I Shall Not Want: Julia Spencer-Fleming
May Carnival of Children's Literature

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey: Trenton Lee Stewart

Book: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Illustrator: Diana Sudyka
Pages: 448
Age Range: 9-12

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous JourneyBackground: I much enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society. I called it "sure winner for middle grade readers, boy and girls, especially if they like puzzles, or reading about mystery and adventure." Naturally, I was pleased when I heard that there would be a sequel. And I finally have it in my hands. Yay!

Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey reunites the multi-talented four-child team assembled during The Mysterious Benedict Society. As the story begins, the four children, who have been separated from one another for nearly a year, are reunited. Their mentor, Mr. Benedict, has arranged a surprise quest for them, a chance for them to polish their special skills in a safe environment. Unfortunately for them (but fortunately for the reader), that safe environment doesn't quite materialize. Mr. Benedict and his assistant, Number Two, are kidnapped and held for ransom. The children must follow Mr. Benedict's clues on their own, and find a way to save him.

Some adult readers may take exception to the notion of four children, one of them only three years old, traveling around the world, unaccompanied, into dangerous situations. But I think that kids will love it. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey reminded me a bit of Enid Blyton's Five books, which I devoured as a kid, with that same feeling of resourceful kids taking responsibility for their own adventures (remember when the Five hid out on Kirrin's Island, sleeping on beds made of heather?). But the Mysterious Benedict Society kids are much more talented than the Famous Five, and certainly more three dimensional. As in the first book, each child's particular strength plays a part. But Trenton Lee Stewart doesn't shy away from showing their flaws, either, nor the occasional tensions between them. Reynie's excitement, in the first chapter, at seeing his friends again will mirror the reader's excitement at seeing all four of the kids again.

The children's personalities shine through on virtually every page, kept from being overpowering by the author's lightly humorous tone. For example, here's Kate, strong and dynamic:

"Well, enough lying around," said Kate, who had been lying around for perhaps three seconds. She sprang to her feet. "Aren't you going to say anything about my bucket?" (Page 13, ARC)

and here are the team leader Reynie and the brilliant but awkward Sticky:

Reynie smiled to himself. He was quite familiar with Sticky's habit of polishing his spectacles when nervous, and seeing him do so now was unexpectedly satisfying. There was a unique pleasure in knowing a friend so well, Reynie reflected, rather like sharing a secret code. Also, it was nice not to be the only one afraid of Kate's bird." (Page 27, ARC)

and here is Constance, the difficult one:

It was at that unexpected celebration that the other children had learned that Constance was only two years old. Until then they'd thought she was just an unusually small, awkward, and stubborn child with poor manners." (Page 82, ARC)

In this installment, Constance reveals new and downright spooky pattern-recognition abilities, which almost around to precognition. But she's still her old, cranky self, requiring patience from the others. Sticky reveals surprising strengths, too, while Kate displays a new vulnerability, now that she has found her father (who appeared in the first book to have abandoned her). Reynie seems not to have so much changed as to have continued his evolution as a leader and astute thinker.

The children's travels involves a ship, a train, bicycles, and a small airplane. They decipher clues, and have several run-ins with dangerous characters. They are constantly on the move, and learn new things about themselves and the mysterious Mr. Benedict along the way. In short, like the first book, this is an engaging, entertaining adventure, sure to please middle grade readers. I think that kids will especially enjoy the chance to solve the clues along with the Benedict Society kids. None of them are so difficult as to be intimidating, or so difficult as to be implausible. (That is, it's not implausible that the kids can solve the riddles - some of the other action is a bit implausible.) Overall, this is a sequel that is probably slightly stronger than the first book, and one that will not disappoint fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society. I hope that Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance will have further adventures.

Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Publication Date: May 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the advance copy, and may not reflect the final edition of the book.
Other Blog Reviews: Oops ... Wrong Cookie, Look Books, Amanda's Book Blog. See also my review of the first book, The Mysterious Benedict Society.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.