Goodreads: Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics
Series: Mr. Lemoncello’s Library #2
Kyle Keeley and his teammates won famed game maker Mr. Lemoncello’s scavenger hunt in his new library, causing them to become household names as they start in commercials for all of Mr. Lemoncello’s new games. But library lovers around the country are upset they were not invited to participate in the last game. Surely they are way smarter than Kyle and his friends! So Mr. Lemoncello launches a new game in the library, but when books start to go missing, a group of adults intent on censorship see a way to gain control.
When you consider the premise of the book and the motivations of the characters, it must be admitted that Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics does not make a lot of sense. But it’s supposed to be a humorous middle-grade book and I suppose its target audience is not overly critical of the way library boards are chosen or how libraries are funded or maintained. If you are willing to ignore the ridiculous premises on which the main plot rests, the book is fun. Who doesn’t love a story about the power of literature?
The book brings back many of the elements that made the first book so popular. Mr. Lemoncello walks around in ridiculous outfits and says ridiculous things, a little like Albus Dumbledore declaring “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” Puzzles fill the pages as do allusions to books. Kyle and his friends once again face down a mean adversary who is determined to win the game. But this time the game stops a little short. The problem is that there are adults who want to take over the library. The library, it seems, is just too fun.
Suddenly a bizarre subplot becomes the main plot. Charles, loser of the last games, wants Mr. Lemoncello destroyed. So he enlists his mother to take over the library. She does this by declaring that public libraries have boards to oversee them and that she and her new friends will be that board. Okay… Public libraries do have boards. But you can’t just walk in and declare yourself on it. If her argument is that the public should get to decide what happens to the library, she should be suggesting some sort of public vote. Not wresting control. But no one ever points this out to her.
Instead, everyone acts like it’s perfectly normal for people to take control of libraries under the guise of being a board. The “board” gains momentum by crying foul when it’s discovered some books are “missing.” (One book and some encyclopedia volumes are missing. The rest are checked out, but no one makes this distinction.) They will make sure the library has books in it! (Again, they are not happy that 35 of the 36 copies of this book are checked out–apparently it’s bad if people use the library. Even though no other library in the U.S. is likely to have enough money or room to hold 36 copies of the same book in the first place.) No one ever points out how ridiculous this all is, or asks how the board intends to personally ensure no book will ever again be stolen or possibly just moved by a patron to the wrong spot. Or checked out. Remember– the books are not to be checked out.
Suddenly after all this, the plot is about censorship. The new “board” is going to decide what books are on the shelves and which are not. This new twist occurs very suddenly almost at the end of the book. No one really questions this, either, even though boards as defined in the book simply oversee the mission of the library and raise funds. I guess censoring books is what they see as their “mission”? No one asks, but it’s unclear if this is because no one takes them seriously enough to ask or if people just assume this can all be accomplished.
Fortunately, Mr. Lemocello has a solution to the vaguely annoying (because so nonsensical) “board” members. [Spoiler] The book has been reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the whole time, so it’s no surprise that the game is really a way for Mr. Lemocello to find library-loving kids to be the real board. And no one questions this, either. Kids being a board. Twenty-eighth out of thirty-three of them living nowhere near this library but in different states. I guess it’s being funded by Mr. Lemoncello and not by tax dollars so the community can’t protest that people not in the community are running it? But if it’s being solely funded by Mr. Lemoncello and not by tax dollars, Charles’s mother and her friends had no argument from the first. It’s not a public library and thus does not need a board with members of the public to run it. It’s all very strange. But I suppose Grabenstein does not imagine a middle-grade audience knows much about library boards or public funding.
Frankly, I just want to overlook all the weird board action. I appreciate Chris Grabenstein trying to talk about censorship, but that discussion feels a little too random here and not very serious–[spoiler!] they begin by trying to burn books about squirrels because one guy doesn’t like squirrels. This just makes the guy look crazy and not like too much of a threat. Plus he wants to burn library books he checked out along with a few he stole, so he’s presumably going to be arrested or fined for theft and for breaking any burning laws, and then he’s just going to have to pay to replace all the burned books, especially since a bunch of them are on his card and he’s therefore already financially responsible for them. And these books are recently published and not rare,so the library will easily replace them once he pays all his fines. So…I’m really not sure what to make of all that. Sure, once the board tries to get control and ban books it will be more serious, but what we actually see of the censorship issue is either ridiculous or sad. Will middle-grade readers be inspired to fight censorship if it’s seemingly defined as a nutty man who hates squirrel books?
If I ignore all of the preceding weirdness, however, the book is pretty fun. I, like I suppose many readers, enjoy books about books and books about libraries, and I am fond of middle-grade stories with puzzles. In this area, the book delivers.