The first volume in this series for kids, The Mysterious Benedict Society, takes some a basic premise borrowed from James Bond, adds a dash of macabre adults ala Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket, and fashions a bit of Harry Potter wonder into a story that is well written, but a bit long in the tooth as well.
The story begins with children responding to a peculiar ad in the newspaper. They are then put through a series of mind-bending tests. Only four children-two boys and two girls-succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and inventive children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules. But what they'll find in the hidden underground tunnels of the school is more than your average school supplies.
The book is inventive and for younger audiences, he invites them to come along as author Trenton Lee Stewart gives them some wild adventures, but also a bunch of head-scratching conundrums. The cast of orphaned kids include Reynie Muldoon, the ringleader of sorts, is great at problem-solving and reading people's emotions. Then there is Kate Wetherell , athletic and resourceful –and apparently the Q of series, as she carries a bucket that contains everything anyone would need who goes on secret missions. George "Sticky" Washington is a somewhat nervous kid with a photographic memory. Finally, there is Constance Contraire, the youngest of the bunch. Only her cleverness keeps her from being a complete annoyance to the other three.
The rest of the plot is right out of James Bond movies, with a mysterious island and a creepy, wheelchair bound villain who is out to wipe the minds of everyone so he can take over the world. It is also a world, as Roald Dahl always assumed, where kids are smarter than the adults. And like all super villains –in both children and adult literature- he surrounds himself with dimwits. The older adults are mean and seem to take a joy out of torturing younger kids, but they all are not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.
I do think the book is a bit long, at nearly 500 pages I think kids could be intimidated by it, even if they've read Harry Potter -Rowling is a better writer. There are four other volumes of this series out, by the way. I’m unsure at this juncture whether I’ll continue, unless I find used copies somewhere.