Chris Grabenstein may be best known for the three books he has co-authored with James Patterson, including the bestselling I Funny, the story of a middle school student with dreams of being the world's greatest stand-up comedian. While Grabenstein has written several books for adults and kids, I think that his newest book, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, could be what he will be best known for and have a very long shelf life. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library has a classic, timeless feel, which is, of course, bolstered by the fantastic cover art by Gilbert Ford. Part of what gives any new book a hint of instant classic is a reference to a book that is already a classic and in Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library that book is Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The child of Italian immigrants, the quirky game maker Luigi Lemoncello takes the place of the eccentric Willy Wonka, the chocolate factory being replaced by a five hundred million dollar, state-of-the-art library. Built under a veil of secrecy on the site of an old bank and teeming with the puzzles and games, the new library is a gift to his hometown of Alexandriaville, which has been without a public library for twelve years, from Mr. Luigi Lemoncello, who, as a child, was inspired to his tremendous success in the world of gaming by his librarian and the books she shared with him.
The hero of our story is twelve year old Kyle Keeley, the youngest of three brothers, receiver of twice-worn-hand-me-downs. Kyle is not a jock like Mike, his seventeen year old brother, and he is not a brain like Curtis, his fifteen year old brother. But, he is about to win one of his all-time favorite games, Mr. Lemoncello's Indoor-Outdoor Scavenger Hunt, a game he and his brothers have played so often that their mother had to order a refresher set of clue cards. Kyle wins the game but is grounded for a week when he breaks a window while doing so. An extra-credit essay due that morning in homeroom and hastily written on the bus, gets Kyle out of punishment and into the new public library for a night of fun and games with eleven other twelve-year-olds, including his best friend Akimi. Because Alexandriaville has been without a public library for twelve years, Mr. Lemoncello specifically wants only twelve-year-olds competing to be the first patrons of the library because, as he says, "they have lived their entire lives without a public library. As a result, they have no idea how extraordinarily useful, helpful, and funful - a word I recently invented - a library can be. This is their chance to discover that a library is more than a collection of dusty old ooks. It's a place to learn, explore and grow!" I absolutely love Mr. Lemoncello's ethos and it makes a brilliant backbone of the plot of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library.
Once the twelve essay winners have had their preview night in the new library, which includes holographic guides, banks of computers, an IMAX-type central dome that divides into ten sections, and some Disney-type animatronics, they (with the approval of their parents) are given the opportunity to spend another 24 hours in the library and solve a puzzle. They must use what they find IN the library to find their way OUT of the library, following all sorts of rules that make sure there are no loopholes or cheating involved. The winner will become the new spokesperson for Mr. Lemoncello's games and star in all the holiday promotions. Of course the clues to solving the puzzle are derived from actual book in the library, displays of books in the library, author-related statues in the library and even from the library cards the twelve winners are issued. Grabenstein layers on the puzzles, including some very funny rebuses, almost to the point that you wonder how the kids could actually solve any of them, but he brings it around in the end. Another great thing about Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is Mr. Lemoncello himself, who pops up at various times throughout the game to give the kids clues or referee games and competitions they compete in. Lemoncello finds a way to incorporate the title of a kid's book into almost everything that comes out of his mouth, saying things like, "Did Joey Pigza lose control? Was Ella enchanted?" and, "there's no place I'd rather be on my big day than inside a library, surrounded by book. Unless, of course, I could be on a bridge to Terebithia." And, in a very cool twist, a meaningful book from Mr. Lemoncello's childhood (and mine!) that won the Newbery the year I was born (click here if you really want to know...) plays a pivotal role in unraveling the clues and solving the puzzle as to how to escape the library. In fact, Mr. Lemoncello drops so many titles that the one and only thing I would change about this book is adding a list of titles mentioned!
Two final, super-cool things about Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library and Chris Grabenstein: The author's note at the end of the book tells readers that there is one puzzle in the book that is NOT solved in the story and he asks readers to email him with their solutions. Another interesting thing I learned about Chris Grabenstein involves his pets, one of whom is a Broadway star! Click here to watch a new story about the agent who rescues all sorts of animals (from dogs to cats to birds to rats) and turns them into actors.
I love it when artists share the evolution of a cover, as Gilbert Ford does here!
Source: Review Copy