The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict Book Poster Image
Smart kids, lessons in Mysterious Benedict Society prequel.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 5 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Amateur sleuths will get plenty of insight on how to look for clues and do research as the story goes along.

Positive Messages

The importance of facing fears -- and enemies -- instead of hiding from them is a major theme. And Nicholas makes this wonderful revelation: "I see that some things are hard to do but that you can't live with yourself if you don't do them. I see that the best way to help myself is to help the people I care about. The rest will sort itself out." And the head of the orphanage reminds everyone to "waste nothing."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nicholas isn't just a super-smart 9-year-old; he's also very conscientious and willing to admit when he makes mistakes in judgment. He also lives with a debilitating condition -- narcolepsy. He tries to trick adults around him so that he can sneak out, but the adults he tricks pretty much deserve it. John and Violet are loyal friends. Violet is a strong-willed hearing impaired girl with great talent for art and a selfless nature.


The book is set in an orphanage, so there's talk of parental loss; while Nicholas doesn't remember his parents, John's died just over a year before. Violet also lost her brother in the war. Three bullies terrorize all the kids -- there's some hitting (John gets a fat lip), but it's mostly lots of threats and chasing and attempts to isolate and humiliate other kids. Nicholas suffers from scary nightmares in which a hag visits and threatens him; he wakes up screaming. Nicholas also nearly drowns when he falls asleep in the bath, and he makes a dangerous jump onto a moving train.


The bullies don't go further than "shut up!" and name-calling about Nicholas' large nose.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Two orphanage staff members smoke; one always has a cigar in hand.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byElizabeth Penrose May 26, 2013

A Sentimental Education

Ask a child reader how he or she knows that the story was set in the past, and what are the things that we take for granted that are not there.

Nicholas begins... Continue reading
Adult Written byMy4sons May 16, 2012

Good series - like this author

My sons really enjoys this series. It is one of the few newer kids series that is actually appropriate for kids. I will gladly allow my child to read this inste... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bySouper_Nova September 30, 2020

Awesome Book!

I loved this book! It was clever and well-written, and really makes you think. Seeing the world through Nicholas Benedict's eyes was enlightening and it... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old July 19, 2020

Great Prequel to the Mysterious Benedict Society

I have read the original trilogy many times and loved them, but I just recently read the prequel, which tells of Mr. Benedict's life before he was the old... Continue reading

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?

Talk to your kids 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?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love strong boy characters

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