Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Island of Dr. Libris

The Island of Dr. Libris
by Chris Grabenstein
Recommended Ages: 11+

Billy Gillfoyle thinks the reason he has to spend a summer in a log cabin on a lake with no TV or computer games, is that his parents' marriage is falling apart, and neither of them has much time for him while his father stays in the city writing TV commercials, and his mother hunkers down over her doctoral dissertation on the mathematics of parallel universes. Little does Billy know that the cabin's owner, a certain Dr. X. Libris, has set it all up to test a secret project he hopes will make him filthy rich. The key to the test is a kid, like Billy, with a really powerful imagination.

Resigning himself to a choice between going outdoors to be bullied by the kid next door, or sitting in the cabin's library reading books marked "Ex Libris X. Libris," Billy opts for the latter. But almost immediately, he makes a weird discovery: whatever story he reads, starts coming to life on the island in the middle of the lake. He reads about Hercules fighting the giant Antaeus, and the sounds of their battle reach his window. He switches to a book about Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and the Sheriff of Nottingham, and they too materialize. With each book he opens, a new set of characters and situations is added to the increasingly complex mash-up of children's classics, from "Jack and the Beanstalk" to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. And when it comes to actual visitors to the island, the effect isn't limited to books Billy reads. The bully next door brings with him the villainous Space Lizard, from a series of ultra-violent comic books and video games. Meanwhile Walter, the nice kid next door in the other direction, introduces characters from a fantasy playing-card game. Soon D'Artagnan and the Three Musketeers are taking sides against Robin Hood and Hercules, while a school-bus-sized monster from a Jules Verne novel terrorizes them all.

Pulling together a happily-ever-after for these fictional characters becomes the least of Billy's problems, compared to saving his fracturing family. Luckily, it turns out his "magic mind" doesn't need any help from technology. For him, it's all about putting his imagination to use. He does it in a book full of goofy surprises, bizarre juxtapositions, unconventional solutions to weird problems, and (I trust) a deliberately silly send-up of the way characters in Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood speak; a book that ends with a list of other books referenced in it, which could also serve as a summer reading list for kids whose imagination needs material to work with.

Writing on his own, Chris Grabenstein is mostly known for writing adult thrillers, such as the "John Ceepak" and "Christopher Miller" series. As a writer of young-adult fiction, he mostly collaborates with fellow thriller maven James Patterson, producing such series as "I Funny," "Riley Mack," "Daniel X," "House of Robots," and "Treasure Hunters," among other titles. But even after admitting this, his long list of credits includes plenty of solo work in the Y.A. catalog, including Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library and its sequel Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics, the "Haunted Mystery" quartet (beginning with The Crossroads), and The Explorers' Gate, a magical adventure in Central Park.

No comments: