Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Libraryby Chris Grabenstein

288 pages of puzzles, games, books, fun and friendship – don’t ever give up until it’s time.

(Izzy, you’ll love this one!)

“Don’t worry,” said Kyle.  “Mrs. Cameron isn’t the final judge.  Mr. Lemoncello is.  And since he’s a genius, he will definitely pick the essays you guys all wrote.”

“Undoubtedly,” said Peckleman.

“Thanks, Kyle,” said Miguel.

“I just wish you could win with us,” aid Akimi.

“Well, maybe I can.  Like you said, this is just a Move Back Three Spaces card.  A Take a Walk on the Boardwalk when someone else owns it.  It’s a chute in Chutes and Ladders.  A detour to the Molasses Swamp in Candy Land!”

“Yo, Kyle,” said Miguel.  “Exactly how many board games have you played?”

“Enough to know that you don’t ever quit until somebody else actually wins.”(p. 27)

The grand opening of Alexandriaville’s new public library is in a few days.  Twelve twelve-year olds have a chance to win an essay contest to be selected for an overnight preview party.  The library has been under top-secret construction for five years.  No one had worked on it long enough or on a large enough part of the project to know what the final outcome would be, but no one doubted that it would be anything short of amazing.  The project is being funded by the town’s own “bazillionaire,” Luigi Lemoncello.  As a boy living in a crowded downtown apartment, the library had been his quiet place to think and dream.  The librarian at the time had taken special interest in Luigi – in fact it was she who helped him publish his first game, “Family Frenzy.”  The rest was history.  Luigi Lemoncello had been creating wonderfully, wild games of all kinds since then – the age of 12- and now he was giving something to his town as thanks.

Kyle loved playing games.  He played them all the time, but he wasn’t much into reading and writing and it wasn’t until the day the essays were to be passed in that he knew he had blown it.  But just as he said in the passage above – he decided not to give up until he was certain he had lost and it paid off.  Kyle became one of the essay winners and found himself in the most amazing game of his life.  You see the library sleep over is more than just a special preview.  “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” is the most incredible game ever created.  The whole library is a game board and the children are the pieces.  To win they’ll need to solve riddles, decipher clues and use all their powers of observation.  Once given the rules, they have twenty-four hours to find the secret exit.  Kyle always plays to win, but so do the other eleven players in the game.  Game on!

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is an amazing adventure.  I smiled my way through every page and ended up with even more books on my reading list.  After all the “library is more than a collection of dusty old books.  It is a place to learn, explore and grow!”  Mr. Lemoncello will prove it to you!

To learn more about the books and the author check out this link.  There’s more to book than just the story.  Did you notice it?  I didn’t.





Chainedby Lynne Kelly

242 pages of exploring many different ideas of what it means to be imprisoned and then freed

I had a hard time getting into Chained – people taking advantage of others, people being cruel to others and to animals twined around Hastin, the teller of the story.  Hastin is kind, dedicated, honorable and true and so I struggled to keep reading when is seemed as though everything in his world was conspiring against him.  I am exceptionally glad I did keep reading.  I can name Chained as the best book I have read this summer.

Why, because at the beginning of the story Hastin was kind, dedicated, honorable and true, as well as being innocent and inexperienced.  At the end of the book Hastin had managed to stay true to himself though no one would ever claim him to be innocent or inexperienced again.  “Baba (Hastin’s father) said that a story is no good if you hear one the ending.  You have to know how you got there.  I still cannot say I will ever be thankful for much of what has happened to me, but everything I’ve ever done has brought me here.”  The truth of that statement strikes me.  Chained is full of richly diverse characters who give readers a remarkable opportunity to examine choices and consequences and the power of relationships as they lead you to “here”.

