The Mysterious Benedict Society is an excellent kids’ book for a lot of reasons. The plot is fantastically twisted without being confusing. The situations are suitably outlandish for adventurous readers, but they still parallel everyday problems kids may have in real life. But my favorite part of this book (the first in a series) is that it has unlikeable characters.
Don’t worry; you read that right. Usually, unlikeable characters kill a book for me. But, in this one, author Trenton Lee Stewart takes an unbelievably quirky cast and gives them real personalities. I love that the irritating characteristics aren’t just confined to the villians — even the heroes have their moments of annoyance (and one heroic character is pretty much nothing but annoying until the very end). Good children’s literature does exactly this — it gives kids a safe way to experience the fact that good and evil aren’t always as obviously black and white as we want them to be, and that there’s a difference between a bad person and a person we just don’t happen to like.
There’s a new chapter in story of the Mysterious Benedict Society: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict was just released, and kids at our shop are snapping it up. But one thing I like about the first book in this set is that, although it fits into a series, it can also act as a standalone —it’s not just a setup to the next book in the set. Buy it for kids who loved Lemony Snicket but are a few grades past The Series of Unfortunate Events — or buy it for yourself, because it’s a pretty fun read for adults, too.