The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart: Mr. Benedict assembles the Mysterious Benedict Society to give them a treat: he's designed a worldwide scavenger hunt. Reynie (the leader), Sticky (the knowledgeable one), Kate (the brave, resourceful one), and Constance (the youngest and most stubborn) are delighted to see each other again, but when Mr. Benedict and his assistant, Number Two, are kidnapped, they follow his clues not for fun, but to save their friends. Full of puzzles, twists, and surprising developments, this book is as much of a page-turner as the first. It's a pleasure to follow the character development in addition to the wacky adventures. Overarching themes of good vs. evil and the dangers of pursuing revenge make this more than just a fun romp (although that it is, trust me). Read the first book...first.
My review of The Mysterious Benedict Society
The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett: The second book to feature Calder, Petra, and the University of Chicago Lab School, The Wright 3 focuses on Frank Lloyd Wright, with a bit of The Invisible Man and Fibonacci numbers thrown in. Calder's friend Tommy has moved back to Chicago, and he and Petra each resent the other's friendship with Calder. They snipe at each other through the book and sulk, in a manner believable for their age. Ms. Hussey is upset at plans to dismantle Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House and put the pieces in museums. She enlists her students in demonstrating to prevent this, in a really moving component of the book. Meanwhile, the house is behaving in odd ways, bucking workers off its roof, rippling its art glass windows, and whispering to the children. Tommy is led to a mysterious carved fish on the property, which he is tempted to sell to secure a real home for his family. Tommy and Petra withhold information from each other in a fairly tiresome way, and bumbling criminals end up doing much of the mystery-solving, but the information about Frank Lloyd Wright and The Invisible Man is interesting, and the children have a bit more character development this time, even if it's confined to the jealousy/mistrust angle. I enjoyed this, but perhaps not quite as much as Chasing Vermeer. It's another fun read that makes art relevant to children's lives, and I can't think that's a bad thing.
The Calder Game by Blue Balliett: The third time is not the charm for this series, but there were still things to like. Petra, Tommy, and Calder are now in mean Ms. Button's class. They attend an exhibit of Alexander Calder's mobiles in Chicago just before Calder heads to England with his father for a week. The trio are intrigued by a challenge to make their own mobiles. Calder and his father stays in an inn just off a square that now contains a Calder sculpture donated by a mysterious benefactor. Both Calder and the sculpture go missing, and Calder's father calls Petra and Tommy, who fly in with Mrs. Sharpe to help find Calder (after getting magical overnight passports, no less). Right, because every worried dad wants a couple of twelve-year-olds to come find his son, and their parents certainly don't feel they're sending their children out of the country into possible danger. Anyway, skating past that for a moment, Petra and Tommy look for clues in the mazes that turn up. Will they find Calder and the sculpture? Well, someone will. This one just doesn't "hang" together very well, if you'll excuse the mobile reference. Maybe part of it is the mobile angle--they turn up in one illustration, but I didn't get a real sense of them. Another problem is separating the children after a pointless beginning about their new teacher. The story dragged, and I didn't feel the wonder of the "everything's connected" the way I did with Chasing Vermeer and even The Wright 3. The children felt shunted to the background--Calder's on his own for a chunk of the book, then missing for another chunk, so I missed the way their abilities complement each other. There was no real sense of urgency in Calder's disappearance, and the summing-up at the end went on and on (three or four chapters, I believe). I'm not sure what happened here, but while it was fun in places, overall, it just didn't work for me. The best part of this book is the examination of what art is and how it should be available for all to experience, not to mention participate in. That's a great message, and I wish it were cloaked in a more carefully wrought adventure.
My review of Chasing Vermeer