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Two sequels that won't disappoint

Jeanne Birdsall’s and Trenton Lee Stewart’s gangs score another hit.

By Jenny Sawyer / June 19, 2008



When I think back to my days of childhood reading, two emotions rise, most readily, to the surface of my memory. Disappointment. And anticipation. Disappointment because I hated getting to the end of a great book. (What do you mean it’s over?) And anticipation because I couldn’t wait for the sequel.

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But sequels, as avid readers know, can come with their own share of disappointments. For example: Can anything live up to the glory of the original? What if the long-awaited follow-up is an utter flop?

Thankfully, not only does this season’s crop of new titles include two sequels to previous years’ hits, but – I’ll save you the suspense – they’re also both worthy successors.

Although it’s been three years since we first met Penderwick sisters Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty, hardly any time has passed when we encounter them again in The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (Knopf, 320 pp., $15.99), Jeanne Birdsall’s second offering. They’re recently back from where readers last left them – a hijinks-laden vacation to Arundel, an estate in the Berkshires.

As with any good sequel, "The Penderwicks on Gardam Street" offers enough references to characters and events from the first novel to make previous Penderwicks fans feel in-the-know. But the new title also stands on its own; there are plenty of new characters to meet, and plenty of opportunities to watch Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty get into trouble, which they do more than once.

Batty has become obsessed with spying and is convinced there’s a mysterious “Bug Man” lurking in the neighborhood. Jane and Skye take their soccer teamwork a little too far – into their bedroom, where they decide that switching homework assignments isn’t dishonest. It’s just a matter of knowing (and relying on) each other’s strengths. And Rosalind is having the worst kind of problem of all: A boy problem.

Actually, all the Penderwick sisters are having boy problems in this latest title. The “boy” being their widowed father, who, to the girls’ chagrin, has been coerced by their aunt into dating again. This, more than any other “crisis” that the girls face back home on Gardam Street, drives the action of the novel – and leads to its completely satisfying (though perhaps not surprising) conclusion.

For surprises, readers will want to pick up Trenton Lee Stewart’s latest – his sequel to last year’s “The Mysterious Benedict Society,” tellingly titled, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey (Little, Brown; 448 pp.; $16.99).

Because perilous is exactly the kind of journey that Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance find themselves on. The villain from the previous title, the maniacal Ledroptha Curtain, is wreaking havoc again. Innocent lives – not to mention the fate of civilization – are at stake. It’s up to this fabulous four to stop him and save their brilliant mentor, Mr. Benedict, in the process.

Besides watching Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance work together as a team, one of the best features of a Mysterious Benedict Society reading experience is the opportunity to solve the puzzles that Mr. Benedict has left his protégés in a kind of high-stakes intellectual scavenger hunt.

The puzzles lead the quartet of child geniuses to Portugal, then to Holland, and finally to a deserted island, where the cure for narcolepsy (and the secret to world domination) may be hidden.

Sound intense? As with the first title, there’s suspense enough to spare in “The Perilous Journey,” and a few particularly scary moments. But Stewart also has a knack for letting warmth win out, and, through what may become a somewhat trademark reliance on tricks involving twins, for allowing good to triumph over evil.

As for the villains, unlike in other stories, there are no melting or disappearing or exploding bad guys. In fact, Stewart seems unusually interested in making the point that what sets the good and the evil apart is each and every choice they make. Especially how they deal with their enemies.

And while I nodded in appreciation as mercy won the day – even in the face of outrageous evil – I have to admit that my satisfaction was mostly the effect of something else. That something else being that, with Ledroptha Curtain still in the picture, Stewart has opened the door to the possibility of book three in what may very well become The Mysterious Benedict Society series.

And frankly, I can’t wait.

Jenny Sawyer reviews children's literature for the Monitor.

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