Read an Excerpt
Just about every kid in America wished they could be Kyle Keeley.
Especially when he zoomed across their TV screens as a flaming squirrel in a holiday commercial for Squirrel Squad Six, the hysterically crazy new Lemoncello video game.
Kyle’s friends Akimi Hughes and Sierra Russell were also in that commercial. They thumbed controllers and tried to blast Kyle out of the sky. He dodged every rubber band, coconut custard pie, mud clod, and wadded-up sock ball they flung his way.
It was awesome.
In the commercial for Mr. Lemoncello’s See Ya, Wouldn’t Want to Be Ya board game, Kyle starred as the yellow pawn. His head became the bubble tip at the top of the playing piece. Kyle’s buddy Miguel Fernandez was the green pawn. Kyle and Miguel slid around the life-size game like hockey pucks. When Miguel landed on the same square as Kyle, that meant Kyle’s pawn had to be bumped back to the starting line.
“See ya!” shouted Miguel. “Wouldn’t want to be ya!”
Kyle was yanked up off the ground by a hidden cable and hurled backward, soaring above the board.
It was also awesome.
But Kyle’s absolute favorite starring role was in the commercial for Mr. Lemoncello’s You Seriously Can’t Say That game, where the object was to get your teammates to guess the word on your card without using any of the forbidden words listed on the same card.
Akimi, Sierra, Miguel, and the perpetually perky Haley Daley sat on a circular couch and played the guessers. Kyle stood in front of them as the clue giver.
“Salsa,” said Kyle.
“Nachos!” said Akimi.
A buzzer sounded. Akimi’s guess was wrong.
Kyle tried again. “Horseradish sauce!”
“Something nobody ever eats,” said Haley.
Kyle goofed up and said one of the forbidden words: “Ketchup!”
SPLAT! Fifty gallons of syrupy, goopy tomato sauce slimed him from above. It oozed down his face and drib- bled off his ears.
Everybody laughed. So Kyle, who loved being the class clown almost as much as he loved playing (and winning) Mr. Lemoncello’s wacky games, went ahead and read the whole list of banned words as quickly as he could.
SQUOOSH! He was drenched by buckets of yellow glop, white sludge, and chunky green gunk. The slop slid along his sleeves, trickled into his pants, and puddled on the floor.
His four friends busted a gut laughing at Kyle, who was soaked in more “condiments” (the word on his card) than a mile-long hot dog.
“Was it fun?” boomed an off-camera announcer.
“Fun?” answered Haley. “Hello? It’s a Lemoncello!”
That’s how all the commercials ended, with Haley saying the slogan “Hello? It’s a Lemoncello!” She became a TV superstar. People all across America wished they could be Haley Daley, too. Except, of course, for the kids who were extremely jealous of her and wondered why she, Kyle Keeley, Akimi Hughes, Sierra Russell, and Miguel Fernandez had been chosen to star in Mr. Lemoncello’s holiday commercials.
When they found out that becoming famous TV stars was the prize the five kids had won in a game played at Mr. Lemoncello’s incredible new library in Alexandriaville, Ohio—a game they hadn’t been invited to play—they started demanding a rematch.
Charles Chiltington sat in his family’s home theater watching his classmate Kyle Keeley rocket across a seventy-inch plasma-screen TV.
It was the worst Christmas vacation of his life.
For over a month, whenever he clicked on the television, Charles was forced to look at the five cheaters who, six months earlier, had robbed him of his rightful prize.
In that night’s Lemoncello commercial, Keeley—the ringleader of the group that had “defeated” Charles in the Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library game—looked ridiculous dressed up in goofy goggles like a flying squirrel. But Keeley was obviously having a grand time starring in the commercial.
A commercial Charles should’ve starred in.
Keeley had needed four teammates to best Charles in the past June’s escape game, which was played inside the silly game maker’s even sillier new library on its opening weekend.
Keeley had also needed Mr. Lemoncello’s help to win. At the very last second, just as Charles was nearing victory, the batty billionaire disqualified him on a trumped-up technicality. Keeley and his cronies went on to win the game and the grand prize.
Charles, on the other hand, went home to hear what a disappointment he was to his father.
Because Chiltingtons never lose.
Especially not to ordinary nobodies like Kyle Keeley.
