Recommendation Wednesday: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

Because, my dear friends, these twelve children have lived their entire lives without a public library. As a result, they have no idea how extraordinarily useful, helpful, and funful—a word I recently invented—a library can be. This is their chance to discover that a library is more than a collection of dusty old books. It is a place to learn, explore, and grow!

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by  Chris Grabenstein is SO FUN. It’s sort of a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory/Westing Game hybrid. Mr. Lemoncello is this super eccentric rich dude who builds the world’s greatest library and then holds a contest for a selection of kids. And the contest is a scavenger hunt/the world’s best board game. I mean.

The book is one huge love letter to reading, authors, libraries, and librarians. Oh, and to smart kids and games, of course.

The kids are so great, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be Sierra. She is THE BEST. She plays the game, but she’s much more interested in exploring the books and reading. I love her.

There were a lot of allusions to tons of books (most of which were super easy to get, but it is a middle grade novel, so that makes sense). I started making a list, but then stopped because it got too long. So, the books/authors mentioned either outright or via allusion are:

  • The Giver
  • The Hunger Games
  • Oh, the Places You Will GoEscape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • When You Reach Me
  • One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
  • Frederick Douglass
  • The Westing Game
  • Ella Enchanted
  • The Great Gilly Hopkins
  • The Red Pyramid
  • Maniac Magee
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • Great Expectations
  • Goodnight Moon
  • From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  • Bridge to Terabithia
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
  • The Three Musketeers
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
  • The Phantom Tollbooth
  • The Wind in the Willows
  • Tuck Everlasting
  • The Rats of NIMH
  • Al Capone Does My Shirts

And that is an incomplete list! Basically, a book or author is referenced on every single page. EVERY PAGE. ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

The book is not without its flaws (the characters are kind of flat, the ending a bit predictable), but I really enjoyed the emphasis on teamwork and, of course, how much awesomeness there is to find at the library. Love the library. LOVE the library, and therefore love this book.

Recommendation Wednesday: Charm & Strange

I am of charm and strange.




At first I wasn’t sure if I would consider Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn (216 pgs) a recommendation or not. I only gave it three stars on Goodreads to start. Because it was sad.

(Yes, I know. This is not the first nor will it be the last book that will get points off for sadness even if, you know, that’s part of the point of the book.)

Ultimately, though, I have decided to mark it as a recommendation because I cannot stop thinking about it.

Charm & Strange by Stephanie KuehnIn fact, this book has a lot in common with Pointe by Brandy Colbert, a book I recommended a few weeks ago. Both books deal with teens who have endured a trauma, and both explore how the teens deal with that trauma.

Charm & Strange differs from Pointe in that main character Drew’s trauma occurred when he was around 9 whereas Theo from Pointe’s trauma occurred at 13. While it may not seem like a big difference, it actually is. Because Drew was so young, his trauma affected what is referred to in the text as his system of meaning–how he understands and relates to the world. Homeboy is disturbed.

Charm & Strange is almost impossible to talk about without spoilers, especially since the book is written specifically to keep Drew’s trauma hidden until he’s able to discuss it. In fact, the point of view is part of why I wasn’t sure if I would recommend this. At times, I found it off-putting. There is SO MUCH narrative distance that it’s hard to connect with Drew, even though the reader is in his head. Again, given the trauma and the narrative that makes perfect sense—and works really well for the novel—but that distance makes it hard to connect with Drew (which, again, is the point. Still). I found myself wishing it were in third person so the distance wouldn’t feel so great, but Drew is so disconnected from himself that the first person shows that more clearly.

However, in the end, it all pays off and makes perfect sense.

So what I liked about this book:

– I like that the catalyst for change is a girl, but not in the ways that are typical of most current YA novels. Jordan is new to the school and curious about Drew, so is willing to talk to him and ask him questions, which most of his classmates don’t do or have learned not to do.

– I really like that his former roommate looks out for him even as Drew tries to push him away. And why? Because he knows Drew’s secret, one of the things Drew thinks distances him from other people.

– The characters are really well-drawn even when the reader only gets glimpses of them. Some great character work here. And Drew’s brother! Oh my heart. Just…right in the gut. He broke my heart the most.

– I really, really, really like that these kids realize they’re in way over their heads with Drew and get adult help in the end.

