I kicked off my Armchair Cybils reading with Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. This middle grade novel is a fun, frothy read, and it’s replete with book references, which almost always guarantees a book will be a winner among bibliophiles. It’s the story of twelve year old Kyle Keeley, an adolescent who can’t quite figure out how where he fits in a world in which he comes after his super-smart middle brother and athletic oldest brother both in birth order and in everything else. One thing Kyle is good at and loves is playing games, which is a good thing since the town’s library, closed for some twelve years, is being reopened under the sponsorship of Mr. Lemencello, game-maker extraordinaire. Twelve twelve year olds will be chosen (based on their winnings essays) to spend the night in the library before it opens to explore this library-to-end-all-libraries. Well, Kyle is chosen, of course, and when he and his classmates enter Mr. Lemencello’s library, they learn that they are also entering a huge game–a puzzle, of sorts, to solve before their time runs out the next day. Kyle ends up joining forces with several other contestants to solve the puzzle, and they work together against their nemesis, the Eddie Haskell-like Charles Chiltington.
This is a fun book, one that I was happy to pass on to Lulu when I finished reading it. My old brain had a hard time keeping up with the ins and outs of the game they were playing, but I followed the plot well enough. I almost think there were too many characters in the story–I never felt much of a connection with any of them except (maybe) Kyle. (I think Grabenstein might’ve taken a hint from Dahl when he only allowed five children into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.) By far the best part about the story to me are the literary references. Here’s a sampling:
“If you want a game, just say its name.” The life-size puppet’s blocky jaw flapped open and shut–almost in sync with the words.
“Do you have Mr. Lemencello’s Bewilderingly Baffling Bibliomania?”
“Did Joey Pigza lose control? Was Ella enchanted?”
“Just say yes,” suggested Sierra.
“Yes,” said Kyle.
“Well, great Gilly Hopkins,” said the Lemencello dummy, “here you go!” (125-26)
The connections to other children’s stories are obvious in this one, and that’s fun. I think fans of Mysterious Benedict Society and the like will enjoy this one, though in my opinion it’s not quite on that literary or intellectual level. It is fun, though, and for the Cybils, kid appeal is where it’s at. (Random House, 2013)