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Codes, Ciphers And Puzzles: Books For Kids

Looking for a list of the best children's books about codes, ciphers and puzzles?

Children’s literature has many notable options when it comes to codes, ciphers and puzzles. To help you find the right books for you and your young reader, we’ve compiled a list of the best kids books about codes, ciphers and puzzles.

Our list includes board books, picture books, and chapter books. Board books are best for babies and toddlers from ages newborn to 2 or 3. Picture books are generally great options for toddlers and for preschool and kindergarten age children. Picture books are especially enjoyable for adults to read aloud with young kids. The chapter books on our list are generally best for elementary through early middle school age tween kids. You can filter to sort by the best book type for your kid.

When it comes to children’s stories about codes, ciphers and puzzles, there are a variety of titles. This list covers everything, from classics like The Clue in the Crossword Cipher to popular sellers like The 39 Clues.

We hope this list of kids books about codes, ciphers and puzzles can be a helpful resource for parents, teachers, and others searching for a new book! As you explore the list, please comment below to let us know what books you would add.

Navajo Code Talkers
Written by Blake Hoena
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-14

During World War II U.S. forces had to keep battle plans and other top secret information out of the enemy’s hands. Coded messages were often used, but secret codes could be broken. To solve this problem, the U.S. military turned to an unexpected source to create an unbreakable code. The Navajo people spoke a complex language that few outsiders knew how to speak. Several Navajo soldiers were recruited to develop a code based on the Navajo language. The result was a complex code that could not be solved by the enemy. Learn all about the brave Navajo Code Talkers and how their unbreakable code helped defeat the enemy and win the war.

Black and White
Written & illustrated by David Macaulay
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

What appear to be four separate stories, one installment of each appearing on each spread of the book, turn out to intermingle and, in time, become one story. Always Macaulay is playing with our perceptions and making allusions and illusions. A robber hides out in a herd of cattle who, in turn, disrupt the passage of a train. At the train station, passengers at first are absorbed in the newspapers they are reading, but as the wait lengthens, they start playing with the newspapers and with each other. A boy, a passenger on the train, witnesses some of the events, but not all of them. Parents, previously staid and distant, have apparently changed, at least temporarily, because of their time spent waiting for the train that day. The book can be frustratingly confusing or, in the proper hands and minds, a challenge and a source of fascination.

Samuel Morse, That's Who!
Written by Tracy Nelson Maurer & illustrated by El Primo Ramón
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Back in the 1800s, information traveled slowly. Who would dream of instant messages? Samuel Morse, that’s who! Who traveled to France, where the famous telegraph towers relayed 10,000 possible codes for messages depending on the signal arm positions—only if the weather was clear? Who imagined a system that would use electric pulses to instantly carry coded messages between two machines, rain or shine? Long before the first telephone, who changed communication forever? Samuel Morse, that’s who!

This dynamic and subtsantive biography celebrates an early technology pioneer. Perfect for fans of Gene Barretta’s popular inventor series.

A Box of Bones
Written by Marina Cohen
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-11

Twelve-year-old Kallie despises nonsense. She believes there’s a rational explanation for everything, despite the good-natured prodding of her Grandpa Jess, who takes her to frivolous wastes of time like their town’s local Festival of Fools. There, Kallie meets a faceless man (must be some kind of mask) who gives her a strange wooden puzzle box (must be some kind of gimmick). Intrigued despite herself, Kallie sets to work on unlocking its secrets and…lets something out. From here Kallie’s life begins to entangle with another world, a world where Liah, a young bone carver, journeys with her master to sell wares to a wicked Queen. The sights, sounds, smells, and spells of Liah’s world are beginning to leak into Kallie’s, and if Kallie can’t decipher the meaning of her own story, “the end” might be far from happy.

The Alcatraz Escape
Written by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman & illustrated by Sarah Watts
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-14

Sleuthing duo Emily and James engage in a literary escape-room challenge on Alcatraz Island, but soon find that an invisible enemy is trying to sabotage the team at any cost.

  • York: The Clockwork Ghost - National Book Award finalist Laura Ruby returns with the middle chapter in her epic alternate-history adventure—a journey that will test Tess, Theo, and Jaime and change their lives forever. It was only a few weeks ago that the Biedermann twins, Tess and Theo, along with their friend Jaime Cruz, followed the secrets of the Morningstarrs’ cipher further than anyone had in its century-and a-half history—and destroyed their beloved home in the process. But the Old York Cipher still isn’t solved. The demolition of 354 W. 73rd Street only revealed the next clue in the greatest mystery of the modern world, and if Tess, Theo, and Jaime want to discover what lies at the end of the puzzle laid into the buildings of New York by its brilliant, enigmatic architects, they will need to press on. But doing so could prove even more dangerous than they know. It is clear that the Morningstarr twins marshaled all the strange technology they had spent their lives creating in the construction of the Cipher, and that technology has its own plans for those who pursue it. It’s also clear that Tess, Theo, and Jaime are not the only ones on the trail of the treasure. As enemies both known and unknown close in on them from all sides and the very foundations of the city seem to crumble around them, they will have to ask themselves how far they will go to change the unchangeable—and whether the price of knowing the secrets of the Morningstarrs is one they are willing to pay.

