I’ve always loved a good mystery- whether it was matching wits with Donald J. Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown or Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot- and better yet if there were actual puzzles to solve like Parnell Hall’s Puzzle Lady series.
I picked up “The Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stewart thinking it’ll be like “The Westing Game” by Ellen Raskin- just chockfull of word games and brainteasers. While to some extent it was, they were completely different but still entertaining. The characters were great and likable. The story was filled with humor, suspense and action.
I always looked forward to the next installment in the series- “The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey” and “The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma,” respectively. It was always like catching up with old friends.
A lot of people might dismiss children’s books as fluff, insubstantial, beneath them even. But I think those books, when written well (as these were), transcend age groups because they have to work harder to keep a younger reader’s attention to begin with. So while I’m not in the target demographic, I found these books to be quite “unputdownable.” There was definitely closure on the third book and it ended on a happy note. I especially liked how the definition of what makes a family was tackled throughout the series.
I was glad to see there were going to be more titles in the series- “Mr. Benedict’s Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrums” and the prologue “The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict.” I was also looking forward to his promotional visit to Portland for the latter.
I’ve been trying to go to various readings of children book writers to see how they interact with their audience. “TL”, has he liked to be called, seemed very sarcastic right from the bat. And I loved that! He didn’t shy away from confusing his young readers because he knew they’d get it. Never dumb things down because they’re actually smarter than you think they are.
The format was a little different- no reading, just a Q&A, which was fine since he had a lot to say. He gave an overview of the series for the people who weren’t familiar with “The Mysterious Benedict Society.” There were a lot of excited readers (both young and old) and some of them had already read the latest book!
A sign that a writer has created a memorable character is when they mention a name and it gets a reaction- in this case, a chuckle for Constance.
He mentioned how the series had been optioned to be made into a film (or films) many times before but with no actual progress being made.
He explained the name origins of his characters.
As can be deduced by his writing and listening to him speak, he’s quite fond of puns and puzzles.
He was asked a rather involved question which would have required him to practically tell his whole life story. Basically, he was a daydreamer and Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Swiftly Tilting Planet” and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” really influenced him as a writer.
He shared an interesting observation from his UK editor, Barry Cunningham, that there are writers that can write a good story for kids but the ones who are able to create the timeless, classic, memorable ones are those writers who have maintained their inner child.
After talking awhile about this and that, he remembered he should say some things about his new book. He seemed pretty sure this was really the last book since good books always makes the readers wanting more- and judging from the crowd, they were definitely wanting more!
Check out “The Mysterious Benedict Society” website for more information about Trenton Lee Stewart and his books- and, of course, puzzles!