For six months, Charles had been plotting his revenge on Keeley and his teammates: smart aleck Akimi Hughes, library geek Miguel Fernandez, bookworm Sierra Russell, and most especially turncoat traitor Haley Daley, who had been on Charles’s team with Andrew Peckleman until she deserted them to join Team Kyle.
“Mr. Lemoncello robbed me,” Charles muttered miserably. “They should shut down his ludicrous library.”
He’d been miserably muttering the same thing ever since the Lemoncello holiday commercials started airing. But for some reason, watching this annoying squirrel commercial made a new thought bubble up inside his brain.
He pushed the pause button on the DVR remote.
They should shut down Mr. Lemoncello.
That was a better idea.
The good citizens of Alexandriaville, Ohio, should not allow the demented Mr. Lemoncello to continue to control what went on inside their new public library.
Yes! His mind started whirring. That was the perfect angle. A public campaign to wrench control of the library away from the dangerous lunatic Luigi Lemoncello.
And Charles knew just who should lead the charge.
She had a long history of championing public causes.
When he was in kindergarten, she had led the Anti-Cupcake Crusade, because Charles liked brownies better. When he was in third grade, his mother had made certain that the teacher who dared give Charles a B on his papier-mâché volcano was fired. And in fourth grade, she had yanked him out of Chumley Prep (and cut off their endowment) when the private school had the nerve to hire a history teacher who celebrated International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
Plus, Charles’s mother did not particularly care for what Mr. Lemoncello was doing inside his zany library.
“Too much sizzle, not enough steak,” she’d complained to friends in her bridge club. “They also lend out too many of the wrong sort of books.”
Wheels were spinning inside Charles’s head as he plotted his next moves.
With just the slightest nudge, taking the “Lemoncello” out of the Lemoncello Library would become his mother’s next great cause. He was certain of it.
“Mummy?” he called out in his best your-little-boy-has-a-boo-boo voice.
When no one answered, he did it again. Louder. “Mummy! Make it go away! I’m being traumatized! Mummy!”
His mother bustled into the TV room. “Charles, darling? What’s the matter?”
Charles pointed a trembling finger at the TV screen. “Mr. Lemoncello. Make him go away. His library is a pet- rifying place full of cheaters!”
“I know, dear, but there’s nothing . . .”
Charles started blubbering. “He cheated me, Mummy.
He robbed me!”
“Yes, honey . . .”
It was time to pull out the heavy artillery.
“He lowered my self-esteem! I feel like such a failure!” He sniffled. “Because of Mr. Lemoncello, I may never go to college!”
His mother’s face turned ghostly white. Score!
“Hush now. Mummy’s here. Everything will be all right.”
She hugged him tightly. Charles grinned.
Mr. Lemoncello was toast.
Burnt toast with toe-jam jelly on top.
With school out for the winter holidays, Kyle and his friends were spending a lot of time hanging out downtown at the Lemoncello Library, where, because of their celebrity status, every day was a cake day.
Cake days were a Keeley family tradition. Whenever one of them did something spectacular—like his brother Mike winning a football game (again) or his other brother, Curtis, getting straight A’s (again)—Kyle’s mom baked a cake.
Ever since Kyle and his teammates had won the escape game, every day had felt that way. Cakey.
“You’re the dude from the commercial!” at least a dozen kids said to Kyle as he strolled through the Rotunda Reading Room.
He gave them each a jaunty two-finger salute. He’d seen movie stars do the same kind of salute on TV.
“Can I have your autograph?” said a little girl.
“Sure. Here you go.”
Kyle still signed each and every autograph individually.
His best friend, Akimi, on the other hand, passed out preprinted signature cards. “It’s faster that way,” she said.
“Hi, Kyle!” Sierra was curled up in one of the cozy chairs near the three-story-tall wall of fiction. She was reading a book, of course. Her gaze was far-off and dreamy, because when Sierra Russell was into a book, she was totally into it. She practically crawled between the covers to live with the characters.
“Hey,” said Kyle. “What’re you reading?”
“Actually, I’m rereading Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. It’s my favorite.”
“Have you ever read it?”
“Not yet. But it’s on my list.”
Sierra laughed. Probably because Kyle Keeley had the longest to-be-read list of any kid in the country.
