Get out while you can! Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

Grabenstein, Chris. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Random House, 2013. 291 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-0-375-87089-7; Tr. $4.55, ISBN 978-0-307-93147-4; 2013 PLB $19.99, ISBN  978-0-375-97089-4; 2014 PLB $12.13, ISBN 978-1-48983-367-9

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? YES!

Genre: Mystery/Game

Part of a series? Yes — Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series

Plot Summary:

Kyle Keeley finds out from his best friend Akimi Hughes that there’s an extra credit essay due that morning — and the winners not only receive extra credit, but they also get to spend the night locked into the brand new, high-tech, super fabulous library opening the next week. Kyle is desperate to have the chance once he finds out that Luigi L. Lemoncello, game maker extraordinaire and donor who helped make the new library happen is one of the essay judges and is hosting the lock-in. Kyle, Akimi, and ten other students from the seventh grade are chosen for the lock-in which becomes an “Escape” game. Will Kyle and his friends solve the clues and win the game?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is a fun book for those readers who like puzzles in their books. There is a lot of information, plenty of red herrings and helpful clues, and clever puzzles hidden throughout the text in addition to the ones the students must solve. The only downside is, as many Goodreads reviewers have noted, that the characters feel a little flat. Charles isn’t sufficiently evil. Akimi and Kyle and one-note. Hayley’s change of alliances isn’t handled in an interesting way. For these reasons, I can’t say that this is a fantastic book, but it’s a great one for your reader who enjoys puzzles.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a great start-of-the-year book club pick. Readers can then do their own real-life Dewey Decimal scavenger hunt in the library and play an Escape puzzle per Heather Booth’s instructions from Teen Librarian Toolbox, linked above (those are popular in my lesson plans, apparently!) (Idea from myself)

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2014

Booklist starred 6/1/13

Kirkus Reviews starred 5/1/13


Whodunnit?! The Westing Game

Raskin, Ellen. The Westing Game. Puffin Books, 1978. 182 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-0-525-47137-0; 1997 Tr. $6.50, ISBN 978-0-14-038664-6; 2004 Tr. $5.19, ISBN 978-0-14-240120-0; 1997 PLB $14.61; 2004 PLB $13.01, ISBN 978-1-41552-763-4


TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes!


Genre: Mystery


Part of a series? No.


Plot Summary:

Sixteen people are called to the Westing House when millionaire Sam Westing dies on Halloween. In order to determine who inherits the fortune, the sixteen people (heirs) must find out who killed Westing. Clues are given out piecemeal, and everyone is a suspect! Bombs, getting snowed in, and theft heighten the tension.


Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

I’ve heard from many people that this is their favorite book. I had to give it a shot, especially since the third grade boys are working on a mystery novel unit. The plot is intricate; I found myself needing to flip back and forth to make sure I had remembered a clue correctly, and I was focusing so hard on the threads of the story that I almost missed my bus stop! It’s an engaging story with some real twists and great red herrings.


Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

At the school where I work, third grade does a mystery unit. I’m so glad that we have this book in the collection; this is a great fit for a mystery project. I would hold a murder mystery party in class or in book club as an activity. (Idea from myself; how to hold a murder mystery party information here; for an academic library, but could be usable/scalable for an elementary school library.)


Grade Level: 5-8


Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred

Newbery Medal, 1979


Reviews referenced:

Jackson, K. (n. d.). The Westing game (Review of the book The Westing Game). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from

Kirkus Reviews. (1978, May 1st). The Westing game (Review of the book The Westing Game). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from


Murder Mystery information:

Kirby, M. (2003, Aug. 4). How to host a murder mystery in your library. Retrieved from  



Time Travel and Twenty Thousand Dollars: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me. Wendy Lamb Books, 2009. 199 pages. Hardcover $11.29 ISBN 978-0385737425

IMG_0140.JPGThis book is a total brain-bender! We follow Miranda in her letters to an unknown “you” in the school year spanning 1978-1979. Miranda tells the story of the day her friend Sal told her he wanted to take a break being friends. Devastated, Miranda does her best to live with that decision, even though it means walking past the scary Laughing Man, a homeless person who has a tendency to kick into traffic, scream at the sky, and call out specific passersby. Despite her fear of the laughing man, Miranda manages to have a pretty good go of things. She often thinks about her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, with Marcus, a mysterious kid who punched Sal “just to see what would happen.” While Marcus is convinced time travel is real, Mira isn’t so sure. She is also receiving mysterious letters, and these letters freak her out pretty badly.

This was not the mystery I was expecting, but it was still a great read. The concurrent preparation for her mother’s shot on The $20,000 Pyramid injects urgency into the novel, as does the unexpected appearances of each letter. The laughing man swoops between lucidity and madness, and it leaves Miranda and readers with a lot of questions. The repeated references to A Wrinkle in Time could make this a great next read for kids who loved L’Engle’s story and would like to have someone (albeit a fictional someone) to “talk to” about the book and its time travel capabilities. It would be fun to play Catchphrase during book club to show kids how hard it can be to think on your feet like Miranda’s mother would have to do, and conversations about friendship, growing up, and empathy could be really fruitful. Furthermore, I really appreciated the portrayals of characters with differences (Richard’s need for a platform shoe on his right side, Annemarie’s epilepsy) respectfully and without making them seem as though they had been inserted to increase the “diversity” of the novel.