In the summer of 2013 I enthusiastically reviewed Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein. While there wasn't much of a set up for a sequel, I was equally excited to read Grabenstein's next book, again with superb cover art by Gilbert Ford, The Island of Dr. Libirs. Set on an island, and not in a library, The Island of Dr. Libris, is rich with literature, mystery and adventure. So, I am especially happy to be reading and reviewing Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics - especially since now I am a librarian and I can feel a sense of pride and connection with the outpouring of library and librarian love in Grabenstein's newest book.
I have to say that I think that Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics is a stronger, more meaningful book that Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, reminding me in many ways of a childhood favorite I continue to love as an adult, Ellen Raskin's, The Westing Game. There is a game, a mystery, and benevolent benefactor secretly hoping to bestow a fortune on a worthy youngster. Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics has everything that Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library has - puzzles, problems, competitions, cheating, action, adventure, excitement, and references to scads of great kid's - and more. At the start of this new book, kids from all over America are writing to Mr. Lemoncello asking for the chance to compete in a library competition just like Kyle and his crew, winners from the first book and minor celebrities, having starred in commercials for Mr. Lemoncello's newest games. Mr. Lemoncello agrees and conceives of the Library Olympics or the duodecimalthon - a decathlon, only with twelve games instead of ten. And, naturally, the Library Olympics are broadcast on "many PBS stations, the Book Network cable channel and NPR."
Children from all over the country compete for a spot on one of the teams representing seven regions who will compete at the library in Alexandriaville, Ohio. In addition to a solid knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System, shelving, kid's books, research and, of course, puzzles like pictograms and more. Grabenstein weaves in a plot thread of censorship, banned books and ideas about what makes a library a library, which I especially appreciated. In this digital age, libraries have to change from dusty book warehouses in order to stay relevant. Things like makerspaces, and creatorspaces are things that I research regularly and work to incorporate into my library, which almost always functions at a level of cheerful, low grade chaos. There is no shushing going on in my library. Grabenstein incorporates characters, both children and adults, who are shocked by the library that Mr. Lemoncello has created. Upon winning a spot on her regional team, Marjory Muldauer, a gangly seventh grader from Michigan with a passion for organizing, says of Mr. Lemoncello, "I don't think he loves libraries qua libraries . . . He thinks they need to be tricked out with gadgets and gizmos and holographic displays. That library in Ohio reminds me of Disneyland with a few books. I think Mr. Lemoncello is seriously immature. He probably still believes in three-nine-eight-point-two." 398.2 is the call number for fairy tales, folk tales and myths, my second favorite section after 745.1, graphic novels.
There is also Charles Chilington, expelled from the original games for cheating, and his mother who thinks that the library, the public library, needs a board of directors, one without the presence of Luigi Lemoncello. Add to this Andrew Peckleman, the boy that Charles bullied and pressured in the last games, ruining his love of libraries. Andrew is working at the Blue Jay Extended Stay Lodge, now known as Olympia Village for the duration of the competition. The contestants, who are competing to win a full college scholarship, are shuttled from Olympia Village to the library each day in a bookmobile. Finally, an Arthur Slugworth (the pseudo bad guy in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who tries to woo away Golden Ticket winners to the dark side) type character rounds out the plot and ties up some threads - including stollen books and more cheating - in a very satisfying way. Grabenstein gets in some great quotes, such as Neil Gaiman's, "Google can bring you back one hundred thousand answers. A librarian an bring you back the right one." And, in a poke at the Patriot Act, a great plot twist where a culprit could be nabbed IF Mr. Lemoncello didn't "protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought and received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted."
You don't have to have read Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library to enjoy Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics, but I hope you will read both. This is definitely a book that I will never forget and one that I plan to read a second time, something I rarely do. If you loved Grabenstein's books and are looking for more of the same, check out this label for book reviews on my blog: Mysteries with Puzzles
A peek at Gilbert Ford's process:
Source: Review Copy