“There’s another copy on the shelf,” said Sierra. “That’s okay. I’m meeting Akimi and Miguel upstairs in the Electronic Learning Center. Mr. Lemoncello just installed a new educational video game: Charlemagne’s Chivalry. I think it’s about the Knights of the Round Table.”
“Um, Kyle? Charlemagne was the Holy Roman Emperor. King Arthur had the round table—in England.”
“See? You can learn something new every day. Catch you later, Sierra. Don’t want to keep Charlemagne or King Arthur waiting.”
Kyle bounded up the spiral staircase to the third floor, signing autographs and posing for selfies with fans along the way.
He passed through the two very thick sliding glass doors that stopped the wild sounds of the Electronic Learning Center from leaking out into the rest of the building.
Once he was inside the arcade, Kyle’s ears were bombarded by the blare, buzz, and bells of three dozen educational video games. His nose was blasted, too. A lot of the games in the ELC were equipped with Mr. Lemoncello’s newest sensation, smell-a-vision, including one where you were a royal rat with body-odor issues, swimming through English history via the sewers of London.
“I’m sorry, I can’t sign another autograph or my hand will fall off,” said Haley Daley, who was holding court near the Cleopatra: Queen of the Nile game console.
Kyle didn’t play that one too much, because Haley Daley always outscored him. She knew the trick for summoning crocodiles up from the Nile.
“Kyle?” Haley waved at him. “You got a second?”
“I’m supposed to meet—”
“This is super important.”
Kyle made his way to Haley.
“I’m moving!” she said.
“Hello? Do you know how many offers I’ve had since I starred in those commercials for Mr. Lemoncello?”
“Actually, we all kind of starred in—”
“Hundreds. Maybe thousands. So my whole family’s going to Hollywood. My dad found a new job in L.A. Plus, my agent is already booking guest spots for me on the Disney Channel.”
“Awesome,” said Kyle.
Haley Daley and her family had needed the money that came with winning the library escape game more than any other player had. It sounded like Mr. Lemoncello’s generosity had really turned things around for them.
“I just wanted to say goodbye. And thanks, Kyle.”
“Hey, it was a team effort. We won it together.”
“Whatever. I gotta go. Need to pick out a new pair of sunglasses.”
Haley dramatically waved goodbye to Kyle and all her adoring fans as she traipsed out of the Electronic Learning Center. She did that dramatically, too.
“Yo, Kyle? We need a little help over here, bro! Like now.”
Miguel and Akimi were on the far side of the Electronic Learning Center playing Charlemagne’s Chivalry. Miguel had the stubby controller rod gripped in front of his chest, wielding it like a lightsaber.
Kyle hustled across the noisy room.
“Charlemagne needs a champion,” explained Akimi. “Someone who will defend the weak and defenseless, fight for what’s right, yadda yadda. The game is based on the ancient code of chivalry.”
“I’m kind of stuck,” said Miguel, fending off a fiery dragon with his virtual sword swishes.
“And I’m kind of bored,” said Akimi. “See you two later.”
Kyle turned to Miguel. “What are your options?”
“Slay the dragon or go feed the hungry peasants.”
“No contest. Slay the dragon.”
“Definitely. If you don’t, the dragon will kill the peasants. You slay the dragon, the peasants will rejoice. Peasants always love dragon slayers.”
“Okay. If you say so.”
Miguel thrust his imaginary sword forward. His on-screen knight pierced the dragon’s hide with his steel blade.
The animated dragon fizzled out a geyser of gas and shriveled into a heap of crinkled plastic.
“Aw, man. It wasn’t a real dragon. It was a big balloon. Like in the Macy’s parade . . .”
A swarm of peasants armed with pitchforks stormed across the screen. They attacked Miguel’s knight.
“Why didst thou not bringeth us food?” screamed the leader of the peasant army. “Death to the selfish, unchivalrous knave!”
Kyle heard the unmistakable BLOOP-BLOOP-BLOOP sound of video-game death. Miguel’s knight took a pitchfork in the butt and wilted into a heap of pixels.
“Okay,” said Kyle. “Now that we know what not to do, we’ll play again and win.”
“Why bother? We don’t need Charlemagne to tell us we’re champions. Am I right?”
Kyle grinned. “Totally.”
Then the two of them knocked knuckles and chanted the lyrics to their favorite classic-rock tune: “We are the champions, my friend. . . .”