A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Mysterious Benedict Society is the story of four gifted kids, all orphans age 12 and under, who are recruited and then trained by Mr. Benedict and sent to a remote boarding school to learn more about an evil mastermind bent on taking over the world. There's little violence beyond some mild fistfighting and a near kidnapping, where perpetrators are knocked out with a tranquilizer gun. Teamwork, creative problem solving, and the love of the truth are keys to the kids' success. This is the first in a four-volume series.
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What's the story?
The ad in the newspaper says, "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" Reynie, an orphan, decides that he is, and persuades the orphanage director to let him take the test. Along with three other children who pass, Reynie meets the mysterious Mr. Benedict, a narcoleptic who lives behind a maze and who has an important mission for the children. They're sent to a boarding school on an island, The Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, to find out all they can about the school's director, Ledroptha Curtain. Posing as students, they discover his plan to take over the world using mind control. But in Curtain's carefully controlled island fortress, stopping him seems impossible, even for four very gifted children.
Is it any good?
At nearly 500 pages, THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY is quite long, and it drags at points, but it's a clever and suspenseful story. Cross Lemony Snicket with Blue Balliett and you'll have a good idea of the tone: a code- and puzzle- filled mystery wrapped in an over-the-top melodrama.
Every character is delightfully eccentric, there are plenty of twists and turns, and underlying it all is a wicked but understated sense of humor. Reluctant readers will be put off by its size and uneven pacing, but bright, avid readers will love it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the puzzles and quizzes the kids in the book have to solve. Were you able to figure out any of the answers before they were revealed? Did you figure out Mr. Benedict's first name?
What are stories about strange, mysterious schools so popular? What others have you read?
Learn more about Morse code, which figures prominently in the story. What coded message would you send?
Themes & Topics
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