MAY 14:

  • Happy birthday Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl series).
  • It’s the birth date of Hal Borland (1900-1978), When the Legends Die, and George Selden Thompson (1929-1989), The Cricket in Times Square.
  • Best birthday wishes to Mark Zuckerberg, cofounder of Facebook. Read Face by Benjamin Zephaniah and It’s a Book by Lane Smith.
  • The second Saturday in May is International Migratory Bird Day. Read On the Wing: American Birds in Migration by Carol Lerner and Hoot by Carl Hiaasen.
  • It’s National Chicken Dance Day. Read Chicken Joy on Redbean Road: A Bayou Country Romp by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Melissa Sweet; and Chicken Dance by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Dan Santat.

Today for RIF’s Reading Is Fun week, I’d like to look at a recent novel. When I ask young readers what books they adore reading, one title keeps coming up—Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society.

During the last five years, end-of-the-world, dystopian novels have started to dominate publishing lists and children’s reading lists. All have a basic plot in common—the world as we know it will soon, or has already, come to an end. Children are going to have to save the planet. Some of the books carrying that structure are naturally quite grim and brutal. Although The Mysterious Benedict Society relies on this idea—it actually remains one of the sunniest of the fantasy/science fiction offerings in recent memory, with a lot of humor as well as edge-of-the-seat adventure.

At the beginning of the book eleven-year-old Reynie Muldoon, an orphan, responds to an advertisement seeking gifted children. After passing a series of tests, Reynie, “Sticky” Washington, Kate, and Constance Contraire form the Mysterious Benedict Society. Trained by Mr. Benedict and his assistants, the four embark on a top-secret mission to the Institute for the Very Enlightened. There, the mastermind Mr. Curtain has been using children at this school to lay the groundwork for his bid for world domination. Working together, using their special abilities, the Mysterious Benedict Society children must determine what he is doing—and how they can stop him.

With lots of twists, turns, puzzles, even Morse codes, the book engages readers’ minds. It does not merely serve up escapist reading, although the over-five-hundred-page book certainly provides many hours of entertaining adventure. The book explores larger issues like the power of the media and the need for teamwork in overcoming obstacles.

In this book for ten- to sixteen-year-olds, the happy ending satisfies but still leaves room for sequels. The children seem quite vulnerable and real—not superheroes or heroines, but children who have their share of problems. They use ropes and marbles to solve dilemmas, not magic swords. Recently I saw an essay from Jarod, a sixth grader from Winesburg, Ohio, who said the book made him think “about how important family is, and…how everyone is special in their own little way.”

So if you and the children in your life want to enjoy reading, pick up The Mysterious Benedict Society. You may even want to learn Morse code after you do.

Here’s a page from The Mysterious Benedict Society:


Originally posted May 14, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Imagination
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Mysterious Benedict Society


  1. I have on my list to read the Benedict Society books this summer…and since I go to Little Rock, Arkansas once a month I am hoping to meet TLS as well!

    I am sitting and laughing my head off remembering going to upper elementary and junior high dances to chaperone my daughter’s group and doing the chicken dance…did not know there was a designated day, must call her!!

  2. Michelle M. says:

    Still haven’t read this one yet..have to check it out.

  3. Dan says:

    After years of reading The Westing Game to my 6th graders, I kept waiting for someone to publish the next great puzzle mystery. Thankfully, we now have The Mysterious Benedict Society! The book has much to say about family, friendship, teamwork, talents, and problem-solving. But kids love it because it is so much fun, especially as a whole class read-aloud. It is hilarious how the four children solve problems in such different ways based on their unique abilities. Being a chess player, I absolutely loved the chessboard puzzle and how Stewart tied it into the plot. This one, in my opinion, is destined to become a children’s classic.

  4. Anita says:

    Dan: Thanks for your comment. As you know, the quote in the essay comes from one of your students — writing about the book that most influenced his life.

  5. Anita – lovely book, lovely quote and fantastic review. What a book!

    This one captured my heart – even though I never read it .

    Earlier this year I bought the MBS trilogy for my home library and I was so eager to read them aloud to my twins when they get older.

    Several months have passed since I received the books and that itching subsided. I forgot all about them and I was a happy man.

    Now that I read your review, I am a happy man no more ;-)

    The itching has returned, I had to find them and peek inside … I had to read the first chapter…

    Oh… temptation is getting the better of me. The Book-A-Day Almanac .. I shouldn’t have opened it…

    Tomorrow .. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz… I must go and hide under a rock or else I’ll become the Read-To-Myself Dad. ;-)

    Read Aloud Dad

  6. Anita says:

    Read Aloud Dad: Thanks for the comment. Your remarks often make me smile — and this one made me laugh out loud.

  7. Beth says:

    My (adult) book club read this book, with a special guest appearance of my nine-year old, who had also read it. It was fun discussing this book from everyone’s perspective, and he encouraged us to read the sequel as well.

  8. So much fun!

    These books are so clever and so layered with details. Actually, I have a question about that for the masses: has anybody else figured out what famous fictional (but not book) character Reynie is named after? I wouldn’t have noticed myself if I hadn’t been watching the show while reading the book. It tickles me to no end.

  9. G.Perry says:

    I started reading this book for the first time this morning. I’m about a hundred pages in, and hooked. I love the way it quickly builds a story around certain students, and how they are actually being chosen for a purpose.

    Carry on, carry on. I have a book I want to get back to now.

  10. Jory Hearst says:

    This series is great! I love all of the kid genuises who respond to the ad in this first book, and I love how much kids love them. (Plus, think the cover art is PERFECT.)

  11. Jamie Tan says:

    I absolutely love this book! The wordplay is fantastic; when I read about Nomansan Island, I was delighted.

    Something must be said about Trenton Lee Stewart. He’s a wonderfully warm person, and I’m glad his books are so successful.

  12. Anita says:

    Jamie: Thanks for the note. I’m often asked about Trenton Lee Stewart — now I can pass on your words.

  13. Erica S. says:

    Constance cracks me up in this book – such a character. And rockinlibrarian, you can’t leave us hanging like that – which character is it?!?

  14. Tess W. says:

    I admit, when I first picked this up, I thought, “Is this gonna be like the sequel to ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’?” The word play, the powerful characterization, etc. Obviously, it’s its own unique entity – fabulously creative and FUN to read. As I was reading, any time a puzzle presented itself, I’d set the book aside and try to solve it myself. I’m afraid I failed at most of them and every time I’d reach the answer I’d groan and say, “Of course!” Fantastic reading experience. I really need to get the sequel!

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