Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Mysterious Birthday Party (and a book review of the rest of The Mysterious Benedict Society series)

If you remember my review here, you'll know that I really enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.  It's smart and exciting, the writing is clever, and the characters make the right choices when faced with moral dilemmas.  It even manages to avoid the standard kid-book and -movie kids-run-off-to-solve-problem-themselves-instead-of-asking-parents-or-police-for-help thing.




There are two more books in the series, plus a book of puzzles, and now a prequel (which I have yet to read).  I found book number two, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, to be the weakest of the three.  The author doesn't manage to tell his story without resorting to my above pet peeve.  The four children decide that it's up to them to save the day, so they run away from their parents and guardians to have their adventure.  Also, an authority figure that the children are told they can trust exhibits some weakness of character that I think could be confusing to kids.  (However he does save the day in a very self-sacrificing manner at the end of the book.)

Still, it's a charming adventure with plenty to keep you turning the pages.  Madge, Muchos Brazos, and Cannonball are excellent additions to the cast of characters.  Mr. Curtain and the Ten Men continue to be well-written, menacing, heartless villains.  Overall I was a bit disappointed in it in comparison with the first book, but I didn't find it problematic enough to keep my kids from reading it or to withhold my general recommendation.

Especially since it would be helpful to have read it before you read the third book, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma, and that one you DON'T want to miss.  It's another fun and creative story with plenty of danger and puzzles to solve, but without all the running away and disobeying grown-ups (Oops, Jack just reminded me that there IS some disobeying and running away in this one too <sigh>).  But the focus of the plot is on the children learning that they must each use their own special gifts but work together to save each other and Mr. Benedict and Stonetown and the world from the evil Mr. Curtain.  And I actually teared up a bit at the beautiful act of Christian charity that ends the book.






There is a plot involving one of the children being able to use mental telepathy.  I did not find it problematic.  I just discussed with my son that there isn't currently evidence to support that telepathy is scientifically possible.  I suppose some parents might have a stronger reaction against that aspect, especially since these books are set in our world not in an alternate world of magic.  But it's presented as an unusual and special physical ability she posses, not as anything magical or occult.

When I consider the dubious (or flat out immoral) worldview espoused in popular kids' series like Percy Jackson, A Series of Unfortunate Events, or His Dark Materials, it makes me really grateful that a fun, modern, moral, but non-preachy series like The Mysterious Benedict Society exists for my kids to read and enjoy.

It's right up there on my shelf and in my heart with series like The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Redwall, and Harry Potter.  

And my 10 year old son Jack enjoyed the books so much that he requested that his 11th birthday party be The Mysterious Benedict Society-themed.  I'm a big fan of homemade backyard birthday parties.  And it's especially great when it's Jack's birthday since he's old enough and tyrannical take-charge enough to plan and run the whole thing pretty much himself.  

I'm in charge of oversight, some of the decorations, the food, and the cake, Nana does the shopping for supplies, and Jack plans his games and keeps things running on the day of the party so the grownups can all just sit around and chat.

He even wrote his own riddle poem for his invitation!




There were games including
 a scavenger hunt, decoding a Morse Code message (that one ended in the discovery of a cache of water guns and silly string), an estimate the m&ms contest, a re-enactment of the prisoner's dilemma (for candy), and an anagram puzzle:






His birthday banner was a rebus:




The pinata was Mr. Curtain's Salamander:



And he specifically requested a cake that looked like the Whisperer.  His cake does look a lot like the Whisperer, but unfortunately that means it also looks quite a lot like I made my kid an electric chair birthday cake.  C'est la vie!








Jack's actual birthday isn't until late June, but we'll be out of town for the summer and he wanted to be able to celebrate with his friends here.  So, I'll wait until later to wish him a happy birthday.  But it was a lovely day and a great party.  

And I highly recommend The Mysterious Benedict Society series as fun summer reading for Moms and kids alike.


p.s. Frankie got a new letter from his penpal Adam over at Equipping Catholic Families.  He'll be answering the letter when and if he feels like it.  That's kind of how he rolls.



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