After many years of using the book with KS2 children, I have come to think of it as the perfect classroom text. Susan Price has created a rich and exciting story which is told in a comparatively short book, which makes it ideal for classroom use…helping to avoid those terrible moments at the end of the year when your poor class leaves you without you ever reaching the end of your weighty class text.
The story itself is centred around the arrival of Hairy Bill in an unsuspecting household. His first appearance in the text is incredibly memorable; adults and children alike will be immediately transported to those seconds that seem like minutes in your own bed when you hear a sound in an otherwise silent house.
The way in which Susan Price juxtaposes the ordinary, everyday lives of the central family against the world of myth and magic brought by Hairy Bill makes the story truly enthralling and strangely identifiable. You will find yourself imagining what it might be like to have Hairy Bill sat in your own living room!
The book is also interspersed with some wonderful illustrations. The illustration of Hairy Bill on the attack has stuck with me for a long time….its is terrifying in a comical way (perfect for children) and akin to an angry terrier going for your leg!
This would be a brilliant text to use as part of a unit of work on mythical stories, as the background of the text is deeply set within British, specifically Scottish myths and folk stories. However…you really don’t need an excuse to use this book in your classroom…it is one of the most enjoyable books to read aloud to children!
The children’s literary world is filled with swashbuckling heroes, supernaturally powerful heroines and teenage super-spies. The refreshing take from Trenton Lee Stewart is that his main character is highly intellectual but otherwise quite ordinary, but yet he still manages to save the day! That said, he does it with the help of his friends.
The book tells the story of children who are gathered together to attend The Mysterious Benedict Society of the title. Their attendance is made to appear as a sought after prize for the intellectually gifted but once they are locked behind the doors of their new home, the reality is much different!
The story is a testament to the power of friendship, especially when friends offer support to each other to overcome their weaknesses or fears. Having read this to a number of older primary school classes, I can comment on the way in which the children are quickly drawn into the many mysteries of the novel. This is obviously due to the high level of adventure but is also the result of Trenton Lee Stewart’s masterful characterisation…he makes the reader really care for all the characters. I distinctly remember a whole class being genuinely concerned for the welfare of a character who is made to suffer at the hands of the James Bond-esque villain of the story…think Blofeld without the cat!
The novel would provide a good counterpoint to other group adventure narratives such as Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, with the aforementioned normality of the characters offering balance in a world of superheroes and mystical forces! This is also another strong candidate for books to hook reluctant readers as this is the first in a series of adventures for the central characters.