The Island of Dr. Libris
Random House, 2015 256 pgs.
Billy is stranded for the summer in a technology-free cabin on a lake owned by his mom's colleague, the Dr. Libris of the title. He is entering the summer with a bad attitude, caused by a suspicion of the demise of his parent's marriage, and then things get worse when his iPhone dies. After a mysterious scavenger hunt for a hidden key to a locked bookshelf reveals access to shelves of classics, Billy digs in out of sheer boredom. A row out to the island in the center of the lake, a supposed bird sanctuary, offers an unexpected surprise. When Billy reads about Hercules, the legendary hero comes to life. This is shortly followed by Robin Hood and the Three Musketeers. His nerdy next-door neighbor, Walter, joins the fun and together the boys read up Tom Sawyer, Pollyanna, and Jack and the Beanstalk. Needless to say, not all of the characters get along and the boys have to do some quick thinking and problem solving to keep the peace. Even the local bully is dragged into the adventure to help the boys combat a video game character come to life. Meanwhile, the island is rigged as an experiment of Dr. Libris who intends to cash in on his invention of making fiction reality, yet he depends on an imagination as rich as Billy's. Once Billy learns the truth will he work with Dr. Libris and help him to get rich? When Billy's father visits the small family how can out hero use his new-found talents to help his parents remember that they love each other? Most of all, how can Billy keep the characters under control?
Chris Grabenstein is a librarian's best friend. He writes adventurous books full of the stuff kid's dream about, all while promoting reading and exposing young people to great works of literature. I love his Mr. Lemoncello books and have used them extensively in library programming. This story also boasts amazing library potential. It is a perfect summer read and I will incorporate it into next summer's reading club. Readers will appreciate the literary references and pro-reading agenda, while non-readers will appreciate the fast-paced and fresh plot, full of imagination and cool situations. The fantasy is believable and takes place to regular kids in the present world, making the story feel like it could really happen. Billy has a summer most kids dream about: freedom, adventure and a new friend. He learns to survive without technology and even thrives in it's absence. The one dark spot on Billy's summer is the break up of his parents marriage. This dilemma Billy solves magically and unrealistically, but readers won't care. They will love that Billy can control a situation that many children face and have no power over. This book is reminiscent of Inkheart, though at a slightly lower level, or one of my favorite books that is much less known: Travel Far, Pay no Fare by Anne Lindbergh. Many reference are made to classic books, including this book itself which is loosely based on H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau. All the books referenced are listed in an author's note in the back. The Island of Dr. Libris will inspire readers to ponder who they would read out of literature if given the chance.