Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age, reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant) information, and we'll give it a shot.

Class! It has come to my attention that I need to pull it together a bit more in terms of getting on top of my happily growing list of recommendation requests. So let's see what we can do.

I need a book recommendation for my daughter who is almost 12 years old and in the 7th grade.  It is for independent reading. It must be around the 7th grade reading level.  She loves Nancy Drew…read about 13 of them, but it was not approved because the teacher felt it was too easy.  Looking through the books I already have, I found The Diamond in the Window.  I know she would like it, but don't know if it's too easy.  That is what brought me to your website.  Help, please!

OK, I am taking a deep breath here. Now breathing out. Relax.

Why? Because it pisses me off when teachers are quashing independent reading choices. This kid loves to read Nancy Drew! Why can't we help her out with that? Why must we try to find her something "on her level." I am beginning to hate levels.


None of this is the mother or the daughter's fault. So let's get over ourselves, shall we, and get to the matter at hand. All we know is that the girl is 11 and likes Nancy Drew. What shall we do?

First of all, I have no idea if The Diamond in the Window is too easy or too hard. I know I love it, and that's all I know. I say if we can talk the teacher into it, by all means go for it. It's a great book.

But what if it's deemed too easy How can we find something that the girl will love and the teacher will grudgingly accept? (Forgive me if I sound anti-teacher here, I truly don't mean to. I admire and respect the teachers my kids have had, I just get pissed off with our entire educational/cultural push for MORE, LONGER, MORE all the god-damned time.)


Here's what I'm thinking:


Yes, I'm just going with the mysteries thing. And I worry that it won't be a good fit, because Nancy Drew never had actual murders, just lots of peril. But you get the sense that maybe the teacher will think "Oh, it's a grown up book," and maybe let the girl chill out.

What do you guys think? Anything for a Nancy Drew-loving 11-year-old?

22 thoughts on “We Recommend: Something Harder than Nancy Drew?

  1. How about the Enola Holmes series, by Nancy Springer? Historical and engaging, and a very big hit at my house. We also like the Sammy Keyes series, by Wendelin Van Draanan (sp?). Contemporary, a little edgy, and Sammy herself feels very real – flawed and yet appealing. If you want something a little older, Lisa and Laura Roecker’s The Liar Society is excellent, though the sequel is not out yet.
    Some of the Madeleine L’Engle Austin and O’Keefe books had mysteries and peril, too, now that I think of it.


  2. I hope I don’t sound too gauche, but I’ll recommend my new mystery/thriller YA series — the first book is just out. As a kid, I loved Nancy Drew and that inspired my series, as did being a detective wannabe and the daughter of a cop. It’s meant for a slightly older audience than Nancy Drew’s — 14 and up. She might also try Meg Cabot’s The Mediator series (YA) as well as Cabot’s Heather Wells series (adult but pretty light and clean). Also check out Francine Pascal’s Fearless series.


  3. As an avid Agatha Christie fan and a one-time Nancy Drew fanatic, I actually wouldn’t recommend Murder on the Orient Express. I (vaguely) recall that part of the fun of Nancy Drew was the adventures, and MOE, while gripping for an adult reader, is a whole lot of talking (they’re stranded in a snowstorm for days with nothing to do but talk to each other and use their little grey cells).
    However, I don’t have any better suggestions!


  4. I’ve no idea if these would be considered too easy or not (seriously?!) but my 10 year old LOVES the Kiki Strike series by Kristen Miller and she’s currently reading Blue Balliett’s books (Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Calder Game). All involve and element of mystery.


  5. When I was that age I was addicted to anything by Lois Duncan–a little campy, but very creepy and satisfying without being too harsh.
    I just read Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which is basically X-Men, and it was great fun, and along the same lines.
    Also, as a former elementary librarian, I had to (emphasis on the unwilling “had”) implement Accelerated Reader, and they told us that most adults read for pleasure on a 4th grade “level.” There is nothing wrong with reading books below your “level”! Ugh, that still gets my goat.
    P.S. Three cheers for Madeleine L’Engle! That might be the perfect compromise for teacher and student.


  6. Maybe the teacher needs to look up the word “independent.” That should be in the working vocabulary of most educators. I understand the need to be able to meet each child where they are in order to be an effective reading teacher, but really? It’s not like she is reading One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish! And even if she was…INDEPENDENT Reading people!
    And, after that rant, I have no suggestions. Sorry.


