Mystery Books for Kids: Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms


Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans is one of the mystery books for kids we recommend.  Melissa Gaynor from Sweet on Books explains why:

What You Need to Know:
• A ten year-old boy finds friendship and magic as he searches for his great-uncle’s lost legacy.
• This book should appeal to both boys and girls.
Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms is the first installment in a new series.
• Originally published in the U.K. as Small Change for Stuart, it was the first middle-grade novel for Lissa Evans.
Small Change for Stuart was on the short list for the 2011 Costa Book Award and was in the running for the  Guardian children’s fiction prize.
• Get ready for some challenging words like prestidigitator, matutinal and indubitably, most of which are explained within the context of the story.

I liked this story from the very first line.

“Stuart Horten was small for his age – the smallest boy in his grade at school – and both his parents were very tall, which meant that when he stood next to them he looked about the size of an ant.”

I knew immediately that this book would be clever and endearing, with that dry sense of humor that gets you thinking and laughing at the same time. The unique voice of the narrator is so clear, you can almost hear it in your head, and the language is engaging because it never “talks down” to the reader. The characters are well developed and the descriptions are detailed, but both stay within a range that is appropriate for this reading level. The mystery is intriguing and will hold the reader’s attention. It’s also easy to get into the story and identify with the inquisitive hero, Stuart, who races against time and a slightly scary villian. All that, combined with the compact physical size of the book, makes Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms a comfortable book with which readers will easily connect.

The story takes place in Beeton, a small town in England, where Stuart’s dad grew up. The family has recently moved there, and Stuart is not at all happy with the change. His mom, a doctor, spends most of her time doing research at the hospital where she works. His dad writes crossword puzzles and is prone to such unusual choices of vocabulary that Stuart thinks he “ought to tattoo a question mark on his forehead and just point to it whenever his father spoke.” Stuart is convinced that he’s in for a summer of complete boredom, until he learns about his mysterious Great-Uncle Tony, the magician known as Teeny-Tiny Tony Horton.

Apparently, Tony had been in charge of the family’s coin-operated machinery business, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms, when it was destroyed in a 1940 fire, and not long after that, he disappeared. Tony may have gone missing fifty years earlier, but Stuart finds clues that bring this old mystery back to life. The clues appear in surprising places, like a coin box with a false bottom, a pay phone that rings without a cord, and ancient machines that deliver unexpected products. Stuart finds numbers, addresses, old photos, keys and notes that all lead him to an unpredictable conclusion that even involves some time travel. Along the way, he also finds a few new friends like his neighbor, April, and in a blind woman named Leonora, and together, they discover that Tony’s disappearance was more than just a simple magic trick.

More mystery books for kids we recommend: Walls Within Walls by Maureen Sherry

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