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Newbery or Not: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

Book Blurb: “Kyle Keeley is the class clown, popular with most kids, (if not the teachers), and an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the building of the new town library. Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of the first 12 kids in the library for an overnight of fun, food, and lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the other winners must solve every clue and every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. And the stakes are very high. In this cross between Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and A Night in the Museum, Agatha Award winner Chris Grabenstein uses rib-tickling humor to create the perfect tale for his quirky characters. Old fans and new readers will become enthralled with the crafty twists and turns of this ultimate library experience.”

Pub Stub: Random House Books for Young Readers, ISBN-10 037587089X, June 2013

Author Tidbits: Grabenstein, Chris. Author of John Ceepak adult mystery series (Carol & Graff). Co-author of I Funny series with James Patterson (Little, Brown and Company).

Newbery or Not: Or not. Although it hit the NYT bestseller list, and although the library theme and setting hooked many librarian/teacher readers, and although puzzle books winning the Newbery is not unheard of (Westing Game, anybody?), the flat writing, clunky dialogue, and one-dimensional characters put this problematic puzzler several steps behind its competition. Even the puzzle itself seems constructed at random. Mr. Lemoncello is a thin reworking of Willy Wonka, and the story is a library-themed reproduction of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that jumps around so rapidly, it suggests a sugar buzz to make Wonka himself cringe. Having read it, I’m still glad I ordered it for our juvenile fiction department. Young readers who love puzzle and game stories will probably find it less hokey than I did, and I like its reinforcement of library staff as helpful, libraries as centers for information and technology, and books as worthwhile time investments. I also applaud the inclusion of female characters who play integral parts in solving the mystery, although the portrayal of a beautiful girl who pretends to be ditzy to manipulate adults and boys made me purse my lips. Still, Newbery quality? I say, no way. I know a flying squirrel, two talking raccoons, and three smart and spunky African-American sisters who may have a little something to say about it.

Weigh In: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library has kid appeal, no doubt, but do you see it as a work of great literary standing?

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