Friday, July 12, 2013

Games of Wit

Chris Grabenstein
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein ranks among some of the top novels for middle-graders that deal with solving puzzles. It will stretch readers' minds, yet the book also provides all the clues necessary for the solution.

Fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will appreciate billionaire library benefactor Mr. Lemoncello's Willy Wonka–like eccentricities and his search for a young mentee through a series of tests--both intellectual and moral. And those who enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society will revel in the kinds of games and puzzles the fellow puts forth. 

Like Roald Dahl's group of would-be heirs to Wonka's dynasty, Grabenstein, too, puts together a cast of characters with a variety of personalities in their quest to win prizes and become the spokesperson for Mr. Lemoncello's company. Twelve children have won a place through a winning essay explaining why they're excited about the new library that Mr. Lemoncello is building in their town. One of the 12, Sierra Russell, helps kind protagonist Kyle Keeley due to her incessant reading and the details she picks up on in her search for books (Kyle invites her to join his team). Charles Chiltington, on the other hand, wants to win at any cost, no matter whom he sacrifices. Kyle simply loves to play games, and he's enjoying the contest for the sheer sport of it.

Grabenstein takes pains to show that the children are never in harm's way; they are free to exit the contest early--with the understanding that they forfeit their chance to win. It's a great summer read for the pure fun of it, yet it also sharpens readers' intelligence--they can't help but be on the alert for clues. It's also a terrific family read-aloud; children as young as seven can easily follow along with delight.

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