by Trenton Stewart, published 2007
“You must remember, family is often born of blood, but it doesn’t depend on blood…Best friends, whether or not they are related to you, can be your family.”
It’s a sure sign that a children’s book will make it to my list when it has content I am eager to quote and share with others. For example, my dearest friend was in the hospital while I was reading The Mysterious Benedict Society, and the apt wisdom about friends was the perfect message to send on her get-well card. There is quite a bit of wisdom to digest in this highly unusual children’s book, not to mention many puzzles to solve. It is a book that is borderline fantasy, as much of the action is very far-fetched, yet not impossible to imagine, and it’s world is not quite our world, but pretty close to it.
The book grabs interest right from its opening – a search for gifted, yet orphaned or abandoned, children, to send on a highly dangerous mission. Then throughout the book, the main characters have to solve challenging mental puzzles, and the reader is pulled to solve them as well. This makes the book perfect for the inquisitive minds of bright children. The friendship among the characters develops gradually; they each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and learn to trust each other, becoming an indomitable team.
I had a slight twinge about the evil character in this children’s book, because his evil was about controlling people’s minds subliminally. It makes me cringe. At the same time, the book is a metaphor for our current civilization with its pervasive advertising and media. In the end, I think it’s okay to introduce the idea to children, whether they see the book as metaphor or not. I would reserve it, however, for older children, who have a strong sense of self already developed.