  • The Unbreakable Code - Could books hidden through Book Scavenger be linked to an arsonist’s web of destruction? Find out in Book 2 of Jennifer Bertman’s Book Scavenger series. Mr. Quisling is definitely up to something mysterious, and Emily and James are on high alert. First, there’s the coded note he drops at a book event. Then they uncover a trail of encrypted messages in Mark Twain-penned books hidden through Book Scavenger. What’s most suspicious is that each hidden book triggers a fire. As the sleuthing friends dig deeper, they discover Mr. Quisling has been hunting a legendary historical puzzle: the Unbreakable Code. This new mystery is irresistible, but Emily and James can’t ignore the signs that Mr. Quisling might be the arsonist. The clock is ticking as the fires multiply, and Emily and James race to crack the code of a lifetime. A Christy Ottaviano Book

  • The Unbreakable Code (The Book Scavenger series) - Could books hidden through the Book Scavenger game be linked to an arsonist’s web of destruction? Find out in the New York Times-bestselling second book in the action packed Book Scavenger series by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman.

  • Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code - As a young Navajo boy, Chester Nez had to leave the reservation and attend boarding school, where he was taught that his native language and culture were useless. But Chester refused to give up his heritage. Years later, during World War II, Chester—and other Navajo men like him—was recruited by the US Marines to use the Navajo language to create an unbreakable military code. Suddenly the language he had been told to forget was needed to fight a war. This powerful picture book biography contains backmatter including a timeline and a portion of the Navajo code, and also depicts the life of an original Navajo code talker while capturing the importance of heritage.

The Great Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case
Written & illustrated by Elizabeth Eulberg
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Acclaimed author Elizabeth Eulberg continues her hilarious middle-grade twist on Sherlock Holmes as detective duo Shelby and Watson tackle their trickiest case yet—going undercover . . . as figure skaters! Being friends with a super sleuth isn’t easy, especially when she’s nine years old, four feet tall, and full of attitude. But for eleven-year-old John Watson, being friends with Shelby Holmes is just the adventure he’s looking for. After Watson’s online journal chronicling his and Shelby’s case-closing abilities attracts the attention of a newspaper reporter, the pair becomes a small “media sensation” in their Harlem neighborhood. So it’s no surprise (at least, to Shelby!) when the article lands them a new client—a figure skating coach whose star athlete, Jordan Nelson, is receiving strange, threatening messages, written entirely in code. There’s no one better to crack the cipher than dynamic duo Shelby and Watson! But to gather information, Shelby decides that they’ll have to go undercover . . . as an award-winning pair skating team. Can they use the laws of physics and their acting skills to maintain their covers and figure out who’s sending Jordan such strange messages before it’s too late?

The Secrets of Winterhouse
Written by Ben Guterson & illustrated by Chloe Bristol
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-11

Back at the Winterhouse hotel for another holiday season, Elizabeth and Freddy dig deeper into the mystery surrounding Riley S. Granger, a hotel guest who left behind odd artifacts―one being a magical book that the evil Gracella Winters once attempted to use to gain destructive power over the entire Falls lineage. The two friends follow a trail of clues, inadvertently attracting the attention of a suspicious new hotel guest: Elana Vesper. The clock is ticking as Elizabeth and Freddy struggle to figure out whether Elana is merely a pawn or a player in the plot to revive the spirit of Gracella. If that wasn’t enough, Elizabeth suspects she is coming into her own special powers―and she’s fearful it might lead her right into Gracella’s vicious web. Mystery, adventure, and a winning friendship combine in this much anticipated sequel.

The Narwhal Problem
Written by Debbie Dadey & illustrated by Tatevik Avakyan
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

Kiki and her friends get caught up in a code war to try and meet a narwhal in this sparkling Mermaid Tales adventure. All the merkids are super-excited! Two famous narwhal scientists are visiting Trident City with their daughter, Nadine. Best of all, someone is going to get to show Nadine around the city while her parents are in meetings! But who? All the merkids want to be the one, so how are they going to decide who gets to do it? Mrs. Karp, their teacher, decides to organize a code-breaking contest, but with the competition getting fierce, it is more like a code war! Even Kiki, Echo, and Shelly are fighting! Is there a way that everyone can win?

Riddle Diddle Rainforest
Written by Diane Z. Shore and Deanna Calvert & illustrated by Stephanie Bauer
board book
Recommend Ages: 2-4

Rhyming animal riddles feature a monkey, a sloth, and other rainforest animals hiding under the flaps in this lift-the-flap board book.

