I’m writing this post on February 5, 2013 because I am so excited about recommending this book that I can’t wait for it to come out in June. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein (Random House, $16.99) is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for bibliophiles, mixed with The Westing Game. It’s an ode to children’s literature. A love letter to everything we appreciate about good books. This book is a must-read for anyone who likes to read and has read a lot, if nothing else than for the enjoyment of the prolific and well-placed references to the best of children’s literature.
Eccentric Mr. Lemoncello rebuilds the public library and invites twelve 12 year olds to participate in a lock-in. The town has not had a library for twelve years and he wants to share his love of reading with a group of kids who have grown up without the benefit of a public library. The lock-in morphs into a game. The first player who discovers how to get *out* of the library will win the grand prize. So you can see why bibliophiles will love this book; it is one long celebration of books and reading. What I loved most, however, is that the game and the clues were revealed in such a way that the reader could play along with the characters. I didn’t have to passively watch the characters solve riddles (one of the things that really frustrated me about The Mysterious Benedict Society), but instead I could participate and try to figure out the puzzle for myself along the way. Almost everything in the book is a clue of some sort, so I found myself reading very carefully, trying to remember all the details. Clues are repeated throughout the book, however, which was useful because I didn’t have to write it all out, although I did consider doing so! Read, play, and enjoy! And if anyone figures out the final puzzle, please let me know! I don’t know if the ARC I read just didn’t have all the information or if I missed something really important!
Crystal Allen’s new book, The Laura Line, was another book that I heard about at Winter Institute this year and was extremely excited to read (Balzer + Bray, $16.99). Overall I think this book has a lot of important things to say and for the most part, I appreciated Laura’s narrative voice; however there was one major plot point that didn’t seem right. Laura’s parents leave for two weeks for military duty. The aunt who usually takes care of Laura can’t make it this time, and she has to go live with her grandmother instead. Laura hates visiting her grandmother because she’s inordinately embarrassed by the slave shack that sits on the grounds. Laura doesn’t think that this part of her family history should be glorified in any way and she refuses to step inside or hear the stories about why it’s there. As the narrative continues, Laura finally does open herself up to the shack and it’s significance to American history. She finally recognizes that the shack holds generations of stories about the Lauras in her family who have lived before her and she is proud of their accomplishments.
I love the idea of the shack embodying the horrors from American history and how its physical presence forces Laura to struggle with the past and the shack’s place in her own life. She wants to forget slavery happened and live her own life, which makes a lot of sense and I appreciate Laura’s conflict between ignoring the past and being defined by the past. This conflict is particularly acute in middle school, when kids are simultaneously working to define themselves outside of their families as they also try to figure out their place within their families. What doesn’t make sense to me is that Laura has never engaged with the shack. She’s close to her mother and her mother is close to her grandmother. Surely as a young child, Laura would have wanted to hear the stories, feel connected to her mother, or be curious about the shack. She wouldn’t have yet felt the socio-historical implications of the shack, have been embarrassed by what her classmates think, or have been so afraid of something that her mother and grandmother obviously cherish. Again, there are a lot of excellent attributes to this book and it is a solid introduction to the personal history of slavery, as well as a great companion novel for studying family history. I think, perhaps, I would have enjoyed it just a little more if the story narrated Laura’s return to her family rather than a first discovery.
Laura is a spunky character who loves both fashion and baseball; I fully appreciate this fluctuation between gender norms. She’s smart, capable, and resilient. She cares about what her peers think, but she also stands up for herself and her best friend. She follows her intuition and accepts the consequences when she ignores it. There is a lot of life, character, and history in this book. Teachers and librarians take note.