Hastin, Chandra and Amma are poor.  They are able to get by until Chandra is bitten by a mosquito that gives her a disease that can only be treated by medicine and a hospital.  To receive this treatment the family must borrow money.  Desperate to save her daughter, Amma, Hastin’s mother makes an arrangement with a wealthy merchant.  He will pay for Chandra’s care, if Amma will come a work for him as housekeeper and cook.  When Hastin visits her in the town he sees she has been beaten and is kept in a shack.  Hastin begins to look for work to find a way to free his mother from this place and he meets Timir.  Looking to restart his circus, Timir promises Hastin adventure if he is not afraid of work.  Of course he is not and when Timir agrees to settle Amma’s debt in exchange for one year of work caring for the elephant.  Arrangements are made, and before Hastin knows whether Chandra has survived, he is whisked off into the forest and the circus.  Hastin quickly learns that Timir is not the benevolent soul he appeared to be – he is cruel, vicious and dishonest.  He has no intention of ever releasing Hastin from his service. No matter what agreement had been made, Hastin has no hope of returning home.

It is through this hardship that Hastin learns more of who he is and how he want to be.  Nandita, the elephant, and NeMin, the ancient cook, become Hastin’s new family.  It is from their wisdom and example that he learns to avoid the pitfalls of desperation and despair.  Their examples allow him to stay committed to living an honorable life, never making choices leading to regret.  Hastin remains as strong as a stone, as steadfast as an elephant and as bight as a candle.  If we could all be a bit like Hastin, what an amazing world we would find ourselves in.

I can’t wait to share this book with a group of students.  I can’t wait to find out how they feel and what they will react to.  So many favorite images and characters that will stay with me always.  A powerfully thoughtful book!


Wednesdays in the Tower

Wednesdays in the Towerby Jessica Day George

225 pages of magic and mystery that will leave you eagerly waiting for more

Wednesdays in the Tower follows Tuesdays at the Castle and picks up the story of Celie, Rolf, Lilah, Pogue, Lulath and now Bran and King and Queen Glower.  Celie has finished her atlas enough so that she feels it is ready to be copied and shared with others.  She knows that her maps will never fully be accurate because new rooms will still come and unused rooms will still go, after all Castle is magic.  Celie loves Castle.  She cares for it and because of that she also feels its present discomfort.  Castle is changing.  Rooms are coming without need and they are old and unused.  The holiday feasting room arrives with no holiday in sight.  A room full of fabrics appears with patterns and fashions hundreds of years old.  A map room shows up but with maps of places no one knows and there’s an armory lined with suits of armor and weapons, the uses of some are unknown but dangerously enchanted.  Castle seems upset, angry, maybe, ill.  It’s as if the rooms are coming from another place and time.  Why?  What is Castle’s story?

Bran, now the Royal Wizard, sends to the College of Wizardry and asks for help with the armory because of the magic weaponry.  Amidst the concern regarding the new unpredictability of Castle, no one but Celie notices the new tower.  It’s beyond the schoolroom and in it Celie finds a pumpkin-sized orange egg on a nest of moss and twigs.  Celie, with Castle’s help, cares for the egg and keeps it safe until it hatches.  The hatchling is a griffin and Celie immediately loves the creature and names him Rufus.

Castle will only allow her to reveal the griffin to a selected few.  Why Castle would bring her a griffin and at the same time want to her to keep it a secret?  Meanwhile, Wizard Awkright arrives, not the wizard Bran had hoped the college would send.  He instantly puts both the royal family and Castle on edge.  His mysterious appearances and unusual interest in what Celie is doing, along with his abrupt comments and near threats to the royal family create a suspicious air.  What is he doing?  Why is he really there?  It is clear Castle doesn’t know what to make of his actions either.  Just when you think you know Celie, Rolf and Rufus, Lilah and Lulath find themselves in a whole new place.  Can Castle find them there?

The adventure and mystery that surrounds Wednesdays in the Tower pulls you through the pages to a satisfying ending and leaves you at a new beginning.  You’ll be looking for the next book in the series and wondering what awaits you at Castle Glower.

