Friday, November 02, 2007

FIR #6 - Mysterious Benedict Society

“Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?”

So reads the newspaper advertisement that seeks children smart enough, brave enough, skilled enough or strong enough to accept a mission – the mission, of course, being to save the world.

Enter Reynie Muldoon, Sticky Washington, Kate Weatherall and Constance Contraire – the four who, for their own various reasons, pass Mr. Benedict’s tests in The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. Noted for their individual qualities, they each add something special to the team – be it being a puzzle master, a walking encyclopedia, a jack of all trades or a negative Nancy who can find fault in anything. The team is aided by some wonderful adults – which includes the puzzling Milligan, the talented Rhonda and the unstoppable Number Two (who always dresses in yellow much like a pencil – no, not that other “number two”). Together they set out to thwart Ledroptha Curtain, the villain who runs the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened (L.I.V.E.) with the goal of taking over the world. To do so, the children must all “become something they are not”.

The book is set apart for so many reasons.

1. This is a debut book that reads as if the author has been publishing for years. It’s funny. It’s entertaining. It’s readable, especially when you consider that it is intended for children in the middle grades. Says the author, “The idea for this novel came from his belief that children are often seen, rarely heard, and always underestimated!” When you start with that kind of premise, you’re sure to have a hit with the intended audience!

2. The book is full of brain-teasing puzzles and complicated situations that draw on the skills of each child. No one child can save the day. They must work as a team if they are to succeed. The concepts of different intelligences and different ways to find a solution run through this work.

3. There are multiple themes running in the book. Acceptance of others, facing fears, relishing family/friend and teamwork - each of these ideas is encountered throughout the progression of the book.

4. I love the humor that runs throughout the book. Puns, play on words, dialogues – even the character names – are all fitting to the level of adventure and mirth on the pages. It seemed as if Mr. Stewart is a big kid at heart.

5. It has all the classic elements to make it a beloved classic, much like The Book Thief (just on a younger level). Children will be drawn to the likable characters (well, maybe not Constance, but she does have her merit, though not seen immediately), the puzzles to be solved and the way the children use their abilities to face all odds. (There’s even a riddle on the last page for the reader to solve to get them to use some puzzle-solving techniques on their own.)

I’m even going to go so far as to say that if you have a 4th – 7th grade child, this would make a fabulous Christmas present. And if your child likes it, you will have another sequel to share with them in time to come because I know for a fact that the author has made known that in the next book “Someone very important goes missing, someone very dangerous is responsible, and a certain four children take it upon themselves to get involved.” I already have all my thoughts lined up but that’s because I’ve become a member of the Mysterious Benedict Society!

(You totally need to visit this site. It’s fun, and it a great game idea which I’ve already copied and am ready to play with my family.)

Reading list and previous reviews for the Reading Challenge:
FIR #4

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