by Chris Grabenstein
First sentence: “Billy Gillfoyle’s dad shifted gears and gunned the engine.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It has a few big works, but there’s a lot of white space, short chapters, and quick pacing. Good for reluctant readers as well as the middle grade crowd. I’d give it to anyone 8 and up who’s interested. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.
I really REALLY loved Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library a couple of summers back. And so, I was really REALLY excited that Grabenstein was returning to a similar idea in this one. Anything that celebrates books and bookishness for kids (while making it kind of techy cool) is a win in my world.
Billy Gillfoyle’s parents are having issues and so he’s spending the summer out at a cabin by a lake with his mother that she has rented from a university colleague of hers. She’s going to write her dissertation, and he’s going to… explore the woods? Ugh. There’s no TV, no internet, and the next-door neighbor is a Mean Kid. This is going to be the Worst Summer Ever. Especially since there’s no cool books in the library of Dr. Libris (the colleague, whose first name is Xiang, so he can be X. Libris. Ha!), only old Classics. BORING.
But, when Billy begins reading, he hears weird things off in the distance, at the island in the middle of the lake. And when he goes to investigate, he discovers that the characters in the books have come to life! Not actors, not holograms, but real, live people who are interacting.
Cool so far, even though the “technology” behind the island is a bit squidgy and feels more like magic. (It’s supposed to be technology, but the science was so vague, I just considered it magic. I’ll be interested to see where it ends up during Cybils season.) I really liked seeing the classic characters come to life and I thought Grabenstein made them fresh and interesting for a new crowd. If I hadn’t already read The Three Musketeers or Robin Hood, I’d be tempted to pick them up.
But I didn’t utterly love the book, for one reason: there were no girls. Seriously. Maid Marion was there, a little tiny bit, being Robin Hood’s sidekick, but she really didn’t do anything. And Pollyanna was there, but she was mostly annoyingly cheerful (well, that’s to be expected) and served as a love interest. And Billy made a friend with his other next door neighbor (not the Mean Kid) and he had a younger sister, but her role was to 1) introduce Billy to her brother and 2) be annoying and mess up the island. And, yeah, there’s Billy’s mom, but she was barely there. It was a glaring hole. (As was the lack of diversity: all the classic characters were white, and the other characters were never really given physical features, so I suppose they could have been diverse, but it was never really defined as such.) I wish there had been more girls, stronger girls, more interesting girls.
I’ll still recommend it to kids, but I do wish it had been… more.