Fantastic Mr. Dahl

Fantastic Mr. Dahlby Michael Rosen (self-proclaimed biggest fan)

Matt’s interest in Roald Dahl is what sparked my interest in Michael Rosen’s Fantastic Mr. Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake.  Written by a writer about a writer this book tells us of Dahl’s life by using Boy and Flying Solo and the many letters written between home and school that Dahl’s mother had lovingly saved.  The biography shares how life and writing intertwine and intersect.  It’s interesting to see how even the letters written by a schoolboy at ten portend the author Dahl will become.  In one Roald wrote to his sister, Alfhild, saying:  “The barber is a very funny man, his name is Mr. Lundy, when I went to have my hair cut last Monday, a lot of spiders came out from under the cupboard and he stepped on them and there was a nasty squashy mess on the floor.”  Can’t you hear words like those coming from The Twits or The Witches.

Rosen thinks about and describes how he can see the “writer” in Dahl well before Dahl considered becoming a writer himself.  He uses the ‘Great Mouse Plot’ from Boy as an example of how life mirrors writing.  Rosen explains:

            …If the story about the mouse and the sweetshop lade is true (and we can never be absolutely, totally sure about that), and it really was Roald whoe came up with the ‘Great Mouse Plot’, then I think he had already begun to invent ways of writing.


Because if you plot and plan a trick, you need to think ahead and imagine ‘What would happen if…?’  If you’re some how live to imagine ‘What would happen if…?’ such as ‘What would happen if my best friend turned into a cat…?’ then you’re well on the way to being a writer.

The biography is a combination of life-story, photographs, illustrations and fun facts helping us discover how the writer and the writing came to be.  Rosen says, “Time is something that every writer needs.  Time to think, wonder, dream, plan and collect.  And Roald Dahl had plenty of that.”  We are very glad he did.  His stories are favorites from James to Matilda and all the others in and around and in between.

The Romeo and Juliet Code

The Romeo And Juliet Codeby Phoebe Stone

291 pages of family, codes, adventure and spies – perfect for intermediate and middle readers (Got to say – I don’t get the cover.  It doesn’t make sense to me at all.)

You’re 11, living in London with your mom and dad.  Your friends think they’re dashing and daring and glamorous – like a Hollywood couple.  Perhaps, but all you know is that they are your everything.  It’s 1941 though and there is a war going on.  Your city is being bombed and most of your friends and their families have fled into the country.  Your dad is an American citizen.  His family is in Maine and so your family decides this is a safer place for you.

You sail across the ocean on the Queen Anne – painted entirely gray, portholes included so no light can escape giving her away to enemy eyes -, drive along the coast of Maine and meet Uncle Gideon, Aunt Florence and The Grams.  After an hour or so you watch your dashing, daring, glamorous parents drive off, knowing they will be traveling back to London and there you are in your new home for now.  Everything is different and strained.

That’s what happens to Felicity Bathburn Budwig in The Romeo and Juliet Code.  The summer is beginning and everything seems bad and wrong.   This new family seems angry with her Winnie and Danny (what she calls her mom and dad) and they won’t tell her why.  On top of that her Danny writes letters to her uncle – she is sure of it though her uncle says she is wrong and doesn’t know his handwriting at all – but her Danny doesn’t write to her.  Felicity doesn’t know where her mom and dad are.  She is alone except for Wink, her bear, who does know how alone and sad and afraid she is.

With time Felicity learns about the Bathburns, her new family, and she comes to understand and love them.  She discovers she loves to cook with The Grams and read with Aunt Miami (Florence decided she needed a younger sounding name – she’s just 22).  Aunt Miami loves Romeo and Juliet.  Felicity, on Uncle Gideon’s recommendation, reads The Little Princess.  She discovers her cousin Derek, recovering from polio, and builds a strong relationship with him as they seek to uncover the mystery behind the letters sent to Uncle Gideon from Portugal, but written (Felicity is certain) by her Danny.

With every page I turned I longed for Felicity to get a letter from her mom and dad.  I celebrated every comfort and every discovery made while I waited for her to find answers to her questions and solutions for her lonely confusions.  You’ll be waiting for them too  – filling with hope as she races to meet the postman, smiling at the variety show rehearsals, and feeling the coziness of a small town while you come to understand how Felicity fits in this place and how she will find a home there.