Winterhouse
Written by Ben Guterson
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

Elizabeth, eleven, spends Christmas break at Winterhouse hotel under strange circumstances, where she discovers that she has magic, and her love of puzzles helps her solve a mystery.

  • The Clue in the Crossword Cipher - Lovely young Carla Ponce, who lives in Peru, invites Nancy and her friends Bess and George to visit her and solve her “monkey mystery,” which promises to lead to a fabulous treasure. A clue is carved on an intriguing wooden plaque that is so old, most of the crossword cipher is obliterated. When a notorious gang headed by El Gato (the Cat) steals the priceless relic, Nancy’s hopes of solving the mystery are almost shattered. But the daring young detective’s ability to think fast and act quickly results in the recovery of the plaque. Nancy’s determined efforts to decode the crossword decipher take her to the magnificent, awe-inspiring Incan ruins at Cuzco and Machu Pichu. Through clever deductions, perseverance, and dangerous adventures, Nancy and her friends help to capture a ring of vicious smugglers and go on to make an astounding archaeological discovery.

  • Dolphins at Daybreak - It’s sink or swim for Jack and Annie when the Magic Tree House whisks them off to the middle of the ocean. Luckily, they find a mini-submarine on a coral reef. Unluckily, they are about to meet a giant octopus and one very hungry shark. Will the dolphins save the day? Or are Jack and Annie doomed to be dinner?

  • A Potato on a Bike - This delightful board book will make the little ones in your life giggle at the absurdity of a fly on the phone and a carrot in the tub. The text’s repeated asking Have you ever seen…? preceding the refrain No way! will have toddlers yelling “No way!” themselves as you read through these silly situations. Celebrated artist Elise Gravel brings the silly to a new level in A Potato on a Bike, because really, has anyone ever seen a broccoli counting to ten or a sausage reading a book? But wait, how about a…baby being tickled?! Uh-oh, I think the answer for that is—yes way!

  • The 39 Clues - Minutes before she died Grace Cahill changed her will, leaving her decendants an impossible decision: “You have a choice - one million dollars or a clue.”Grace is the last matriarch of the Cahills, the world’s most powerful family. Everyone from Napoleon to Houdini is related to the Cahills, yet the source of the family power is lost. 39 clues hidden around the world will reveal the family’s secret, but no one has been able to assemble them. Now the clues race is on, and young Amy and Dan must decide what’s important: hunting clues or uncovering what REALLY happened to their parents.The 39 Clues is Scholastic’s groundbreaking new series, spanning 10 adrenaline-charged books, 350 trading cards, and an online game where readers play a part in the story and compete for over $100,000 in prizes.The 39 Clues books set the story, and the cards, website and game allow kids to participate in it. Kids visit the website - www.the39clues.com - and discover they are lost members of the Cahill family. They set up online accounts where they can compete against other kids and against Cahill characters to find all 39 clues. Through the website, kids can track their points and clues, manage their card collections, dig through the Cahill archives for secrets, and “travel” the world to collect Cahill artifacts, interview characters, and hunt down clues. Collecting cards helps: Each card is a piece of evidence containing information on a Cahill, a clue, or a family secret.Every kid is a winner - we’ll give away prizes through the books, the website and the cards, including a grand prize of $10,000!

William Wenton and the Secret Portal
Written & illustrated by Bobbie Peers
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

William Wenton is a code-breaking genius, but now he faces a new threat—one that’s lurking inside him—in the second book in the William Wenton series that School Library Journal calls “part Alex Rider, part Da Vinci Code for kids, and part Artemis Fowl.”

William Wenton and the Impossible Puzzle
Written & illustrated by Bobbie Peers
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Also published in English as: William Wenton and the luridium thief.

The Gingerbread Man Loose at the Zoo
Written by Laura Murray & illustrated by Mike Lowery
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Is there anything more fun than a class trip to the zoo? The Gingerbread Man and his classmates don’t think so, and they get to solve riddles on a WILD scavenger hunt. They meet giraffes, monkeys, and even a fox (especially scary for a Gingerbread Man!).

But a zoo full of critters is a tricky place for a tasty cookie—even a very fast one—and the Gingerbread Man ends up separated from his friends. He needs to solve all of the riddles to catch up with his class and help someone else who is lost.

I’ll be a detective. I know that I can! I’ll solve all these clues. I’m the Gingerbread Man!

Animals galore and a trail of clues make the Gingerbread Man’s latest adventure his wildest one yet.

The Lost Cipher
Written & illustrated by Michael Oechsle
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

Lucas’s father has recently died in Afghanistan, and to help him cope, his grandmother sends him to Camp Kawani, a camp for kids who have lost a parent. While there, he hears about the local legend of Thomas Jefferson Beale. Beale supposedly hid a hoard of gold in the mountains 200 years before. The location is encrypted in a set of codes no one has ever been able to decipher. When Lucas and his newfound friends decide to track down the treasure, they embark on a mission that could be too dangerous to survive.

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