Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is a humorous, puzzle-filled novel aimed at middle grade readers. More madcap than Trenton Lee Stewart's Mysterious Benedict Society books, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library reads like a cross between the Pseudonymous Bosch books Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (original movie version). It's a fun ride.
The big event in Kyle Keeley's town is the grand opening of the new town public library. Alexandriaville, a small Ohio city, has been without a public library for 12 years (since the decision was made to level the old one to put in a parking garage). Eccentric millionaire Mr. Luigi L. Lemoncello has decided to put things right by building the town a fabulous, quirky, state-of-the-art library. Kyle and his classmates enter an essay contest for 12 year olds (who have grown up never having a town library). The 12 winners will have a sleepover in the library the night before it opens. And, in fact, that sleepover becomes extended when the 12 students are offered a chance to engage in a 24-hour contest to escape from the library.
Despite not being much of a student, Kyle is a determined game player (obsessed with beating his two talented older brothers in something). He and his best friend Akimi (just how common are male-female best friends among real 12-year-olds, I wonder, though I understand why they make sense in books) are protagonists who are easy to root for. The bad guy, the spoiled, hypercompetitive Charles Chiltington, is easy to root against. In truth, the characterization in Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is a bit thin. But this is not a book to read for introspective character analysis. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is a book to read for:
- Puzzles, riddles, and word games (including rebuses);
- Cool technology (animatronics, interactive holograms, and sophisticated computer screens);
- Fast-paced adventure; and
- The love of children's books.
The last point is probably my personal favorite aspect of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library. Mr. Lemoncello spouts children's literature references and book titles the way that Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka spouts quotations (casually, insightfully, and incessantly). Like this:
"Sorry. The correct answer is--and not just because of Winn-Dixie--D) all of the above." (Chapter 8)
"As Dr. Zinchenko informed you, I'd like to say a few brief words. Here they are: short, memorandum, and underpants. And, let us pause to remember the immortal words of Dr. Seuss: 'The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the places you'll go.'" (Chapter 10)
(After being asked if he had something available) "Did Joey Pigza lose control? Was Ella enchanted." (Chapter 25)
You get the idea. I like that Grabenstein's children's literature references range from the classic (Seuss, L.M. Montgomery) to the modern (Rebecca Stead and Jack Gantos). Without being at all pedantic, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is a cover to cover celebration of books. The fact that Kyle himself isn't "big on books" keeps this pro-book sentiment from being off-putting to more dormant readers.
But I think that the combination of quirky puzzles, cutting-edge technology, and adventure sequences (racing around the library building, climbing things, getting stuck, etc.) is what will make Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library a must-purchase title for libraries serving middle grade readers. As Mr. Lemoncello tells the kids' parents, "It'll be like The Hunger Games but with lots of food and no bows or arrows." What 10-year-old could resist that? Recommended.
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