Baker’s Summer Reading Program is a Mystery

We had spring in Michigan for a few days before the snow came back. Birds were singing, the sun was out, I didn’t need to bundle up to get the mail. But then the snow came back. And so I am thinking about warm thoughts.

One of my favorite job-related tasks is creating the bookstore’s summer reading program. When I first came to Baker, the bookstore used a packaged ready-to-go summer reading program made available by our marketing group. After a year or two of that, the marketing group discontinued the program, but we saw value in summer reading programs, so we started doing them ourselves.

That first year, we chose to do a detective theme. We designed our own guide books, bought our own prizes, came up with our own activities. And it was a blast. The following year, I was asked to head up the group that put on the program. The year after that, I was the group. I didn’t mind doing all the set-up work though. For some reason, I absolutely love doing the summer reading program stuff.

2011_summer_reading_program_advance_adAs I got more years under my belt, I started ramping the program up, getting support from publishers, and doing more in-depth events. A couple of years ago, we did a program with a Berenstain Bears theme called “Character Counts,” complete with Brother & Sister Bear costumes, a visit from Mike Berenstain, and a giveaway of one of Mike’s original drawings. It was incredible.

This year, we’ve come full-circle. Our theme is “Mystery” and features the Mysterious Benedict Society series from Trenton Lee Stewart. I’m working with his publisher and publicist to create special pieces for the program. We’re trying to get him to do a Skype event for the store. And we’re doing some crossover promotion with the Tommy & Brook Book Club (from local pop radio station Star 105.7). I think it has potential to be one of the best programs yet. But what should we call it?

Here’s a few names that I’m throwing around: The Mysterious Reading Society, Sleuth: A Summer Reading Program,  and The Case of the Missing Summer Reading Program. What do you like? Do you have any suggestions of your own?

We’ll be having an illustrator integrate the name into the cover of the program guide in the style of the illustrations from the Mysterious Benedict Society books, so we’ll need to decide soon.

And while I’m asking for input, what about some games/activities that have a mystery/detective theme? Any ideas?

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Book Review | The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart

Quite some time ago, I reviewed the first book in the Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy. You can read that here.

Today, I’m reviewing the prequel to that series, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart.

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9780316176194Start with a gifted orphan. Add in a few bullies, a few misguided adults, and a treasure hunt. Though the situation may be familiar, Trenton Lee Stewart enriches it to become a thoroughly enjoyable book.

Nicholas Benedict has bounced around from orphanage to orphanage, each worse than the last. When Nicholas is placed in The Manor, his hopes for a better life are quickly met with a cell-like bedroom and a less-than-welcoming welcome party, the bullies known as the Spiders. But locked doors and mean kids are no match for the wits of our narcoleptic hero, and soon Nicholas is hot on the trail of a treasure. With the aid of a new friend (and only friend), Nicholas follows the clues to uncover what he hopes will be the start of a new and better life on his own. Along the way, Nicholas learns about family, selfishness, and what is truly worth treasuring in life.

My favorite parts of The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict reflect what I appreciated in the Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy. And that is that we, the reader, get to see how different characters solve problems. Climbing inside the head of Nicholas Benedict as a child allows the reader to guess how problems might be solved, bullies outwitted, and talents used, albeit not always for good. Stewart creates a wholly likeable cast of main characters, again providing back stories that help us relate to them.

That said, there were a few things that I did not enjoy as much as in his trilogy. As is often the case with YA Fiction, the adults are generally written as either stupid or silly with few exceptions. Many of the secondary characters suffer from being one-dimensional, acting predictably and not exactly true to life. And the thing I liked least was the author’s use of deux ex machina to solve the final problem. For being a story about a genius problem solver, the author might have woven in a better thread with which to solve the final problem. One last, little thing was that the author repeated the fact that Nicholas had a near perfect memory so many times that I wondered if he thought his readers had near goldfish-level memories and would have forgotten this fact.

As it was, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict was a story well told and well worth reading. I look forward to Stewart’s future books and hope to learn from them as I have from these.

I am about to turn 30. | My Birthday List

I’m turning 30 in just over a month.

In my head, I stopped aging at 23. Maybe that’s because I was married just days after 23. Maybe marriage was the mark of being a grown-up, so I just don’t feel substantially different with each passing birthday.

Sure, I have kids now, but I don’t really feel older than when I got married. The fact that I have kids just means that I am a virile 23-year-old.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I’ll be 30 next month.

Medically speaking, this is a mixed bag. According to a CNN report, people have the greatest cognitive abilities between 30 and 40. But also, our major organs start to break down at 30.

Anyway, aging is better than the alternative. Plus, there are usually presents.

So for those of you who would like to give me something, here’s my list:

Books

CDs

Lego Sets (Any of these would be fine)

Gift Cards

Clothes

  • Humorous T-shirts (Size L usually)

Other

That’s a pretty good list. I may add to it if I see something else that looks good. Mostly, this list is for people like close family members, but if you want to buy something for me, that’s cool too. Maybe you could have it delivered to my work and I’ll get it there (that way I don’t reveal my actual address on the interweb). Ship any gifts to Josh Mosey c/o Baker Book House, 2768 E Paris Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546. Unless it is a mean or deadly gift. Don’t bother to mail those to me.

Hey, only five more years until I can run for President, right?

Book Review | The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee StewartThe book this week, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, is the first in a trilogy. I’ve chosen this book for two reasons. One, I think it’s a great book. And two, the prequel to this series (The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict) just came out. If either of these titles are new to you, my suggestion would be to start with The Mysterious Benedict Society, as it will provide a good introduction into the world of Mr. Benedict.

The plot summary goes like this: Reynie Muldoon is a gifted orphan who excels at problem solving and puzzles. Through a series of tests, Reynie meets three other children as gifted as he. Together, they are tasked by Mr. Benedict, their genius benefactor to thwart the plans of the mysterious Mr. Curtain. Going undercover at Mr. Curtain’s school for gifted children, Reynie and his friends encounter bullies, traps, and peculiar devices and they must work together with all of their abilities to achieve success.

The first time I learned of Trenton Lee Stewart’s books was in a bookstore after asking a clerk whose opinions I valued what she was reading. She instantly brought me a copy of The Mysterious Benedict Society and told me to read it. As a writer, I want to feature four things that made me appreciate Stewart as an author. If you are a writer, you should think about involving these elements into your own work.

The protagonists represent 4 ways to problem solve. Though the reader sees the story primarily from the Reynie’s perspective, each member of the Mysterious Benedict Society shows a different way to approach a problem. Reynie is a master of logic puzzles, Sticky remembers everything he sees, Kate is a human Swiss army knife, and Constance is obstinate. Readers will enjoy seeing a problem from different perspectives and may pick up on how to approach their own problems in a different light.

The supporting cast members are colorful and each has a back story. Stewart gives each of the background characters a unique feature to help the reader remember them. We know that Number 2 looks like a pencil, Milligan is sad and doesn’t remember his past, Mr. Benedict is a narcoleptic. In addition to being interesting, because of this extra information, each of the characters is instantly likeable. Details make the difference.

Not all the loose threads get tied up neatly. Though the main plot points come to an end, we know that the story must continue. It is a great formula to use when you want readers to anticipate the release of your next book. In my experience, readers don’t want everything to work out perfectly anyway, as it feels too distant from their own life experience.

The author uses a wider vocabulary than most children’s authors. In writing a story about gifted children, Stewart uses words that encourage kids to expand their vocabulary, thereby making the reader a little bit more like the protagonist. If you want to appeal to a smarter reader, use smarter words.

Again, I really enjoyed this book, and I think you will too.