  7. I started reading Agatha Christie’s at 11 and loved them. I would suggest anything with Marple or Poirot. Of course, there was a lot less available between kid’s books and adults books when I was young. There’s also the Sister’s Grimm series which is pretty good.


  8. i am aware that i throw out the same exact book for every query for a 9-13 year old girl, but i can’t help myself:
    five delinquent girl scouts/super sleuths fighting crime in the hidden tunnels beneath the nyc subway system? with extra ‘how to spy” sections at the end of each chapter? OMG YES. the reading level is for middle school, so that’s a bonus.
    (also, a response to your sweet email is on the way; i have had the cold/plague this week and my head has been kind of swirly. soon!)


  9. The teacher did approve The Diamond in the Window. My daughter read it and loved it!! I am going to read it now that she is done. I don’t know where I got my copy from, but it is an older one. Maybe from when my older kids were in school.
    My daughter started reading the original versions of Nancy Drew. The ones prior to 1959. She will try for approval of these books. They don’t seem to be as “easy”. Thank you all for your suggestions. Will definitely look into them.
    It is SO VERY MUCH appreciated!


  10. A couple more mystery thoughts – first, Peter Abrams’s Echo Falls Mysteries. These are slightly grown up, but there’s nothing inappropriate for an 11 yo in my opinion. Also, what about the art mysteries Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3 and The Calder Game. Seconding Enola Holmes. She’s great.


  11. I second the suggestions of Sammy Keyes, the Sisters Grimm series, and Chasing Vermeer.
    I love the Echo Falls series by Peter Abrahams–they are a bit dark, but I think an almost twelve-year-old could handle it.
    Never could get into Kiki Strike, but I know she has many fans!
    For something a little different, how about the Squire’s Tales series by Gerald Morris–they are reworkings of King Arthur tales with lots of adventure and humor. There also tends to be strong (yet flawed) heroines.


  12. Haha, andrea (book-scout), I totally was also about to write KIKI STRIKE KIKI STRIKE. Amazon says ages 9-12, so I think it might be “too easy” but maybe the teacher doesn’t have preconceived notions about it, and it’s really age appropriate for an almost-12-year-old.


  13. Oh! What about Sherlock Holmes? I started reading them in 7th grade and loved it. There are ones that have pretty limited scary crimes. They actually say Grades 7 and up, and Speckled Band was my favorite at that age even though it was pretty horrifying; I think that has something to do with experiences scariness just be reading a book.


  14. I lose all track of what age I was when I loved certain books. With that in mind what about Harriet the Spy or The Westing Game.
    If she likes a sense of mystery and eerie back drops, she may like The Fall of the House of Usher.


  15. Written Pyramids beat me to it…
    but I too suggest the gentleman in the houndstooth cap.
    I loved Nancy Drew in elementary school and then moved on to Mr. Holmes. Moved on is an understatement, really. I was OBSESSED. I read every story (and the novellas) multiple times and then read all the “pastiches,” spoofs, and whatever else I could find.
    I can’t imagine the teacher would object and the kid might be very happy.


  16. How about the Mrs. Pollifax books by Dorothy Gilman (the first one is The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax)? It is about a grandmother who is bored with her life and decides one day (at the height of the Cold War) to offer her services to the CIA. Lots of mystery/action and some comic relief, but very little real violence and not too scary.


  17. I second Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. I loved them both. You can start with Hound of the Baskervilles. Wuthering Heights also has a mysterious component.
    I wonder if the Trixie Belden mystery series is too elementary for this girl? I loved them as a kid as well–I think I read them about that age.


  18. Trixie Belden is 13 in the books so should be a good match- books revlove around mysteries solved in the Hudson River Valley section of NY (my current stomping grounds) by a group of friends. First 5 or 6 are the best. Also second/third Enola Holmes (teacher may indeed think too young) and Kiki Strike titles. How about “When You Reach Me”? It has a bit more of an urban feel.
    I think unless the girl is used to reading advanced books, many of the Agatha Christie might be too staid for her. I would vote for Sherlock Holmes before most of the Christie’s. In 7th grade I inhaled Mary Stewart mysteries. While there is a romantic component, there is nothing graphic/offensive etc. (they were written for early 1960’s sensibilities.) I remember being particularly enamored of Wildfire at Midnight, Airs Above the Ground, and The Gabriel Hounds.


  19. I also thought of “Ten Little Indians” which I read at about that age, but I think for political correctness reasons it’s now called “And Then There Were None”. Scary, but really engaging! I bought MOE after reading Ten Little Indians (expecting more of the same) and seventh grade me never made it past page 10.


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