Anyone who thinks kid’s books can’t deal with real topics needs to spend some time actually reading kid’s literature. Because in addition to being fun and logical, a lot of authors have the gift of taking serious stuff and translating it into easily-understandable content for kids. Trenton Lee Stewart did exactly this with The Mysterious Benedict Society
The book begins with Reynie and his tutor finding an ad in the newspaper seeking for gifted children to come and take a test. An orphan looking for something more, Reynie decides to go and see what it’s all about. After a series of tests, he finds himself with three other children comprising a team to take on the world’s Emergency. Their mission is to go undercover and learn the inner workings of the machine that is literally implanting thoughts into the minds of everyone. But the mission is dangerous, and the kids don’t yet know how to rely on each other. With the whole world at stake, they’re going to have to learn very quickly.
The Mysterious Benedict Society gave me some serious 1984 vibes. You can’t read the book and tell me that the messages being relayed aren’t the definition of doublethink. And though you would never expect middle grade kids to read 1984 and grasp the concepts, they can easily read The Mysterious Benedict Society and understand some of the same concepts.
The book moves along at a good clip, keeping readers interested and engaged. Stewart also uses the character of Sticky Washington (with photographic memory) to introduce potentially new words and facts to readers, using big words but easily defining them within the dialogue. The book also has strong themes of family (family is who you choose, not just blood), friendship, and teamwork. The children know from the very beginning of their mission that they will need to work together to succeed. However, they need to overcome hurdles and learn to accept who each other is in order to truly develop teamwork. And that process takes the whole story, which I appreciate.
All in all, it’s a great book for all ages. It’s fun, it’s twisty, it celebrates individuality and individual strengths, and it recognizes that growth is a journey.