The town of Alexandriaville has been without a public library for twelve years. But now a brand-new, state-of-the-art library has finally been completed, thanks to Mr. Lemoncello, an eccentric world-famous game maker who has fond memories of the old public library from his childhood. And what better way to celebrate its opening than with a game?
Twelve twelve-year-olds were selected from the “Why I’m Excited about the New Public Library” essay contest — kids who have grown up without having experienced a public library — and invited to spend a night in the library. This being Mr. Lemoncello, there will be games and prizes and lots of puzzles.
Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is a bit like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: a bunch of kids thrown into a crazy, magical world presided over by a wacky billionaire. However, most of the kids aren’t as horrible as those in Roald Dahl’s classic story, and their fates aren’t nearly as terrible, either.
The games in this book are all about, well, books: Willy Wonka gets a mention, but so do many other titles. Grabenstein obviously loves reading and has a ball throwing in references to favorite reads. The goal of the game is to find a way out of the library, and to accomplish this the kids must rely on the library’s considerable resources.
It’s a fun ride, and although the reader doesn’t get to participate in all of the games, there are a couple of rebuses and other word games that you can try to puzzle out before the kids in the book do. Plus, the Author’s Note at the end hints that there’s one more puzzle in the book for you to figure out… but I haven’t found it yet. One person with the correct answer will be randomly chosen at the beginning of 2014 to win books for their library.
My only complaint, really, is that although Grabenstein clearly knows his books and puzzles, his descriptions of the games are more akin to Trivial Pursuit: sure, the ability to solve problems is important, but “a good roll of the dice, a lucky draw of the cards” could be just as important to victory. Playing the real-life running-around-the-library games described in the book sounds like fun. Playing the board games described in the book sounds like it could be as frustrating as Chutes & Ladders.
But the moral of the story (if there is one) is to have fun and play fair. Certainly, winning is great, but it really is all about how you play the game.
Despite those gripes, I do love books that celebrate reading, particularly those that refer to other real books throughout the story, and I can’t pass up a book about board games, even if I wasn’t a huge fan of the board games themselves. If you’ve got kids who doubt the value of books but have an interest in games and puzzles, Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library may be just the (golden) ticket they need. And for kids who have already discovered the magic of books, they’ll be like the avid reader Sierra Russell in the story: the one who can’t wait to get trapped again.
The wrap-around cover illustration by Gilbert Ford (also known for his illustrations in The Secret Series, among other things) is designed to look like a library board game itself. For more information about the book, visit Chris Grabenstein’s website. There’s a photo of the real-life library that inspired him to write the book, a free PDF of the first three chapters, and even a way for librarians to run an Escape game in their own libraries.
Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library goes on sale June 25, and is available for pre-order now.
Disclosure: I received an advance copy for review.