Saturday, October 30, 2010

What we're reading now (book review)

As promised, I’m going to review one of the books I’ve been reading to my kids. The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart is the author’s first children’s novel, and not only was it was on the New York Times Best Sellers List for many weeks, it's now a series. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey is the second in the trilogy, and just out this month, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

I bought this book on a whim for my son’s birthday because I was attracted by the story line and size of the book-this was definitely going to take some time to get through, and I was looking forward to reading it with the kids. The Times age level rating is from ages 9-12, and although I agree that the vocabulary might be challenging to a young reader, I believe the story itself would interest children a little younger and a little older than the ratings. My son just turned 8 and my daughter is 11 so this was just right for us.

The story revolves around four gifted children (each gifted in his or her own way), who respond to a newspaper ad that asks, "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" Although many children respond and attempt at passing numerous mind-boggling tests, only these four succeed:

  • Reynie Muldoon, a keen observer of people and puzzle solver-to him everything has a trick.
  • Sticky Washington, a boy who can remember anything and everything-obscure facts stick like glue to his well trained mind.
  • Kate Weatherall, a girl who can get out of most situations with the help of her handy bucket of tools she keeps attached at her hip-she definitely has had her share of tough times.
  • And Constance Contraire, a diminutive girl whose talent seems to be her extreme stubbornness-she certainly is not afraid to speak her mind.

Together these children must solve some perplexing issues like the disappearance of government agents and the fact that nobody seems concerned-and they have to do it in a school!
There are also a host of other interesting characters that the children interact with:

  • Mr. Benedict, a genius in the science world and former government advisor.
  • Milligan, a very sad secret agent who acts as the children’s guide and later their protector.
  • Rhonda Kazembe and Number Two, secret agents and aids to Mr. Benedict.
  • And the villain, scientist Ledroptha Curtain, head of The Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened located on Nomansan Island.

I truly loved the fact that this story wrapped a mystery up in a blanket of scientific fiction while still managing to involve the reader in all  the puzzling-I found myself reading past my kids’ bedtime because all of us couldn’t stand the cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. In fact, I would always start the next section to make sure everything turned out alright, and I caught myself reading ahead after the kids went to bed because I couldn’t put the book down-the story is that riveting!
 (My son started taking the book off of me when we were through, and shaking his finger he would say, "Mommy, I’m going to take this off of you now so you don’t read ahead because you know that won't be fair," but I would just sneak it out of his room whenever he fell asleep…)

I also liked some of the quirky details, like how the characters’ names cleverly referred to individual personality traits, and how the third-person omniscient narration allowed us to get inside the heads of all the characters. We read two very long chapters tonight, and we have both a final chapter and an excerpt from the beginning of the next book in the series to read. (I finished the book a few days ago. Shh! Don’t tell my kids.)

I want to add that the story line is not gender specific, but it did take my daughter a couple chapters to get hooked (she is not used to this type of story)-now she is the biggest complainer when I stop and call it a night! So if you are looking to entice a reluctant reader, or if you are thinking about getting this for your reading library, don’t hesitate-this book is a must add. And with the holidays fast approaching, what better time than now?

*Please note: I did not receive compensation of any kind from either the publisher or author of this book. I bought this book and read it to my kids, and thought the readers of my blog might enjoy it as well.


  1. This sounds like a great one for my son. I like the idea of scientific fact being fed to the reader in this interesting and clever way. Happy Halloween Susan to you and your family!!

  2. septembermom, this book was done so well that I'm trying to find book two in the series.

  3. I got my 13 year old nephew the second one for his bday, he loved it!

  4. Molly, I thought kids a little bit older would still love these stories. I might have to order book number two because I've only seen book number three in the stores.


Please make my day and leave a comment.