A New York Times bestseller for 111 weeks (wowsers!), Escape from Mr Lemoncello’s Library was a huge hit when it was first published in 2013 in the US. Now that it’s made it’s way to this side of the world, Rachel Sneyd sees what all the fuss is about.
Kyle loves playing games and solving puzzles. He also loves winning. When Mr Lemoncello, the world’s most successful game maker, pays for a multi-million dollar redesign of Alexandriaville’s defunct public library, Kyle is intrigued. He finds out that Mr Lemoncello is picking 12 local children to take part in a lock-in on opening night, and he’ll do whatever it takes to be chosen.
Of course, Mr Lemoncello loves designing games as much as Kyle loves playing them, and he can’t resist turning the lock-in into a high-tech, literature inspired scavenger hunt. Kyle will have to harness his competitive nature and learn to work with the other contestants if he’s going to have a chance of claiming the prize of a lifetime.
Escape from Mr Lemoncello’s Library was a New York Times bestseller when it was released it in America in 2013, and it’s easy to see why. The stakes are clearly defined, the narrative is laser focused, and the fantastical library is a Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for bookworms. In fact there are numerous parallels to Charlie’s classic adventure to be found in Escape …, but despite Mr Lemoncello’s quirky nature and his loud fashion sense, he is a distinctive character in his own right. His commitment to health and safety measures alone ensures that Kyle’s journey lacks the menace of a Dahl story. Instead Grabenstein focuses on celebrating the pursuit of knowledge, and for the most part he sets his characters up for opportunities for growth, instead of punishing them for their flaws.
Instead of criticising Kyle’s love of video games, Escape … recognises the skills that he has learned from playing them, and demonstrates that these skills can also be applied to other, equally fun activities, like scavenger hunts and research challenges. Many of the puzzles that Kyle and his friends have to solve are included in the book, allowing readers to play along with them, and ensuring that they remain engaged with the game even when the characters are stuck on a difficult clue.
Unfortunately, the fight to defend public libraries from funding cuts and accusations that they are becoming obsolete remains as salient today as it was when Escape … was first published. By making technology such a vital part of Mr Lemoncello’s library, as both a tool for finding books and as a source of fun and learning in its own right, Grabenstein helps highlight the crucial, varied roles that libraries are continuing playing in our communities.