What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict -- a prequel to the Mysterious Benedict Society Series -- is as full of wonderful characters and messages as author Trenton Lee Stewart's other books. The biggest take-aways concern facing problems head-on and helping others. There's a little less violence here than in the main series, since the biggest adversaries are orphanage bullies instead of trained spies. The bullies taunt, humiliate, threaten, and occasionally hit, but there are never any weapons, and they're usually outsmarted. Kids follow along to solve the mystery with Nicholas and friends, providing great lessons in how to be observant and track down clues. Also of note: The publisher's recommended age is 8-12. The reading level is quite advanced for 8, but the content is great for that age and even younger. That makes this a great book to start reading aloud with kids of multiple ages.
What's the story?
Nicholas is off to another orphanage after the last can't handle his special needs. At Rothschild's End, a now-rundown mansion donated to charity, orphanage director Mr. Collum gives Nicholas his own bedroom far away from the other kids, where he can have his screaming nightmares and take his occasional narcoleptic "naps." All well and good, if it weren't for the always-locked door at night. The brilliant Nicholas thinks fast and copies Mr. Collum's key, which, it turns out, is the skeleton key for the entire mansion. Who wouldn't do some exploring? Especially when the rumors of a hidden treasure (left by Mrs. Rothschild) might be true? Nicholas dreams of escaping the bullies who pursue him, making a home with his friend John in the big city, owning hundreds of books, and sending Violet -- the talented farmer's daughter they meet -- to art school. But Nicholas, John, and Violet are in a race with Mr. Collum to follow the clues. Can they solve the mystery before he does?
Is it any good?
Kids who like The Mysterious Benedict Society more for the smarty-pants kids than for the crazy spies and gadgetry will dig into this prequel easily. Meeting him first as a plaid-clad and very generous adult, you just knew that Mr. Benedict must have been a fascinating kid. At age 9, he's got Sticky Washington's ability to read and remember absolutely everything, combined with Reynie's conscientiousness and contemplative side. His sidekicks make great through-thick-and-thin friends. As they put their heads together in the cool nighttime hideout of an abandoned observatory, the reader keeps guessing about the big mystery right along with them.
Like most of the Benedict Society series, expect the buildup to be full of detail that can slow the story down. And some readers may miss having bigger adversaries than three pig-headed bullies. But the twists, turns, and surprises hold this mansion treasure hunt together. And Nicholas' eureka moments at the end will make readers eager to spend more time with him -- even if they have to put up with his longwindedness. If he's this brilliant at 9, who knows what mysteries he could solve at 10 or 12?
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about what makes a great mystery. Did you solve the mystery before Nicholas? Where else do you think he should have looked for the treasure?
What do you think about the recommendations Nicholas made for Mr. Collum? How did they reflect what he learned?
What does Nicholas decide about how to handle the orphanage bullies? Would you do the same thing?