For Ages
8 to 12

Mr. Lemoncello's Very First Game is a part of the Mr. Lemoncello's Library collection.

Before Mr. Lemoncello became everyone's favorite game maker, he was a kid who liked to roll the dice. . . .

Discover the origins of what James Patterson calls "the coolest library in the world" in this PREQUEL to the New York Times bestselling Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

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 solve the hidden puzzle inside?!

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

An Excerpt fromMr. Lemoncello's Very First Game


It was the summer that changed Luigi L. Lemoncello’s life.

Which, of course, led to millions of other lives being changed. The events of that long-­ago summer gave rise to families made closer by games played late into the night or on rainy vacation days. It also ushered in a magical factory, a spectacularly futuristic library, dazzling contests, an unquenchable quest for knowledge, stupendous surprises, and fantastic fun unlike any the world had ever seen or experienced.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

In 1968, Luigi had just turned thirteen. He was the sixth of the ten Lemoncello children. His older brothers and sisters were all super-­serious, super-­talented, straight-­A students. Luigi, on the other hand, loved making up stories. He loved solving puzzles. And he really, really loved playing games.

Everyone said he was, well, different. Maybe even peculiar. Definitely odd.

On weekends, Luigi’s father ran the projector at the Willoughby Bijou Theater on Main Street in Alexandriaville, Ohio. Whenever there was a Saturday matinee for kids, Mr. Lemoncello would sneak his children up to the projection booth with him.

It was the only way the whole family could afford to see movies.

For free.

The Lemoncello kids would take turns peering through the small window next to the clacking movie projector. They’d each watch for a few minutes and then tell their brothers and sisters what had happened.

“The millionaire was boxing with the bad guy,” Luigi said after his turn at the window.

And then he added his own spin.

“That’s when a kangaroo hopped into the ring!” he told his brothers and sisters.

“A kangaroo?” exclaimed the youngest Lemoncello, Sofia.

“Oh yes. And the kangaroo can really sing!”

Luigi’s sixteen-­year-­old brother, Fabio, motioned for Luigi to step aside. “It’s my turn. You’re being goofy.”

“No,” said Sofia. “Let Luigi go again. He tells the best movies.”

But Fabio wasn’t about to give up his turn.

“Okay, now the guy who loves cars is singing a song about Detroit. . . .”

Luigi pressed his ear to the wall.


The movie soundtrack warbled to a stop.

The Lemoncello kids, their eyes wide, swiveled to face their father.

“The projector’s jammed,” said Luigi’s father with a frustrated sigh. “I told Mr. Willoughby we should replace this clunker. Stand back, everybody. I need to make a splice.”

Mr. Lemoncello was very handy and could fix almost anything. He flicked up some light switches, shut down the clattering mechanical monster, and pulled both ends of the filmstrip out of its feed sprockets.

While his father wrestled with the two enormous film reels, Luigi heard the audience downstairs. They were chanting and stomping their feet.

“We want the movie!”

“We want the movie!”

Kids hurled boxes of popcorn. Sugar Babies and Sno-­Caps bounced around the auditorium like spitballs.

“Go down and tell them about the singing kangaroo,” Sofia urged Luigi.


Luigi was used to telling his family stories. And his friends. Sometimes the kids at school.

But an auditorium filled with strangers?

“Go,” said Sofia. “Hurry!”

“No!” hissed Luigi’s oldest sister (and harshest critic), Mary. “Don’t you dare embarrass us.”

The crowd below was chanting louder. Their foot stomps became a thundering herd of cattle. Mr. Lemoncello was nimble and quick with his hands, but he needed more time.

“We want the movie!”

“We want the movie!”

Luigi looked over to Sofia.

She smiled. “You can do it!”

Luigi raced down the steep staircase from the projection booth, tore across the lobby, and slammed through the swinging double doors into the auditorium.

The theater was dim, but Luigi saw a soft circle of light pooling on the empty screen.

He ran down the center aisle.

Took a deep breath.

And stepped into the faint spotlight.

This was soooo different from telling his little sister a funny story. He could barely see kids in the seats, just their hazy silhouettes.

“Um, good afternoon, boys and girls,” he began.

The kid shapes squirmed. They seemed annoyed or bored or both.

Luigi looked up to the projection booth. Sofia was in the window, smiling down at him.

He had to do . . . something.

“Uh, I bet you’re all wondering what happens next!”

“Yeah!” yelled a voice from the darkness.

“Well, um, as they drive to Detroit, a big wind kicks up, and all of a sudden their car can fly—­just like in The Absent-­Minded Professor! They sail through the clouds and—­”


A half-­empty Pepsi cup smacked Luigi in the face. Sticky brown syrup dribbled down his nose.

“Sit down, weirdo,” shouted a blond boy in the middle of the auditorium. He looked to be about fifteen.

The girl next to him squirmed in her seat. “Leave the kid alone, Chad.”

Luigi figured he had two choices. He could run away, or he could stay and try to change the story he was suddenly starring in. Maybe even make it funny.

“Now, then,” he said, comically wiping his face the way he’d seen the Three Stooges do after being clobbered by banana cream pies. “Where was I?”

“Blocking the screen!” shouted the guy named Chad. “Who do you think you are, anyhow?”

Good question, thought Luigi. Who was he?

“Uh, nobody, really.”

“Well, do you know who I am?”

“The Mad Pepsi Bomber?”

The crowd laughed.

“No, weirdo. I’m Chad Chiltington. And my best friend is Jimmy Willoughby. His old man owns this movie theater. How’d you sneak in here? You don’t look like you could afford to buy a ticket. I’m going to report you to Mr. Willoughby!”

Uh-­oh! thought Luigi. If Chad Chiltington did that, Luigi’s father could lose his projectionist job.

“I’m sorry. I was just trying to—­”

Suddenly, light flickered on the screen, warbly music slid up to speed, and the movie started. His dad had saved the day. The kids in the auditorium cheered. Chad Chiltington draped his arm over his girlfriend’s shoulders. He also snagged her Pepsi cup, since he didn’t have one anymore.

He had forgotten all about Luigi Lemoncello.

Well, Luigi sure hoped he had.

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