Perhaps the best thing about reading The Romeo and Juliet Code is knowing that Romeo Blue, the sequel, is sitting in my “to read” pile so I can spend more time with characters I love, in a place I would like to be, discovering more of the mystery and intrigue that surrounds the Bathburn family.  Reviews say the second book might be better than the first.  I don’t know how that could be possible, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

M is For Mama’s Boy

NERDS: Book Two: M Is for Mama's Boyby Michael Buckley

If you could have your weakness upgraded and turned into a super power, what strength do you think you would have?

I came to the NERDS series just as the fourth had been published.  I have a hard time with name calling even if it’s supposed to be funny.  I know – snap judgments are not usually accurate – but I passed these books by in the bookstore with just a glance.  Then Ellie started reading them.  “Read from here to here,” she’d say.  “It’s funny.”  She was right.  It was.  While she was enjoying books one, two and three, talk of The Sisters Grimm series was filling our classroom.  That’s when I noticed they had the same author.  I loved his writing in the Sisters Grimm books.  “Okay,” I thought.  “Time to give this a chance.  It’s obviously not what you thought.”

I read the first as summer vacation started and just finished M is for Mama’s Boy, the second this week.  The third and fourth are sitting in one of my to-be-read piles.  I’ll get to them soon.  The NERDS are school-aged secret agents who save the world.  Selected for the team because of their unique qualities, these perceived weaknesses have been highlighted and upgraded with nanotechnology to create super skills.  Together the team has the resources and abilities to save the world from every and any super villain.  The villain in this case is Simon.  He has reappeared with squirrel squadron to do his bidding – along with one Goon.

When the robberies begin happening there is no sense of urgency.  Just another bad guy to be stopped, but Albert Nesbitt notices something odd.  He spends his time locked in the basement of his mother’s house watching TV, building computers, reading graphic novels and dreaming of becoming a super hero.  Albert dreams of doing good in the world and of becoming Captain Justice.  Somehow his dream is twisted around and he becomes entangled with Simon, the evil genius bent on humiliating the NERDS and taking over the world by controlling every computer on Earth.

In disabling Earth’s computers, Simon also disables the super power upgrades of the NERDS.  That’s especially challenging for Duncan, a.k.a. Gluestick.  Always a thoughtful, kind person, Duncan isn’t sure he has any worth without his special powers or his gadgets and gizmos.  Duncan loses confidence.  He’s sure he can’t do anything.  He can’t fit in even when he is trying to be “normal.”  But, he realizes he also can’t sit around and see his family threatened or let his friends face life-threatening danger alone.  Can “ordinary “save the world?  Maybe.  You’ll have to read M is for Mama’s Boy to find out.

The Vengekeep Prophecies

The Vengekeep Propheciesby Brian Farrey

Every person is much more than they seem.

The Vengekeep Prophecies has been sitting in my pile for nearly a year.  I got it just as the school started and there it sat waiting to be read.  I’m glad it was patient.  Reading it made me think about the idea of choosing between what you should do and what you want to do.  It led me to think about the importance of finding a way to contribute by following your passion and knowing what you are good at.  If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, pick it up and give it a try.

Vengekeep is the name of the town where Jaxter and the Grimjinx family live.  The family makes their living by pulling cons, creating forgeries and pickpocketing.  The wisdom and skill of the profession has been passed down for generations in the family album detailing the Grimjinx history; each entry ending with ‘and then we were rich beyond belief.’   Jaxter is twelve and now is his time to add to the family legacy and continue the story.  The only problem is that Jaxter is a klutz of the very worse kind and that doesn’t bode well for his future success.

On his first solo mission, Jaxter burned the Castellan’s house down and landed the family in gaol.  But staying in gaol wasn’t what the Grimjinxes were destined for.  Each year Vengekeep has an Unveiling of the five hundred year old tapestry foretelling important events for the town’s upcoming year.  For centuries the Vengekeep scholars have been studying and interpreting the tapestry, making plans to avert any foretold danger and keeping the city prosperous.  This year the tapestry predicts a very bleak future that can only be overcome by the family marked by the star.  The Grimjinxes are that family.

