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Adventures and Enigmas in Library-land

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Take 12 sixth graders, lock them into a state of the art library that makes Disneyland look like a country carnival, give them a library card and couple of vague clues, challenge them to escape within 24 hours, and you’ve got the delightful new book, Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. Chocked full of puzzles, riddles, and all kinds of clever literary allusions, you’ll definitely want to add this one to your summer reading list. When I finished the last page, I sighed with contentment and said aloud, “Now that was a fun book!”

The story itself is pretty simple. Kyle Keely loves all kinds of games and puzzles, and although he is not much of a reader he enters the essay contest to win one of the coveted invitations to the grand opening of his town's new super library. He doesn’t care about the books, but he desperately wants in because the new facility is rumored to have a complete game room with access to an upcoming version of his favorite video game. Of course, he's one of the winners who gets to spend the night locked in the new facility. The catch comes in the morning when the group remains locked in and are challenged to escape within 24 hours. A series of enigmatic clues and various adventures ensues. It's kind of a cross between Night at the Museum and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

My favorite part was the puzzle clues. I love a good brain teaser and I think the clues are perfectly formulated for middle grade readers—not overwhelmingly tough, but enough to yield a satisfying brain buzz. And there are a couple of well-crafted red herrings along the way, so you have to be careful. I also loved the library’s benefactor, the quirky Mr. Lemoncello. He reminds me a lot of Willy Wonka, but he seems a little kinder. Lemoncello’s fabulous library is so imaginative that it almost steals the show away from the kids’ quest. An IMAX-like rotunda, animatronic resource guides, computerized, interactive statues, a hovercraft for retrieving books off towering stacks, and a holographic librarian converge into a bibliophile’s dream. Finally, Grabenstein’s use of literary puns are hilarious. Lemoncello speaks in book titles. For example he says, “And now, I must return to my side of the mountain. See you in the morning, children! I have great expectations for you all!” There must be more than a hundred book titles woven into the text, and the kids keep having to search through famous books for clues.

FIVE STARS: Highly recommended for voracious readers ages 10-14 or for anyone who loves puzzles and games. A brilliant choice as a read aloud for grades 3-6 because kids are going to be eager to solve the mystery before the characters do. Librarians and book geeks everywhere are sure to embrace this book as an instant classic simply because it is a monument to bibliophilia. The classroom potential for teaching literary allusion is infinite, and teachers will have fun steering readers to some of the volumes cited in the story. The book also offers plenty of opportunities to discuss library classification systems, and the role of a library in a community. Other books like this one: The Sasquatch Escape by Suzanne Selfors, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, Punished by David Lubar, Regarding the Fountain: A Tale, in Letters, of Liars and Leaks by Kate Klise, and Horton Halfpott… by Tom Angleberger.

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