I gave this one three stars on Goodreads because Lilah (age 9) loved the first one and was happy to return to some of the same characters. There’s also a plotline about banning books that, while simplistic, spurred a good conversation about censorship. But the sequel lacks the charm of the first book, has fewer puzzles to solve, and suffers from a less compelling plot, all of which makes the flat characters and lack of character development harder to ignore.

Kyle Keeley and his friends are enjoying the fame they attained in the first book, but all across the country, kids are complaining that it’s unfair and they could have done better. Mr. Lemoncello decides to organize the first Library Olympics to pit carefully selected students from various parts of the US against Kyle and his teammates in a series of challenges, with college tuition as an incentive to win. The most memorable competitor is Marjory Muldauer from the Midwest team, a snotty know-it-all with the Dewey Decimal System memorized, determined to take down Kyle and friends. Meanwhile, Charles Chiltington and his mother are trying to take control of the fantastic library and make it boring.

There are too many contestants (32) and too many games (12), and the fun is simply stretched to the breaking point. In the first book, Mr. Lemoncello is the Willy Wonka of books; in the second book, he was so over-the-top that he annoyed me (but not Lilah). The Olympics kicks off with a book cart relay race, which wasn’t particularly fun to read about, and progresses to a few interesting games along with others like paper airplane folding and video games that fell flat for me. A couple of the games are just summarized. Very few of the contestants have any real presence in the book, so I’m lost as to the reason for including so many. One character from the first book is abruptly removed. There are some ridiculous plot twists at the end to wrap things up neatly, if somewhat predictably. 

There is an emphasis on banned books and freedom of expression that partly overcomes these disappointments, however. And the portrayal of books and libraries as fun places is always a good thing. Lilah wants me to write that the book was really fun, and she’s in the age range for it, so perhaps I’m overly critical. But there are middle grade books I love reading aloud, and others I can’t wait to be done with, and this was the latter.

We will definitely be checking out Flora and Ulysses, which plays a prominent role in this book.

Source disclosure: This book was received as a gift.

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