Jaxter looks at all the horrors depicted on the tapestry.  How are they ever going to survive them? Each one seems to be a worse horror than the one before. It is going to be a disastrous year – why then are his parents so calm?   They seem to be enjoying their status as the keepers of the city.  That is until the lava monsters arrive and their plan unravels.  Jaxter may not have inherited his family’s skills but he does have knowledge.  Nanni had said, “The things you learn in books will outshine all of us someday, you mark my words.”  Maybe that is true.  Jaxter is going to need everything he has learned along with courage, friendship and creativity if he is going to beat the Vengekeep prophecy.

At the beginning of the book Jaxter wonders if his family is ashamed of him.  It can be hard to choose – doing what you think you should or doing what you want.  Do you have to choose?  Read The Vengekeep Prophecies to find out.



The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shopby Kate Saunders

You may not know it, but magic is everywhere.  You go through your day never noticing it, but it’s there.  Well, at least it is in The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop.

Oz and Lily didn’t know about magic either until their family arrived at 18 Skittle Street. Their dad had just inherited the property from his Uncle Pierre.  A bit strange because he had never met his uncle and the house had been empty for nearly seventy years. The twins hadn’t been expecting much, but everything seemed perfectly intriguing once they got there.  The house was large and homey, with a terrific backyard, and the workshop where the, once famous, Spoffard confections had been made still smelled of chocolate. There seemed to be a cat (something Lily had always wanted); maybe the same one in the photograph of Great Uncle Pierre if that could be possible. The electricity was still on.  Incredibly, the house was everything they could possibly want or need and so the family moved in.

In their first night at the house Oz and Lily learn they have been brought there for a reason.  They are the only ones able to keep Isadore Spoffard from selling Immortality Chocolate to the terrorist group known as the Schmertz Gang eager to take over the world.  Recruited by Demerara – indeed the exact same cat in the seventy year old photograph, the twins join the Secret Ministry of the Unexplained, a division of M16 (of 007 fame.) The SMU polices the misuse of magic to help maintain the world’s equilibrium.  Right now that balance in teetering on the edge.   You’ll have to read The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop to discover how it the plots and plans “unmold.”  You’ll be smiling through every page.

In Search of Goliathus Hercules

In Search of Goliathus Herculesby Jennifer Angus

a surreal, Victorian adventure full of mysterious surprises in unusual places

Henri’s dad has been gone for three years and missing for two.  Sent to British Malaya as the superintendent of a rubber plantation, he had, so the story went, one day just walked into the jungle and vanished.  Unable to believe that possible, Henri’s mom decided to travel there to see for herself and that is how Henri came to be at Woodland Farm in America living with Great Aunt Georgie and her button collection.

It was rather boring being 10 and alone in middle of nowhere.  Of course the farm had lots of places to explore, but that only went so far when there is no one to explore it with.  And talking? Well, the only person to converse with as 90-year old, Great Aunt Georgie and she only talked about buttons.  She shared interesting tidbits like the oldest button was five thousand years old or buttons were first used to fasten clothing in Germany in the thirteenth century.  Interesting, but rather dull and right now it was raining.  As he looked out the window, Henri was aware of a fly bumping into it over and over.  He thought it was annoying so he asked the fly to stop.  It did.  Then he noticed another fly moving across the newspaper line by line as if it were reading.  He watched for a bit until it said, “It’s rude to read over someone’s shoulder you know.”  Before Henri could fully believe it, he’d had complete conversation with the fly, which could in fact read.  Henri wasn’t sure he believed it, but suddenly the world was no longer full of chirps and creaks – each one had meaning.  It was true.  Henri could communicate with insects.

When the circus came to town Henri was drawn to Maestro Antonio’s Amazing Flying Flea Circus.  Although a small sideshow, Henri was sure he could help it become the “greatest show on earth.”  Antonio agreed to let him try and so Henri ran away to join the circus.   But not before meeting Great Aunt Georgie’s neighbor, Agatha Black.  Her coldhearted cruelty filled Henri with dread that didn’t seem to fully go away even when he thought he had left her behind.

