The many fans of Chris Grabenstein’s work will expect to find nonstop action, lively characters, high stakes, wordplay, and suspense in Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, and they will not be disappointed. This novel for middle-grade readers is a sequel to his bestselling Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, but it easily stands alone. Readers unfamiliar with the first book might be briefly confused at the opening chapter’s rapid-fire introduction of characters and brief recap of the high points of the first book, but the action of this new story starts quickly, and they will easily settle into the Library Olympics.
Kyle Keely and his friends are celebrities after winning the challenges posed in Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Naturally, the adulation they receive attracts the attention and envy of a spoiled and whiny kid, Charles Chiltington, who accuses them of having cheated their way to victory. To quiet the doubters as well as to reward young bibliophiles for their devotion to books, eccentric self-styled bazillionaire Mr. Lemoncello announces a library Olympics, and teams from all around the United States compete for a spot. Once the finalists are chosen, the games begin.
Far from being traditional, dry tests, the events challenge the players in many ways. There are puzzles of all sorts (rebuses, word-play, etc.); physical competitions, where teams race to find books; feats of memory; trivia; knowledge of banned books; and more. The teammates work together, squabble, triumph, and fall short. And just when the reader thinks the Library Olympics are over, it turns out there’s one more puzzle left to solve—one that will unite former adversaries in their love of books and of libraries.
Mr. Lemoncello has been compared to Willy Wonka (and he acknowledges the similarity himself). The two do seem like cousins, but unlike the owner of the chocolate factory, the librarian is eager to find the best in all the competitors—not the fault that will be their undoing. Mr. Lemoncello sets the wheels of the competition in motion and then stands back to see what will happen.
It’s no accident that the final scheduled game is one involving banned books; at the end of Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, the author (who grew up in Signal Mountain, Tennessee, and is a graduate of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville) invites his readers to solve a riddle:
Twenty things you just read,
Twenty things Mr. Lemoncello said,
Were once not allowed to be read
Because of what other people said.
Grabenstein asks his readers to write to him with their answers. In his author’s note, he provides two web sites—you can find them here and here—that provide information about challenged books.
A book starring bibliophiles engaged in a library-based competition might seem at first glance to have a limited audience, but the mystery, challenges, puzzles, and action in Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics will reach a wide audience and is sure to join Chris Grabenstein’s other books on many bestseller and award lists.
Tracy Barrett is a writer who lives in Nashville. Her tenth novel, a young-adult retelling of Cinderella entitled The Stepsister’s Tale, was published in 2014 by Harlequin TEEN.
Tagged: Children & YA