Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ex Libris: The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein

Prepared by Dr. Xiang Libris, PhD., DLit.

I am thrilled to report that after an exhaustive search, I have found the ideal subject for our first field test, which will commence as soon as Billy G., a twelve-year-old male with a very vivid imagination arrives on-site.

His mother will be busy. His father will be away. He will be bored. In short, Billy G. will be perfect.

When his mom informs him that she needs some time away from his dad, Billy's internal alarms start to go off. And when they arrive at their lake cottage, loaned for the summer by her mathematical mentor, Dr. Libris, the situation goes from worrying to wretched. The cottage is nice enough, with a log cabin exterior and a modern interior, but Billy is not fond of aquatic activities and the place is strictly lacking in digital attractions.

It was pretty much a bust.

No TV, DVD layer, or XBox. No computer whatsoever.

There was, however, a framed needlework sampler on the wall.

A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.
--Carl Sagan

Billy is also a bit spooked by the security cameras everywhere, even in his bedroom. He tosses his unwanted swimsuit over it and heads outside to look around, stuffing his iPhone in his pocket.

Bad moves. In short order, Billy meets another summer kid, the wimpy Walter, drops and breaks his phone, and meets up with the island's own bully, Nick Farkas, and his two henchmen. Spotting some Space Lizard comics in Nick's bike basket, Billy experiences a brief moment of hope that he'll be invited to play the video game with Nick's crew, but Farkas quickly disabuses him of that idea. His parents are breaking up, his summer is a bummer, and the local bully is itching to beat him up. Great.

But curiosity wins out, and when Billy explores the cabin's lower floor, he finds a strange library, with many familiar books locked behind glass doors. No key is in evidence, but there is a riddle, which Billy quickly solves, and he locates the key in record time. He takes down a book, the Labors of Hercules, and smiles at the bookplate inside:


Dr. Libris may be a weird guy, but he does have a sense of humor.

Billy starts to read about Hercules' challenge of Antaeus and realizes he's hearing yelling and curses coming from somewhere. It's outside, and when he leaves the cabin, he realizes that it's coming from the island in the center of the lake, the location of Dr. Libris' fortress-like study. Billy can't believe his eyes. The two combatants seem to be Hercules and Antaeus. After a bad night of mythic dreams, Billy resolves to try a more sedate book. Mom recommends her favorite, The Adventures of Robin Hood (Puffin Classics). But when his curiosity overwhelms him, he gives in and decides to row over to Dr. Libris' island.

And what he finds there is indeed a world ex libris, a world populated by Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Hercules shows up, and after a bit of combat with Robin, capitulates and squeezes into what seems to be Little John's old uniform to become one of Robin's "Merry Persons." In short order, Walter has to see what's going on and joins Billy in the mixed company of Poseidon, Pollyanna, Tom Sawyer, Jack and his Beanstalk Giant, even The Three Musketeers and assorted literary monsters, including even the Space Lizard of comic book fame. Things are looking quite Grimm for Billy, Walter, and their fictional friends.

How could he defeat the Space Lizard? Even Hercules was not strong enough.

"Ho, lads and lassies!" said Robin Hood. "All is not lost."

"I'm not Little John, or you, Maid Marian. I'm not a hero. I'm just a kid who can't even save his own family...."

"Nonsense," said Maid Marian.

"Each of us can choose what or who we shall be. We write our own stories every day."

And with a little help from the formidable Nick Farkas' Space Lizard Cheat Sheet and Jules Verne's time machine, Billy does it all, managing the monsters and even arranging a quick trip for his parents back in time to the day they first fell in love, in Chris Grabenstein's newest literary romp, The Island of Dr. Libris (Random House, 2015), working with references and classical characters from One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (I Can Read It All by Myself) to To Kill a Mockingbird, from The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again to Holes.

With a breezy, spoofy style that goes down easily for summer reading and with a promising premise that kids can choose how they help write their own life stories, Grabenstein works fifty famous novels (titles appended), into this book-boosting novel, which joins his freewheeling fantasy best-seller from last summer, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library.

Chris Grabenstein polished his literary acumen on his many middle reader mysteries and his comedy chops as co-author of James Patterson's I Funny series.

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