Joining the circus is just the beginning of Henri’s transformation from lonely boy to ambassador to the insect world.   Henri is thoughtful and creative.  He appreciates the gifts of every creature whether a flea or a queen.  They appreciate this kindness and because of it support his quest to discover the truth behind the story of the largest beetle in the world. Reading In Search of Goliathus Hercules will keep you turning the pages to the very end.  There are some remaining questions and some places where the plot is stretched a little thin, but for insect-loving readers (and even those who feel a little squeamish at the thought) this is totally entertaining adventure from start to finish.  I also love the kaleidoscope of insects that begins each chapter and the connecting information that begins each part of the book.

Destiny Rewritten

Destiny, Rewrittenby Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Des-tin-y: (noun) The hidden power believed to control what will happen in the future; fate.

Who do you think has control of your destiny?  Does it depend on your choices or is it already set?  Should you wait for it to happen, or should you help it along?

If you are Emily Elizabeth Davis you believe that you make what happens in your life.  If your Emily’s mother you believe that what happens is supposed to happen in its own time, unfolding when it is ready.  She says you can’t rush your destiny but Emily has other ideas.  She has some things she’s been waiting to discover for a long time – like who her dad is – and she thinks the time is now.

The day before Emily was born, her mom discovered a first edition Complete Works of Emily Dickinson in a book store followed by a gleam of light.  Emily’s mom chose her name in that moment and wrote then and there: Emily Dickinson is one of the great poets.  The same will be said of you one day.  From that day on, Emily’s mom has marked down all of her important life events by the poem that seems most fitting.  Next to “Angels, in the early morning”Emily’s birth is recorded.  Beside “We should not mind so small a flower” the celebration of her first word.  “I’ll tell you how the Sun rose” commemorates her first steps.  Her book with that first inscription has been with her all her life, but Emily doesn’t really like poetry.  Emily wonders how a person who is destined to be a poet can not understand them so completely.  By accident Emily’s book is given to Goodwill.  An upsetting turn of events.  Her mother says it was for a reason, but, rather than accept that fate, Emily takes action.  Through that action she realizes how much she has and does, shares and desires.  There is something to be said for organized predictability AND there is something to be said for mysterious unfoldings.  Can a life be guided by both?

I love Emily, her family and friends.  Emily is a collector of happy endings.  She loves romance novels because of this and writes frequently to Danielle Steel asking her advice in all things.  (Emily is sure Danielle Steel has some of the best endings) Mortie, Emily’s 8-year old cousin, knows he is destined for a life in the military. He only has 3,752 days until he turns eighteen and can join the Army.  He’s an expert on recon and spy stuff.  Wavey, Emily’s best friend is an excellent student.  She takes pride in doing her best and achieving all she can.  She is committed to making our world a better place – she is the secretary of the Berkeley Middle School Pick Up Trash in Your Neighborhood CLub and is working to write a 32-page paper on the many reuses of packing peanuts.  Celia Ann, another classmate, is a poet and everything she does and sees calls a poem to mind.  Quirky? – maybe, but deliciously so.  The characters blend and weave together creating a story that is happy, sad, thoughtful and surprising.  Sometimes it is good to just let life happen, but sometimes it is better to make a choice and set a new path in motion.

Destiny Rewritten is a book to be read, reread, and pondered. Words like: ‘You can only do what you can do.  You’re one person, but you make a difference by doing these small things.’

and passages  like:

” The only way the army would approve that kind of strategy is if the clouds didn’t rain every once in a while and instead did something unexpected to confuse the ocean.  That would be an excellent strategy because the ocean would be expecting the clouds to rain, so this would throw everything off.”

“I never though of it like that.”

“That’s because you’re not the one joining the army.

I studied the post, trying to see if like he did.  “You think this strategy could work for other things too, like maybe – I don’t know – people?”

Mortie squinted at the ceiling and nodded.  “Affirmative.”

are worth considering.  Destiny Rewritten is a flash and a sparkle – a gem to be savored.