One of my favorite things to read is a middle grade mystery with puzzles that the reader can play along with, and Chris Grabenstein delivers just such a treat in his Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. (And seeing how I’ve just returned from a trip to Italy where I partook of a bit of limoncello, this book seemed like the perfect choice for my next Monday book review. 😉 )
Author: Chris Grabenstein
Age group: middle grade
Synopsis: Kyle Keeley loves playing all sorts of games, especially board games designed by his hero Luigi Lemoncello. After Mr. Lemoncello designs the new town library, Kyle wins one of the 12 coveted spots to participate in a special “library lock-in” to celebrate its opening. However, Mr. Lemoncello has created a special game for this lock-in. The kids have to solve a series of riddles and puzzles in order to get out of the library. Whoever gets out first will star in a commercial for Mr. Lemoncello’s next board game!
I really enjoyed how much the reader can play along with the puzzles in this book. To me, a mystery isn’t fun if you can’t play detective along with the main character. Author Chris Grabenstein does a nice job of making many of these games “playable” with Kyle. I also enjoyed how he integrated many popular children’s book titles into the games and into Mr. Lemoncello’s speech. Grabenstein made use of classic titles like Anne of Green Gables (you know I’d like that!) and newer books I love like When You Reach Me.
The one little thing I wish were different about the book is that I wish there were more at stake than starring in a commercial. As an author myself, I’ve read many times that you have to decide what “terrible thing” will happen to your character if he does not succeed in his goal. Otherwise, why do we care? For that reason, the beginning of the book felt a little slow to me. I didn’t know why I should care if Kyle won this game or not. When I found out that the only thing at stake was starring in a commercial, it seemed a little shallow. Perhaps, if there’d been a financial prize, and Kyle’s family needed the money to keep their house or something, then I might’ve felt a bit more invested.
Fortunately, the riddles the kids have to solve were fun enough to keep a book lover like me entertained. Also, the library that Lemoncello (or really Grabenstein) dreams up is very cool, and I’d love to visit a library like that someday.
If you (or a kid you know) loves to read and solve puzzles, I’d definitely recommend this book. There’s even a fun puzzle-within-the-puzzle for the reader to solve at the end of the story.