Mr. Lemoncello’s Very First Game


New York Times Bestselling Series

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
Middle Grade (8-12)
Random House, 2023

ISBN: 9780593480854


Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

Mr. Lemoncello’s Very First Game


New York Times Bestselling Series


2024-2025 Young Hoosier Book Award Nominee • A Triple Crown Awards Nominee • The Children’s Books Committee of Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Books of 2023 • Amazon’s Best Children’s book of 2022 (ages 9-12) • Common Sense Selection


Go back to the START and meet thirteen-year-old, PUZZLE-obsessed Luigi Lemoncello!

Luigi has a knack for games and puzzles. But sometimes it feels like the cards are stacked against him. UNTIL a carnival arrives in town and Luigi gets the CHANCE OF A LIFETIME—the opportunity to work for the world famous Professor Marvelmous—a dazzling, banana-hat-wearing barker who puts the SHOW in SHOWMAN! When the carnival closes, Professor Marvelmous leaves behind a mysterious puzzle box along with a clue. A clue that will lead Luigi and his friends on a fantastical treasure hunt to a prize beyond anything they could imagine—if they can find it!

Can Luigi crack the codes and unlock the box’s secrets? Will there be puzzles? Of course! Balloons? You bet! Will it be fun? Hello! It’s a Lemon-cello! BONUS! Can YOU crack the hidden puzzle inside?!


“An awesometastic lead-in likely to inspire a wave of revisits to the earlier books.”
—Booklist, starred review

—Kirkus Reviews

“Chris Grabenstein’s origin story of his bestselling series’ wacky gamesmeister is long on laughs, heart, puzzles, codes, and unexpected plot developments.”
—Common Sense Media


Download the School & Library Brochure with activities


How did Chris Grabenstein find the emotional heart of Mr. Lemoncello’s Very First Game?

When I am writing for Middle Grade readers, I try to remember how I felt (not what I did) when I was in Junior High School, which is what they used to call middle schools back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

I often flip through my Jr. High yearbook to find photos that help me feel the feelings I felt when I was 12 or 13. These are the yearbook pictures that led me to the emotional heart of Mr. Lemoncello’s Very First Game, Mr. Lemoncello’s origin story, which takes place in the summer he turns 13.

The accepted way to be cool when I was 13 was to play sports. My father really wanted me to be a football star. I even took his old jersey number—11. There was only one problem. I was the worst athlete to ever set foot inside a middle school. Or any school, really. That look on my face? I know I don’t belong with that team.

But, when I was 13 I also had three solid years of reading MAD magazine under my belt. I discovered that I really liked fooling around with words and making readers laugh. I joined the Junior High School newspaper staff. The faculty advisor Mrs. Garrett encouraged my silliness. I even wrote a parody advice column called Dear Gertrude.

Mrs. Garrett was also my 7th grade English teacher. One day, she scribbled these encouraging words in the margins of one of my homework papers: “You will make your living as a writer someday.”

She was the mentor who helped me find my path in life, which was pretty much set after Mrs. Garrett gave me that margin scribble. In the new LEMONCELLO book, Luigi is lucky enough to find a mentor who points him in the right direction, too. And yes, that’s my 13-year-old happy face in the Newspaper Staff photo because, with help, I’d found my happy place.

By the way, Mr. Lemoncello’s All Star Breakout Game, the 4th book in the Lemoncello series, is dedicated to my seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. June P. Garrett.

Hear the Songs from 1968 Mentioned in Mr. Lemoncello’s Very First Game!

Here’s a playlist of the five songs mentioned in the prequel.

Chris had fun writing the WALX scenes because he worked his way through college as a disc jockey at a Rock ’n Roll radio station in Knoxville, Tennessee called W-149.

Take a listen to Chris on the air back in the day…