Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

We read this book as part of a book club I run for my students. Typically I like to stick to classics, but I’m glad I read this book. It was fun!
Kyle loves games and his favorite board games are those made by his hero, Mr. Lemoncello. Although Kyle loves games, he isn’t a big fan of reading books. His hometown has been without a public library for years, but that all changes when Mr. Lemoncello builds a new state-of-the-art library. Kyle along with his friends and twelve other kids win an essay contest and are selected to sleep overnight in the new library before it opens to the general public. However, more is in store for them than a mere sleepover as Mr. Lemoncello announces that the library doors have been locked and they must use the library resources to escape as part of his newest game. The winner gets to star in all future commercials for his products.

Inside the larger game of using the library resources to escape from the library, there are sub-games in which the characters can win additional clues. What made this book especially fun was that the reader could play along and try to solve these mini-games inside the story. After I finished each chapter I kept wanting to read on to find out what the next clue would be and how it would help them escape the library.

The book is full of references to other books. They allude to classics like Dostoevsky and various great works of children’s literature (such as Newbery Award Winners). A Sherlock Holmes story ends up being a major hint to winning the game. These references are incorporated as part of plot, as they must find a book, or have some knowledge about them, to win a challenge as part of the game. Even the Dewey Decimal System plays an integral role in the story.

Even though Kyle loves games, he is at a disadvantage due to not being a reader. The novel shows us the importance of being a reader. His experience in the library convinces him to change his ways and while working to win the game he starts building a list of books he wants to read as soon as he gets out of the library. Kyle manages to team up with other characters who possess knowledge and skills that he lacks (one of them is a voracious reader).  One of the major themes of the novel is not only the importance of reading, but also the importance of teamwork. Everyone has skills and abilities different than yours.  Utilizing each persons’ strength helps them solve a variety of puzzles and challenges throughout the game. The book creates a contrast of teamwork with selfish individualism as represented by Charle Chiltington, a rich snob from a prestigious family, who declares that Chiltingtons always win. Charles bullies and uses other characters for his own selfish ends and often underestimates them.

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