Archive for November 19th, 2010

November 19, 2010

A psychic, two geniuses, and a girl with a red bucket

The great thing about discovering a great series after everyone else already has is that you get to buy the next book immediately.  Of course, that’s also the bad thing because then it’s over too quickly.  However, I did let the first wonderful book in this beautifully quirky series marinate a little bit before reading this one, and I hope I have the patience to do the same before getting the third book.  I doubt it, but we’ll see.  It doesn’t matter what these four children are doing–I just love to watch them do it!  And watching the youngest, Constance, grow up in the stories has been great.

Title: The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Perilous Journey
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
: Adventure
Age: Middle School, 9 – 13

Summary and Review:

Mr. Benedict is missing and the evil Mr. Curtain is back again.  This time the four young children must sneak away from their family in a journey around the world to save the man they admire so much.  The plot is not nearly as complex as the first one, and doesn’t seem to have quite as many social commentaries, but it’s fast-paced, interesting, and really more than enough for these characters to hang their hats on.  Honestly, I could watch the four of them paint a house for 300 pages.

I did have a problem with how many times they had to justify being on their own (getting away from adults or convincing adults to let them come with them), but I also have a hard time with kids’ books who don’t explain why the kids are on their own.  But this time, really, I just thought it was over-explained.

But let’s talk characters, because that’s what it’s about.  Reynie, a gifted adolescent, is always thinking.  The group’s natural (if initially relucant) leader, his strength is solving problems, and he finds the group looking to him in their most dire moments.  Much of the story is told from his point of view, albeit still in the third person.  Sticky, the bald (this time because he shaved) young boy who polishes his glasses when nervous (which is often when he’s on an adventure with the Society), is a genius of a different sort–he has memorized every fact he’s ever read, and since he can speed-read, that adds up to a lot of facts.  Kate, a tall, athletic girl whose dad is a top secret agent, has another talent–with the red bucket that’s always by her side, she can get out of (or sometimes into) almost any mess.  She’s strong, fast, and as resourceful as MacGyver when she needs to be–and often when she doesn’t need to be.  And then there’s Constance, the stubborn one who saved everyone’s lives with her mere obstinance in the first book is now just as stubborn in this one.  She’s still cranky and tired and is almost always reciting rhyming insults and complaints.  But then again, she’s only three years old.  And she seems to be psychic, so that helps, too.

Watching the four of them interact is a pleasure.  I loved this book, and highly, highly recommend it.  Because of the mix of genders among the characters and the adventurous nature of the story, this really is a great read for both boys and girls.  And adults.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Stick to the strengths.  This book is about the four kids and what they can do when they work together.  Great example the next time your daughter has a group project at school and doesn’t want to work with X, Y, or Z.  Encourage your children to find the unique talents that all of us have.  Also importantly, for a kid in a high-pressure academic environment, is the realization that there are so many different ways to succeed.  Reynie would think his way out of a problem, Sticky would memorize an answer, and Kate would happily give up and star on the soccer team.  But they are all successful and can all be proud of themselves.

If you want to engage in a little technological interaction with your kids (and sometimes, they think that’s all there is, right?) the Mysterious Benedict Society has a great website.  Learn which character you are most like and test your ability to solve different kinds of puzzles.  Play together or against each other, and I guarantee, parents won’t find this too easy for them!