Back in 2013 I read and loved Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein. Besides being a book about books, which of course I adore, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is written in a style that will attract a wide range of readers, from the avid to the unsure. In The Island of Dr. Libris, Grabbenstein once again creates an everyman main character, astutely weaving in aspects of contemporary life like gaming and role-playing game cards, then sends him on a book-based adventure. The kids in Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library were invited to spend the night in a newly built, not yet opened multi-million dollar state of the art library, solving riddles and puzzles that incorporate titles of actual kid's books and works for adults. With The Island of Dr. Libris, as you might expect by the title, Grabenstein again infuses literature into the plot of his book, taking classics like Robin Hood, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Pollyanna, to name a few, and making the characters and plots part of his story.
The Island of Dr. Libris begins with a lab note for the Theta Project, prepared by Dr. Xiang Libris, PsyD, DLit, stating that the "ideal subject for our first field test" has been found in twelve-year-old Billy G., who will be largely unsupervised for the summer. Most works of fantasy and adventure for kids require absentee parents out of necessity, and I love a book that tackles this inevitability right off the bat and without deaths. The tension between Billy's parents and their difficult financial situation is clear from the start. In need of a quiet place to finish her dissertation, Billy's mom rents the lakeside cabin of Dr. Libris, a professor at her college, for a very low price, while Billy's dad will be staying in New York City working. Billy, who has "heavy-lidded eyes and a long, droopy face," and always looks like he needs a nap, is irked to find that the cabin has no electronic devices (Xbox, TV, DVR) except for the security cameras in every room. However, he does find a friend in Walter Andrews, who lives next door in a "rambling two-story home" that is part castle, part circus tent, part upside down boat. Billy also discovers mysterious happenings on the haze-shrouded island owned by Dr. Libirs that sits in the middle of the lake.
Bored beyond belief, Billy heads to Dr. Libris's study and look for a book to read. However, the bookcase is locked and his mom can't find the key. But Billy is up for a hunt, and if you read Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library then you know Grabenstein is a master of creating riddles kids can solve. Once Billy unlocks the enormous bookcase with elaborate carvings of literary characters on the doors, he gravitates to the one book propped open on the shelf - The Labors of Hercules. A few pages in to Hercules's battle with Antaeus, Billy realizes that he can hear their voices coming from the island and he can see their enormous silhouettes through the haze. Of course Billy decides to investigate and is stunned by what he finds. Characters from the books he has been reading out of the special book case have come to life and are interacting with each other. Shaken, Billy makes it safely off the island, but a mysterious note telling him to dig for treasure on the island and the need to see his parents together and happy again sends him back into danger. This time, he takes the asthmatic neighbor Walter with him.
The story - and the characters that Billy conjures from his imagination - escalate, as does the danger, when Dr. Libris, who is tracking Billy very closely, realizes his experiment is a success that will make him extremely wealthy. Billy even gets the chance to try to bring his parents back together, reminding them of when they first fell in love, with the help of H.G. Wells and his time machine. Grabenstein wraps up The Island of Dr. Libris with a suspenseful, wonderful ending and includes a list of books mentioned within the story that Grabenstein reread while writing this book, in case readers want to have a go at them as well. I am sure that, as a child (and probably as an adult, too) all book lovers dreamed of characters from stories coming to life. The Island of Dr. Libris is the closest to this kind of wish fulfillment we may get. That said, you don't have to be a book lover or have read any of the classics woven into the story to get swept up by The Island of Dr. Libris. Maybe Chris Grabenstein is the Jasper Fforde (author of the hilarious Thursday Next series - among others - set in a world where literature is revered above all else and Next is a detective solving literary crimes) of kid's books? Either way, I hope he continues writing fantastic literary mysteries!
Source: Review Copy