Our latest book club selection is a fun-filled, lightning-fast tale packed with puzzles and book references. The story, written by New York Times bestselling children’s author Chris Grabenstein, also features messages about teamwork, friendship, and leadership. It centers around Kyle Keeley, a game- and puzzle-loving 12-year-old who, though not much of a reader, wins a trip to the grand opening of his town’s new library — a library decked out with animatronics, holograms, and all manner of innovation, because it was funded by none other than eccentric gamemaker (and Kyle’s hero) Luigi Lemoncello. As the title suggests, the grand opening turns into a contest to escape the library, and the clever challenges Kyle and the other characters face will propel young readers from one chapter to the next.
About the Book
Best For: Kids ages 8 to 12.
You’ll Like It If You Like: Fast-paced reads that track multiple characters on an adventure or quest. It’s also fabulous if you love madcap inventors, mysteries, and puzzles, and especially if you love libraries. The obvious call-out is to Willie Wonka and his chocolate factory, but it also draws comparisons to The Westing Game, The View from Saturday (because it features kids with different abilities coming together), and the film “Night at the Museum.”
This is also a great novel for reluctant readers, or kids similar to the main character, Kyle Keeley, who has to be lured into the library with the promise of video games but soon learns that its wealth of reading adventures might be even more interesting.
It’s About: This book is a puzzler and a romp rolled into one fast-paced and delightful tale that’s more than the sum of its parts. Kyle Keeley is the game-addicted character at the center of this story about 12 seventh graders lucky enough to win an overnight stay at their town’s new library. But not just any library (though readers of Brightly know that any library is an adventure): Mr. Lemoncello’s library. Lemoncello is the playfully odd mastermind behind the countless board and video games Kyle loves, and his new library is jam-packed with surprises. Kyle and the other contestants — some his friends, some he barely knows, and one for-sure foe — have 24 hours to find their way out of the new building. Grabenstein’s book — the first of three featuring Mr. Lemoncello — has an amusement park feel, with as many tricks hidden up its sleeves as the inventive Lemoncello has hidden up his.
Through the madcap adventure and inventiveness, the gadgets and gizmos galore (and holograms, too!), the story incorporates positive messages about teamwork, sportsmanship, and reading, and readers are likely to see themselves reflected in some of the characters’ traits and challenges.
Why We Picked It: Well, there are reasons enough to fill a book or two, maybe even a library. The key reason, though, is that it’s great FUN. The short chapters, the puzzles, the race to the finish, and wondering who is going to make it out of the library first make this a great read for those kids who might fall on the reluctant reader side of things. BUT, the excellent bonus of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is that it will also appeal to book lovers with its countless references to other reads, not to mention the way its pages practically vibrate with an appreciation for books and libraries.
What Kids Are Saying:
Here’s what kids, and readers on Bookopolis.com, a site where young readers share book reviews and recommendations with peers, had to say about the book:
“This book was fun and exciting to read. I liked the game and solving the puzzles with the characters.” –Josephine, age 9
“I recommend this book to 4th-7th graders who like humor, adventure, and mystery in their books.” –Julia, age 11
“Every single page of this book was filled with action, surprise, suspense, and/or mystery.” –Ilyssa, age 10
“This book rocks! I must’ve read it like 5 times, but it never gets old.” –Sonia, age 10
“I loved all the puzzles and games and trying to solve them. Mr. Lemoncello is so great, and it’s really nice that Chris Grabenstein [wrote] it.” –Clark, age 7
“It’s a great story for people who like reading to the EXTREME!! It’s about a lock-in at a Library where they have to escape! I gave it 5 stars.” –Jiesong, age 12
The Book Club Meeting
Reading Tips: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is a fast-paced novel that’s perfect for older kids to read independently leading up to the book club meeting. Younger readers will likely be best off reading with an adult over a series of weeks, and talking about the events of each chapter, since there are many storylines to keep tabs on. Because the characters each bring a unique skill set to the escape challenge, kids might think about teamwork and how they would solve the puzzles as they read. A Nickelodeon TV movie of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library airs on October 9, so readers might supplement the book with the film to see how the characters and story were adapted for the screen.
- At the beginning of the book, Kyle is grounded for breaking a window while playing a game against his brothers. What did that opening scene teach you about Kyle? How does Kyle feel he fits in with his two brothers?
- Once Kyle learns Mr. Lemoncello is a judge for the competition, he rewrites his essay. What does this show about Kyle? How did Charles Chiltington go about writing his essay? What approach would you have taken?
- Some students decide not to stay overnight at the library. Why did Rose Vermette and Kayla Corson choose to leave? Would you have wanted to stay? What other commitment would be more important to you than the contest?
- Haley Daley “looks like a walking toothpaste commercial,” the author writes. But what is she like beneath her physical appearance? How does she surprise the other characters? Do you think her approach to the game was fair?
- Mr. Lemoncello is quite unique. What do you think he was like as a kid? What skills do you think Mr. Lemoncello relies on in his work as a gamemaker?
- Kyle and Akimi team up to work together and gradually add other members to their team. Would you have joined Kyle’s team or worked alone? Do you think Kyle is a good leader?
- What are the best qualities of Kyle’s other teammates, Akimi, Miguel, Sierra, and Haley?
- Charles really believes he can win, and even if his methods aren’t always nice or fair, some of them prove effective. What do you think ultimately leads to his loss? What do his methods show about the kind of person he is?
- Sierra and Kyle have very different interests. Where do they find common ground? What do these characters learn from one another over the course of the book? What is your biggest interest?
