the puzzling world of winston breen

Summer Reading: Click Here to Start


Age range: Middle grades

I just need to approach it like any other game: as a set of problems to be solved. So what if it looks like my great-uncle’s apartment? It’s just another game, and I’m going to beat it.

Ted loves games. So when he figures out that his inheritance from his great-uncle is actually the beginning of a real-life escape-the-room game, he’s determined to solve the puzzle his uncle has left for him. With the help of his best bud Caleb and new friend Isabel, Ted tackles a series of puzzles that bring him closer to his uncle’s hidden treasure—but Ted and his friends aren’t the only ones in pursuit of Great-Uncle Ted’s long-hidden secret, and Ted’s about to run into real-life trouble that his gaming skills might not be able to get him out of.

Click Here to Start was so much fun. And not just for gamers—the book winks at writers including Henry James and Dashiell Hammett, sneaks in some fascinating bits of U.S. history, and features a genuinely diverse main character. (I especially liked the way the book included historical details—like the Japanese-American soldiers who fought in World War II while their families at home were sent to internment camps—without a whiff of gratuitous education. Everything in the book fuels the story.) Ted, half-Jewish and half-Hawaiian, is a likable, relatable 12-year-old, more interested in gaming than school, where he has no interest in competing with his off-to-Harvard big sister. He’s brilliant when it comes to escape-the-room games, but he relies on Caleb, Isabel, and some handy Internet research to fill in the blanks for non-gaming details.

But it’s the pace of this book that I think makes it so great—this is a middle grades book, but it has the kind of plot twists and rhythm you typically get from a YA thriller. The book never settles down into a predictable path—though you probably suspect that Ted and his friends will win the day, there are lots of surprises along the way. And while some of the twists require a little suspension of disbelief (who made the personalized escape-the-room games that lead Ted to key clues?), you probably won’t want to slow down long enough to quibble about them. Like Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and The Puzzling World of Winston Breen, Click Here to Start is a classic adventure story that works because it pulls the reader into the adventure, too. Put it on your library list—I bet you won’t be sorry.


(If you’re playing summer reading bingo, this one counts as a book with a blue cover or a book published in 2016.)

Bespoke Book Lists: Books Like the Mysterious Benedict Society

One of my favorite people just finished racing through The Mysterious Benedict Society and itssequels and wanted to know what she should read next. So B, this one’s for you!

The Mysterious Benedict Society
By Trenton Lee Stewart
Chasing Vermeer
By Blue Balliett
The Wright 3
By Blue Balliett
The Calder Game
By Blue Balliett

If you enjoyed reading about smart kids banding together to solve a mystery, check out Blue Baillett’s books, starting with Chasing Vermeer and continuing with The Wright 3 and The Calder Game. Petra, Calder, and Tommy are intelligent, resourceful detectives, who use math and problem-solving skills to solve art mysteries. Oh, that makes these books sound kind of stodgy, but I promise, they're not!


Want more brain-teasing puzzles? Pick up The Puzzling World of Winston Breen. (You can follow up with The Potato Chip Puzzles and The Puzzler’s Mansion.) Winston loves puzzles, and you can solve them right along with him as you work your way through this book and follow Winston on a hunt for a hidden inheritance.


Have you read The Westing Game yet? Because, if not, you should go and read it right now. Turtle is as smart as Renny, as resourceful as Kate, and almost as stubborn as Constance as she tries to solve the clues to win millionaire Samuel Westing’s inheritance. It’s one of my favorite books.

OK, The Farwalker’s Quest (first in the FarwalkerTrilogy) is a fantasy book, so it’s not set in the real world like The Mysterious Benedict Society is. But friends Ariel and Zeke have to be just as brave and clever as the Society when they discover a magical artifact that forces them into an adventure that’s far away from their ordinary lives.

In another series that puts a fantasy twist on adventure, 12-year-old Stephanie Edgley, in the Skulduggery Pleasant series, teams up with the eponymous undead detective-slash-sorcerer to protect the world from the evil and manipulative Nefarian Serpine. Stephanie is everything you could want in a heroine: smart, sassy, brave, and often hilarious. I think you might love this series.


The Gollywhopper Games
By Jody Feldman
The Seems: The Glitch in Sleep
By Michael Wexler, John Hulme

Forgive it for borrowing so obviously from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I think you might enjoy The Gollywhopper Games, too. Gil Goodson is determined to win the Golly Toy & Game Company’s ultimate competition, and you’ll be right there with him, mastering trivia and solving puzzles, to get to the finish line. (The next two books in the series are fun, too.)

You might also enjoy Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, in which game-loving Kyle and his new friends must solve clues and secret puzzles to find their way out of the library belonging to the world’s most notorious game maker. This one might be a fun read-aloud.

If you don’t mind your books getting a bit silly, check out The Glitch in Sleep, the first book in the Seems series. The book’s premise — that our world is actually constructed somewhere else, from pre-packaged dreams for your sleep to a giant water tank that regulates precipitation — is kind of delightful, and Becker Drane, newly promoted Fixer, is about to face a Glitch in the Department of Sleep. You'll find lots of high-tech shenanigans and much silly fun to be had.