Book Review: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library - Chris Gravenstein (Yearling, 2014)
Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library – Chris Gravenstein (Yearling, 2014)

I read this book in the hopes of finding a good read to give to my niece for her 11th birthday. (Don’t worry, her birthday is past and I don’t think she reads my blog anyway so I’m not ruining a surprise!) I wanted to get her something fun, not overly challenging but just a little bit, and with an adventure to it. I didn’t want it to be scary or to involve kids whose parents die/have died/are missing (which turns out to be a surprisingly difficult criteria!) In the end, I think this book fits what I was looking for quite nicely. If anything, it might be an overly simplistic read for an 11-year-old (age range could probably be 8-12 years) but there are lots of book references that, I think, will be new to her. Also, the characters are all twelve and I find having a book with older characters goes a long way for most kids!

Kyle Keeley is a kid who loves games – board games, video games, you name it – and doesn’t love reading very much. While he initially ignores the essay contest that will grant him early entrance to the grand opening of Alexandriaville, Ohio’s new library, he enters at the last minute when he learns the library’s benefactor is the eccentric Mr. Lemoncello, the man behind many of Kyle’s favourite games. What starts as a sleepover in the library turns into a grand, complicated, and somewhat educational quest to make their way out of the library.

From an adult perspective, the story here isn’t hugely thrilling.  Kyle and his friends work as a team to figure out clues, solve puzzles, and learn more about books. You can probably guess how it all ends. But the story is fun and creative and full of references to books new and old. It could be a great starting place for putting together a reading list and encouraging kids to find new books at their own local libraries. There are lists at the end of the book of all of the titles referenced, which would make a fantastic summer reading list.

The book draws obvious comparisons to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and is self-aware enough to know this) but Mr. Lemoncello lacks that certain quality that makes Willy Wonka so memorable. Mr. Lemoncello is quirky but not much more. That said, I think the intended audience will enjoy him and be wowed by many of the fictional library’s impressive features. (They may not laugh out loud at the idea of a world famous librarian like I did but we all have different library experiences.)

The book has a sequel, Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, which I also bought for my niece but didn’t read. So if your young reader enjoys Kyle and Mr. Lemoncello, you have many directions in which to point him or her.

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