Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Generous Story for Children

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart is simply that: a sweet story that focuses on the special abilities of children. Four unlikely orphans pass a series of unusual tests and find themselves a part of kooky Mr. Benedict's secret society. Their mission is to save the world from a dreaded brainwashing scheme by the wicked Mr. Curtain. The children must infiltrate Mr. Curtain's sinister island Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened.

The story is basically juxtaposing two mindsets about children: that they are intelligent, noble, and able versus that they are weak-minded infidels. Each child has special abilities: Reynie is a natural leader and clever problem solver, Sticky has a mind chock full of information (including a knowledge of countless languages), Kate is the resourceful acrobat and tool expert, and Constance is willful and stubborn. Contrary Constance is by far my favorite; she has a nearly absolute disrespect for authority that made me laugh out loud multiple times.

The plot is fast-paced, the language is straightforward yet not insulting to children, and the lessons are admirable for any young reader. The author notes that he built the story around an idea he came up with for a chess riddle, which appeals to me even if I was unable to solve the riddle myself (no surprise there). Each chapter opens with a charming juvenile drawing, and the cover art showing all the children around Mr. Benedict's ramshackle house is especially engaging. The book is a great choice for children, preteens, and adults.

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