November 27, 2010

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Mmm, Thanksgiving.  I have been enjoying family and slacking time.  I actually finished this earlier in the week but had no motivation to roll off the couch to blog about it until now.

I read another whole (grownup) book I may not even blog about.  Now that I'm a school librarian I want to keep to the importance of reading and critical thinking but I don't see the point in going on about every single thing I read.  No, I need to stick to the point and those are the books that make better readers, thinkers, and by extension better people and a better community.

This one definitely fits the bill.  It falls somewhere in the Dahl/Snicket spectrum.  It's the first in a trilogy and involves orphans but is not much like Harry Potter other than the whole friends-working-together thing.

I would have eaten this up as a kid.  After coming across an ad that reads: "Are you a gifted child looking for Special Opportunities?" the main character and I were, of course, hooked.

And how can he not be?  Reynie Muldoon is an orphan who is lonely and longing for something better.  He is ripe for any crackpot willing to shell out for an ad like this.  Luckily for him (and us) the ad is not from a wacky cult or madman but from an eccentric and engaging fellow named Mr. Benedict who is gathering children of particular talents--particularly those who love the truth--to help him stop an actual crackpot/madman from using other children in a bizarre scheme to take over the world (through mass media, of course).

This probably tips over into middle school territory but will be enjoyed by gifted 4th/5th readers.  If they have no trouble with fat books like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson then they probably won't be put off by this.  Although this one doesn't have the narrative drive of those others, it has the benefit of not being yet another fantasy adventure.  This book takes place in the (mostly) real world.  It's a real world with funny names, implausible schemes, and a heck of a lot of coincidences but it's recognizable enough.  It's one of those books in which a number of characters with specific talents are introduced at the beginning and, by golly, the things they must overcome need just exactly those talents.  Very much like how Q would show James Bond some new device and that exact device would surely be needed before the final reel.

It's full of puzzles and it's a delight to try to solve many of them or see how the characters solve them as they go.  There are also plenty of word games and references to illusions and other things that distort the truth.  The main good guy is all about the truth, but doesn't hand it to our friends.  He often only gives them clues and makes them work for the rest.  The main bad guy says, more than once, that he's not interested in the truth--only control.

Other themes are friendship, what makes a family, what is real loyalty, and of course believing in yourself/conquering self-doubt.

I'll bet it's great for read-aloud and will try to narrow down a compelling passage for book-talking.  After the break I'll be sure to pick up the next in the series.

The Mysterious Benedict Society