Children's Literature Bookshelf

Review: “Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics”

“Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics,” by Chris Grabenstein.
Random House, New York, 2016, 278 pages, Grades 4-6.

Public libraries have long been avenues for people to a world of learning and knowledge. In former times, public libraries were quiet environments where people quietly read and studied. Public libraries today continue to have areas for intense personal reading without interruption. However, they have many other electronic resources that change this traditional view of the libraries and their uses. Some areas in libraries are designed for people to talk and share ideas. These areas are usually separated from the quiet reading areas and serve the emerging needs of library users.

But certain issues like censorship continue to be problems for libraries. How do we balance the needs of so many diverse groups in a community? It isn’t easy. Chris Grabenstein has written an excellent sequel to his award-winning “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” addressing some of these concerns. With his usual deft touch, Grabenstein writes with flair, passion and humor. The name of this thoughtful book is “Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics.”

Kyle Keeley and his team of library sleuths are now famous. They won the first library contest of Mr. Lemoncello. Now they make television commercials for Mr. Lemoncello’s company and are becoming affluent. To their surprise, Mr. Lemoncello has decided to have a national Library Olympics. The prize for winning will be an all-expenses paid four year college scholarship. Kyle’s winning team will defend their victory in the library competition at the recently built public library in Alexandriaville, Ohio.

Soon a national competition is held and a total of seven teams from across the nation come to challenge the Ohio champions. A series of complicated library tests are soon arranged by Mr. Lemoncello.

Whichever team wins will be awarded the grand prize. Kyle Keely feels overwhelmed when he meets his competitors. One girl from Michigan, Marjory Muldauer, tells Kyle in a snarky voice that he and his team are going to lose to the Michigan team. The reason for this is that she is so gifted that no team can stand up to her. Well, she is brilliant and wins several of the challenges. But then things begin to happen.

One rich woman in town, Mrs. Susana Chiltington, dislikes the open-minded attitude Mr. Lemoncello has toward public libraries. She thinks the collection contains books that are not fit for reading and decided to ruin the library contest. To do this she must corrupt one of the child contestants.

But what is a little corruption when it can help make a better library with proper material? She approaches one of the girls and offers her the bribe. It seems simple and innocent enough. But is it? What happens next?

Does Marjory take the bribe? What can lying do to a competition? How do you unravel a deceitful situation and still maintain your own integrity? How do learning, books and libraries help people to live richer lives? To find out, go to the library and check out this humorous, thought-provoking book, “Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics” by Chris Grabenstein.

The questions raised in this book are complicated. The American Library Association’s (ALA) position on intellectual freedom is that virtually anything that is published should be protected. Followed to its logical end, public libraries should never criticize any position by any group. But is this position even tenable? With hate groups on the rise, should librarians never censor anything? 

As Christian educators and parents it is important to take a stand. We are the primary educators of our children and the traditional Judeo/Christian value system should be used as our norm, not those of the state or the American Library Association. (Truth in advertising, I am a longtime member of the ALA.)  Books advocating hate, demeaning sexuality, racism and issues like euthanasia should not be protected. But please do not go down to public libraries and start some witch hunt. As the famous German author Heinrich Heine stated: “Where they burn books they will in the end also burn people.” 

Grabenstein accurately portrays the narrowmindedness of many book censors and does so in a humorous fashion. His book is worth reading. But think and pray about these issues when you help your children select books and videos. It is our responsibility.

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Terrence Nollen

 

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