The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is a prequel to the three Mysterious Benedict Society books written by Trenton Lee Stewart (The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma). It features Nicholas Benedict (the wealthy benefactor of the children in the later books) as a nine-year-old orphan with narcolepsy and a freakish intelligence. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict recounts a pivotal few months from Nicholas's childhood, spent at an orphanage known locally as 'Child's End (a humorous contraction of Rothschild's End). Nicholas spends his time at Child's End avoiding three bullies known as The Spiders, hunting for Mrs. Rothschild's lost treasure, and learning the importance of friendship.
As a fan of the Mysterious Benedict Society series, I loved this glimpse into the background and development of Nicholas Benedict. This book made me want nothing more than to go back and re-read the first Mysterious Benedict Society book, looking for connections. I also appreciated this book as a lover of books and words in general. Nicholas's appreciation for books and libraries permeates every chapter. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is filled with rich vocabulary words and quotable passages. Like these:
"Now follow me, and no more questions. It has been an insufferably long day, and I am much too weary. Tomorrow you will be shown about and told all you need to know." (Page 46)
"In the candle's flickering light, the library's thousands of books emerged from their shadows, and for a moment Nicholas could not help admiring them again. During free time he had almost never looked up from pages he was reading, but now he saw the books anew, from without rather than from within, and was reminded of how beautiful they were simply as objects. The geometrical wonder of them all, each book on its own and all the books together, row upon row. The infinite patterns and possibilities they presented. They were truly lovely." (Page 141-142)
"When at last he'd ordered himself to bed, his mind was so aglow with new ideas and new knowledge, he almost expected beams of light to shine from his eyes." (Page 158-159)
The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is a book that children who appreciate books, puzzles, and figuring out how things work will enjoy. Nicholas is a likeable hero, with a disability that renders him sympathetic (in spite of his prodigious intelligence), and a willingness to take himself to task for his mistakes. I found the book overall to be a bit slow-paced, with the action frequently interrupted by ruminations and descriptions. Despite the presence of a treasure hunt, this may not be a good book for reluctant readers (though I can think of one young friend who really must read it). There is a bit less adventure, and a bit more reflection, than in the other books of the series.
Still, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is chock-full of entertaining word-play and ingenious activities, and is set against a kid-friendly backdrop (caves, tapping the walls looking for secret panels, etc.). Fans of the series won't want to miss it. And, since it's a prequel, it could be read first, I suppose, should you happen to be new to the series. Recommended.
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication Date: April 10, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).