Study Guide

The Mysterious Benedict Society Introduction

By Trenton Lee Stewart

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The Mysterious Benedict Society Introduction

Hmmm, nutshell. If we're talking a pine nut, which has a pretty small shell, we'd say the story of The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart goes something like this:

But if we're talking about a Brazil nut, which has a much larger shell, we might give you a few more details. For instance:

  • The four kids are all (more or less) orphans.
  • The four adults include a woman who looks like a pencil, another woman young enough to pass for a kid, a thirty-something man with the know-how and reflexes of a secret agent but no idea who he is (due to a serious case of amnesia), and an older man—Mr. Benedict—who, in addition to being the smartest guy around, suffers from narcolepsy with cataplexy, which means that he sometimes falls asleep quite suddenly when he gets emotional. Mostly when he laughs.
  • All eight of them, the kids and the adults, are pretty much geniuses. Some of them in the usual super high IQ kind of way, but some of them in less recognized modes.

They're a nutty bunch (mixed nuts to be sure), but in addition to really great characters and a fun mystery, The Mysterious Benedict Society, "like the Potter books… goes beyond mere adventures, delving into serious issues." That's what Booklist says, and Shmoop has to agree. And Publishers Weekly says that The MBS "resembles the otherworldly experience of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Another comparison Shmoop fully supports.

Along with all of these favorable reviews, we could probably fit even more in the shell of a Brazil nut, like the fact that The MBS was first published in 2007, and has since spawned two sequels (The MBS and the Perilous Journey, 2008, and The MBS and the Prisoner's Dilemma, 2009) and a prequel (The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, 2012). And that all of them—that's right, all of them—have been New York Times Bestsellers.

Of course this one, the original, the one that got it all started (ahem, we're talking about The Mysterious Benedict Society here), was a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, an ALA Notable Children's Book, and a winner of the E.B. White Read Aloud Award. Needless to say, Trenton Lee Stewart's mantel is probably full of trophies and plaques. And maybe even a certificate or two.

But forget Stewart's mantel. Just read the book. Go nuts.

What is The Mysterious Benedict Society About and Why Should I Care?

Why should you care? Because you're a genius. Duh.

"Wait. Who's a genius? I'm a what?" Oh come on—you heard us the first time. You're a genius, silly. At least that's the message (or rather, one of the messages) you'll get from The Mysterious Benedict Society. And no, we're not kidding.

Here's the thing. Two of the characters here (or maybe three or four), have the typical genius thing going on—high IQ, crazy ability to retain information, vast understanding of neuroscience and molecular biology, yada yada yada. But there are a bunch of other characters whose gifts make them geniuses in their own rights, and the idea is that we all have some sort of gift to offer, whether we've discovered it yet or not.

Ever hear of the theory of multiple intelligences? Or Albert Einstein's fish-comparison quote? Because The MBS says something similar—that there are a bunch of different ways to be smart. You can be good at math, good at English, good at reading people or understanding your own inner workings. You might have a talent for figuring out how things work or putting together LEGOS, K'NEX, or furniture from IKEA (now there's an enviable skill). Maybe you can write or play music. Maybe you have a great sense for knowing what you need to survive in the wild or what to take on a hike.

Of course, people can be smart in more than one way, but most of the time one or two of these kinds of intelligence really stand out. And those areas? Well those are your areas of potential genius.

So what are you waiting for? Join the members of The Mysterious Benedict Society as they discover their unique talents and get ready to find a few of your own along the way.

The Mysterious Benedict Society Resources


The Official MBS Website
It's all here: games, book summaries, a quiz to find out which MBSer you are, games, character rundowns, book reviews, and games. Did we mention there are games?

Palindromes, Riddles, Brainteasers, and More
If you enjoyed the puzzles and riddles in The MBS, you should check out this page from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.


Trenton Lee Stewart talks with Sweet On Books
A great interview that will not only give you some insight into where Stewart got the idea for the MBS books, how he came up with the puzzles, and the uncooked confection that is his favorite sweet treat.

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas?
Yep. That's where Stewart was born—in Hot Springs—and that's why he has an entry in the encyclopedia. It's basic bio stuff, but it's basic bio stuff that we didn't find anywhere else.


Did You Figure Out Mr. B's First Name? Do You Want to Know More?
Check out this trailer for the fourth book in the MBS series. It's all about Mr. B's education, and we assure you, nobody called him Mr. Anything as a kid.

Trenton Lee Stewart Plays the Fool
Stewart reads from his short story Playing the Fool, which is all about the Shakespearean drama that is high school.


The Mysterious Benedict Society was a pick of NPR's Backseat Book Club back in March of 2012. This story is one part summary, one part interview with the author, and one part super fun music segues. It also features an MBS inspired puzzle at the bottom of the page called "Tamil Squares" and a Morse code primer.

Trenton Lee Stewart Answers Readers' Questions
Which character does he think he's most like? Did he like school? What's he writing now? Will there be an MBS movie?


The Original Cover
Everyone's here and accounted for. Can you find all the MBSers hanging out (some quite literally) at Mr. B's house?

A Slightly Spookier Cover
Not sure why they went so spooky on this one, or why it looks like Mr. B's house is actually a castle and half the characters are skeletons, but… the art is still fun.

The Spookier Cover Again, Only Darker
Nighttime tends to be a little scarier than daytime, and with each of these covers getting progressively darker, we can only assume the publishers are trying to give the book an increasingly edgy feel. Which cover do you think best suits the book?

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