- Why do you think Mr. Lemoncello wanted to host kids at the library before opening it up to the greater public (and grown-ups)? Is there a place or organization you think helps shape the person you are? How or why?
A few more just for fun:
- What were your favorite features of Mr. Lemoncello’s library? If you were designing a library, what features would you include? Do you like your current library the way it is or would you add bells and whistles if you could?
- Libraries are places to do in-depth research. Have you ever researched anything intensely (and not necessarily for school)? What was your approach and what did you learn?
- Bonus Question from Chris Grabenstein, author of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library: What do you think about Mr. Lemoncello’s motto, the phrase engraved under his statue: “Knowledge Not Shared Remains Unknown.” Is that why we need public libraries — to make sure that knowledge is shared with everybody (not just those who can afford to pay for it)? Why do you think the first time we meet Charles Chiltington the scene takes place in his family’s home library?
Rebus Challenge! If your club members enjoyed the word picture puzzles throughout Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, you can find and print a variety of pictograms to solve at your meeting, with points for accuracy, speed, and creative wrong answers. Or, have readers come up with their own rebuses: Pick several famous quotes (nothing too complicated) to distribute, have each book clubber choose one at random to translate into a picture puzzle, then see if other readers can solve the puzzles.
Research Search Party: Today, most people researching a topic start with the Internet, but not that long ago, most in-depth research began with books, at a library. On your own or with the whole book club group, pick a topic and visit your local library. Ask a reference librarian for help finding materials around your chosen topic. If you have a larger group, you may want to call in advance to see if a librarian can be available to give you the lowdown.
The Lemoncello Reading List: You may have noticed that many book titles come up in Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. In fact, author Chris Grabenstein is kind enough to have the full list on his website. How many have you read? Take turns sharing which were your favorites.
Dewey Decimal Challenge: The Dewey Decimal system is a way of sorting books by topic, but a lot of times people don’t stray beyond the aisles of their interests. Make a point of checking out one book from each category each time you visit the library. Keep a reading log of the book titles and sections and one or two things you learned. Your mind will have expanded in no time!
Board Game Reinvention: Dr. Zinchenko and Mr. Lemoncello came up with a number of escape challenges that played on the principles behind Mr. Lemoncello’s board games. Pooling three or four favorite board games, come up with ways to reimagine them as mash-ups. For example, how could Monopoly and Clue be fused into a new game? What about Scrabble and Chutes and Ladders?
Knowledge Shared: Mr. Lemoncello’s motto, “Knowledge Not Shared Remains Unknown,” is a good call to action. What knowledge or expertise do you have that can be shared? Pair up with other book club members to trade and share prized information, and see what new things you can learn.
What to Read Next
In this second installment in the Mr. Lemoncello's Library series, Kyle and his teammates return to tackle a new challenge from gamemaker Mr. Lemoncello: the Library Olympics. They're facing off with teams from all around the U.S. in a puzzle-packed race to see who can figure out why all of the books have mysteriously disappeared from the library, and how to get them back.
After young readers devour the first two Mr. Lemoncello's Library books, they'll be racing to pick up the third. This time around, Kyle and his fellow kid contestants must hone their research skills to discern fact from fiction. As they dive into the archives to learn about famous Americans, they start to wonder if the answers point to uncovering a huge secret about Mr. Lemoncello. The clock is ticking and Kyle has more questions than ever — it's time to hit the books!
In Maas’s story, four children are chosen for a national competition to create the world’s best new chocolate. The book switches points-of-view between its main characters, including Logan, who can detect the color of chocolate by touch alone; Daisy, a freakishly strong and happy-go-lucky girl; Phillip, who always totes around a secret notebook; and Miles, the boy who is allergic to merry-go-rounds and the color pink.
Kids who love puzzles and to be puzzled will love Bosch’s puzzle-packed series, with its slightly snarky (and funny) narration and its courageous 11-year-old heroes, Cass and Max-Ernest. The first book in the series sends the leads on the trail of a magician who’s vanished. Readers who can’t resist mysterious secret societies and trails of clues will love this one.
A Few Recommendations from Chris Grabenstein:
Because his book was so packed with references to other books, we asked Grabenstein for some reads he recommends. “I like fast-paced page-turners,” he said, which makes sense since he writes them! Falling under that category are some of his favorite reads:
Smart, tough Turtle is scraping by with her mom in the midst of the Great Depression, but when Turtle’s mom takes a housekeeping job for a woman who doesn’t like kids, Turtle has to move cross-country from California to Key West, Florida, and it’s nothing like she could have imagined. This heartfelt story from award-winning Holm blends history, humor, and quirky Key West details in a winning way.
This Newbery Honor winner is an awe-inspiring fantasy inspired by Chinese folklore and packed with adventure, magic, and more. It follows Minli, who — inspired by her father’s stories — journeys to find the Man in the Moon to ask for help in changing her family’s fortune. The blend of Minli’s fresh quest with timeless folklore makes this a memorable tale.
Author Curtis somehow delivers laugh-out-loud moments in this book set in 1936 during the Great Depression. Bud is a 10-year-old boy growing up in Flint, Michigan who sets off to find his father, using his mother’s posters of Herman E. Calloway’s famous band as his clues. Celebrating jazz and the characters Bud meets on his vagabonding journey, Bud, Not Buddy is also mentioned in Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics. “Yes, that's why the character Sierra Russell calls it her favorite book in Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics,” Grabenstein said. “Because it is one of mine.”
Let us know what you thought of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library in the comments below!