Synopses & Reviews
Dozens of children respond to this peculiar ad in the newspaper and are then put through a series of mind-bending tests, which readers take along with them. 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. So, if you're gifted, creative, or happen to know Morse Code, they could probably use your help.
"Stewart's (Flood Summer, for adults) first book for young people begins with a bang. Gifted 11-year-old orphan Reynie Muldoon is sharing the newspaper with his tutor when she excitedly points out an ad: 'Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?' She encourages him to take the series of tests cited in the ad, and the entire process resembles the otherworldly experience of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with puzzles within puzzles and tests within tests some mental, some ethical, some physical. Ultimately three children pass the first test and go on to the next: Reynie, Sticky (born George) Washington and Kate Wetherall all of them essentially orphans. A fourth, the 'very, very small' Constance Contraire, joins them later, and Mr. Benedict describes why he has brought them together. Initially, readers like the four children may be unsure of what to think about this mysterious gent: Is he hero or villain? Mr. Benedict has recruited them to foil an evil plan, devised by a mysterious 'Sender,' to brainwash the population via secret messages delivered by children embedded in television and radio programs. The plot-driven novel follows many adventures among the four, whose unique talents all come into play; readers will likely warm to each of them. A couple of concluding twists involving Kate and Connie may throw readers a bit, but these do not detract from the book's entertainment value or from the author's sound overall structure. Though the book is lengthy, readers will likely enjoy getting lost in this fully imagined realm. Ages 8-12." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Fans of Roald Dahl or Blue Balliett will find a familiar blend of kid power, clues, and adventure." School Library Journal
"With its lively style, fresh character portrayals, and well-timed revelations, this story flies past, thrilling us as it goes. Just be sure your flashlight batteries are well charged." Horn Book Magazine
"The characters are well developed, mostly appealing, and evenhanded. Ellis's line drawings add a crowning flair. Do not miss this one. Buy two copies because they will be needed." VOYA
"[A] feel-good story with a happy ending for the four orphaned and runaway children who find friendship and family." Children's Literature
A first-time novelist takes readers on a dazzling adventure that puts friends, family, and foe to the test, as four children go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and inventive children can complete. Illustrations.
About the Author
Trenton Lee Stewart, graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and author of the adult novel Flood Summer
, lives in Arkansas with his wife and two sons. This is his debut children's novel.
Carson Ellis received her BFA from the University of Montana and has established a loyal following for her artistic collaborations with the band the Decemberists. She lives in Portland, Oregon.