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The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of Ages

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of Ages Book Poster Image
Kid geniuses are grown up in exciting 4th mystery-adventure.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Like always, kids can solve the riddles and puzzles along with the super-smart members of the Society. They'll learn a bit about palindromes, iambic pentameter, and what the term "zugzwang" means in chess.

Positive Messages

The title "Riddle of Ages" relates to what getting older means. We can still be the person we were, but grow, change, and become more. Teamwork, as always, is essential here. Respect for friends and open communication help when teamwork gets tough.

Positive Role Models & Representations

As always in the series, the four members of the Society are very admirable and possess talents that complement one another. Here, they are all preoccupied with how things change as they get older. As their relationships shift, they worry silently and try not to burden their friends until they learn that open communication is always best. Reynie tries hard not to dwell on mistakes. When they are caring for a 5-year-old in dangerous situations, they work hard to protect him and put him at ease. Kate becomes more confident in her skills as a spy in training. This series also shows diversity in the skin colors of some characters (with no nationalities directly discussed) and offers wonderfully positive examples of adoptive families.

Violence

Tranquilizer darts do most of the damage, knocking out bad guys in two separate fights. Dangerous chemicals also knock out characters. Legs are "lightly broken" when a truck falls on them. Kids are threatened, chased, and jump out of an airplane. Talk that a boy's parents died from the handling of mislabeled chemicals.  

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of Ages is the fourth book in the main series, taking place long after Book 3, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma. Constance is now a tween and the other three kids are considering college and careers -- but not before they deal with the villainous Ten Men one more time. Kids who've read the rest of the series know that the Ten Men don't use guns. They stick to tranquilizer darts, exploding calculators, pencil daggers, and the like. So no one gets killed here, but many succumb to the darts, someone has his legs "lightly broken" when a truck falls on them, and kids are threatened, chased, and jump out of an airplane. The new member of the MBS, 5-year-old Tai, explains that mislabeled chemicals are responsible for his scientist parents' deaths and his time in an orphanage. The other brilliant members of the MBS work hard to keep him safe and feeling secure. The fabulous team figures out that, when they have difficulties, open communication is always best.

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What's the story?

In THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY AND THE RIDDLE OF AGES, the Ten Men have escaped prison and are loose in the city of Stonestown. While the families of Sticky, Reynie, and Constance prepare to leave by ship for their own safety, the three sneak back ashore to await the villains' next move. And, in true Kate Wetherall fashion, she jumps from a plane onto the roof of Mr. Benedict's house to join them. Like that, the Mysterious Benedict Society (MBS) is reconvened. Their fight against the Ten Men gets more complicated when they're joined by a fifth -- 5-year-old Tai. Constance, with her ability to read minds, found out that Tai, who can do the same, is a target of the Ten Men. The villains have one clairvoyant, someone Constance calls the Listener, and want another. With the Listener's help, they plan to break Mr. Benedict's evil twin out of a new maximum security prison on Nomanson Island. Unfortunately, there's one other inhabitant of the prison: Mr. Benedict. He designed the facility, and thought it would be the safest place for him to hide from the escaped Ten Men, too. But only if the MBS gets to him first.

Is it any good?

This bonus adventure that takes place years after the original trilogy is a treat for fans of Reynie, Sticky, the Great Kate Weather Machine, and Constance, the mind-reading contrary poet. Most fans of the original Mysterious Benedict Society series would be happy to read about the intriguing quartet doing just about any old thing: hanging around the house, inventing stuff, supping on strongman Moocho Brazo's superb lasagna surrounded by a table full friends and relatives. Instead, we get the MBS out fighting the Ten Men again -- and this time Kate's an amazing shot with the tranquilizer gun. They jump out of planes and have to use their smarts to dodge traps and trick doors and a mind reader who will easily foil their plans by knowing everything they think. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of Ages stays almost as clever as its characters, though the logic gets a little fussy at times as the story wraps.

The 5-year-old character, Tai, is a wonderful addition to the story and to the MBS. He brings out the best in them (Kate's playful interactions with Tai are beyond sweet) and adds a lightness and humor when things get a little scary. What a nice trick of author Trenton Lee Stewart: in keeping the MBS positive around the mind-reading Tai when things get harry, so as not to scare him, these parts of the story become less frightening for younger readers as well.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about growing up with The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of Ages. How has the MBS changed? Why hasn't Reynie opened the letters on his desk? What do they represent? Are there times you'd like to stay the same age instead of growing older?

  • How do Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance help their new friend Tai feel secure in difficult situations? What makes you feel OK in stressful or scary times?

  • While this seems to be the last adventure, is there more you'd like to know about the MBS? Would you like a series about Tai?

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