– More importantly, the book shows the power of one or two people actually paying attention and how much of a difference that can make in a person’s life. The book isn’t preachy at all about that, by the way, but the message is there.

– While the story is sad (so very, very sad), it is ultimately hopeful as almost all good YA is.

– Oh, and it should be pointed out that the cover matches the book perfectly.

In conclusion: This is a complex and satisfying read that I could not stop thinking about after I finished it. It is a little dark, though, so be prepared for that.



My goal has been to post once a week since I require my students to do so. And I have been doing really well! And then…grading. Sooo much grading. In fact, I have entered what I like to call grading hell. Grading hell is that point when there is nothing to do but grade. I mean, yes, there are other things to do, but the grading that isn’t being done is all-consuming.

This is what grading hell looks like.
This is what grading hell looks like.


The grading becomes ever more all-consuming when other things are going on that make it hard to get to grading. Things like my kid having activities. Or having to do lesson planning/class prep. Or standing committee meetings–that require their own prep. Or other commitments that I made before realizing that I would be in grading hell.

So life, basically.

I have a rule that I don’t grade on weekends, but I had to break that rule last weekend. I also broke it this weekend. I had a three-day weekend and spent basically all day Friday grading. Because I know how to have fun.

The good news is that I made a very significant dent in the grading. The bad news is that I am still not done.

Still. Not. Done.  The stack on the right is what I finished. The stack on the left is what I still have left to do.
Still. Not. Done.
The stack on the right is what I finished. The stack on the left is what I still have left to do.

Anyway, I’m taking Saturday and Sunday off from grading and hoping, hoping, hoping that next week will be more conducive to making even more of a dent in that left pile. The dream is that I’ll be finished with it completely by Friday. (That is the dream.)

We’ll see how it goes. I mean, I would really love to be able to watch some TV shows as they air this week. Or even one! That would be nice.

So, this still counts as a post for the week, even if it is slightly off-topic.

Top Ten Books for Readers Who Like Character Driven Novels

“…everybody, every single person has a story to tell. Every single ordinary person has an extraordinary story. We might all think that we are unremarkable, that our lives are boring, just because we aren’t doing ground-breaking things or making headlines or winning awards. But the truth is we all do something that is fascinating, that is brave, that is something we should be proud of. Every day people do things that are not celebrated. That is what we should be writing about.”  — from One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern

Character driven novels are my FAVORITE, so this week’s Top Ten Tuesday is speaking to my soul. Links go to my reviews, either here or on Goodreads.

1. Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King — Vera’s relationships with her dad and Charlie drive this novel. Such a great look at friendship and secrets.

2. Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice — This is a story about an adult child of an alcoholic who moves back home and attempts to have a relationship with her mother. Not that I could relate to it or anything.

3. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones — Awesome characters. AWESOME CHARACTERS. I mean, even the worst of them is sympathetic.

4. Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr — Oh, this book is so honest and heartbreaking. All about family and forgiveness.

5. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen — It’s hard to pick a favorite Dessen, but I really related to main character Remy, so this one gets my vote. (Dreamland is probably her best, though.)

6. Sharing Sam by Katherine Applegate — This is one of my favorite books of all time, and it centers on a girl who is falling in love with the boy her best friend has a crush on while said best friend is dying.

7. Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger — The story of Samar, a girl who has to confront her Indian heritage five days after the September 11th attacks when her turbaned, Sikh uncle shows up on her doorstep.

8. Getting Over Garrett Delaney by Abby McDonald — Main character Sadie finds herself after realizing her crush on best friend Garrett will never come to fruition.

9. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby — I loved this story about lonely people finding each other.

10. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green — This one is all about what drives a Jewish girl in America during WWII to decide to help a German POW escape.

I think what I love so much about character driven stories is that they’re about ordinary people. I’m not really big on Chosen One stories or Extraordinary Individual stories because most of us are just ordinary and going about our day to day lives. Things shake them up, yes, but thinking about how we interact with our families and what our relationships say about us is what I really love to read.

(And, yes, I know that extraordinary individuals are usually just regular people, but stories about them become so much more than that.) (I have a whole rant in me about black biopics and how they send the message that regular black folks don’t have great stories, too, but just thinking about it exhausts me. So if you want to know what I mean by extraordinary individuals, that’s what I mean–that somehow you have to be special to have a story told about you.)