Joining the growing roster of children’s books to be adapted to the small screen is Chris Grabenstein’s middle grade novel Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, which will premiere on Nickelodeon as an original TV movie on October 9. The movie stars Breanna Yde (Nickelodeon’s School of Rock), Casey Simpson (Nicky, Ricky, Dicky Dawn), and Russell Roberts (Twilight Saga: New Moon), and was directed by Scott McAboy (Rufus-2).
The fantasy caper takes place in a maze-like town library created by the brilliant game designer Luigi Lemoncello (Roberts). A la Willy Wonka, Lemoncello invites a group of sixth graders, including Kyle Keeley (Simpson) and his best friend Akimi (Yde), to spend the night in the uber high-tech library. The overnight guests must work together to find an escape route from the library—a task that becomes especially harrowing when fantasy book characters step out of the books and begin roaming the stacks.
Grabenstein’s novel was published in 2013 by Random House and was followed by a sequel—Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics. The series has sold a combined 1 million copies across print, audio, and ebook formats.
Grabenstein spoke about the project with PW and the experience of seeing the book adapted to screen. “I think they have done a fantastic job of making Mr. Lemoncello’s incredibly wondrous library spring to life,” he said. “I also think it will get a lot of young readers excited about visiting libraries. When you put books and imaginations together, anything is possible.”
Grabenstein’s appreciation for the value of libraries actually developed during a period in his early childhood when he didn’t have access to many books. His family had relocated from Buffalo, N.Y., where he had fallen in love with picture books, to a small Tennessee town: “It would now be called a ‘book desert.’ We really didn’t have a public library,” he said, and in the fifth and sixth grades, he and his classmates weren’t encouraged to read books. Luckily, that dearth of books at a critical juncture in his life led Grabenstein to seek them out—and eventually write them himself.
As an adult, after publishing his first books and meeting many inspiring librarians whose missions are to make reading fun and inviting for kids, the idea for Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library began to take shape: “The book was created as a celebration of the librarians who are putting the right books into the hands of the right kids.”
While researching Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Grabenstein discovered an unexpected bonus: “I got to do some serious remedial reading and catch up on all the books I might have read when I was younger,” he said.
As Mr. Lemoncello makes its screen debut, there is also some book news. Random will publish Grabenstein’s third Lemoncello book, Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race, on October 10; a movie tie-in edition of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library released earlier this month. “I think the movie, and the new cover featuring the Nick stars, might bring new readers to the series, which has been a constant hit with what are sometimes called ‘reluctant readers,’ ” Grabenstein said. He has a different description for such readers: “I call them super critical readers who know what they like!”