Home Sweet Motel: Welcome to Wonderland, Book 1

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Home Sweet Motel: Welcome to Wonderland, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Lively mystery kicks off fun series about kitschy motel.

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Kids say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

A bit of history about Ponce de León, information about alligators, and explanation of concepts including caveat emptor, balloon payments, and zoo versus a sanctuary. Extras include two recipes, a quiz about Florida, and how to say "Help! The toilet is clogged!" in 21 languages.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about being responsible and making difficult but necessary choices. Celebrates entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity but shows it takes a lot of planning and hard work to polish an idea and bring it to life. Demonstrates how individual actions can affect others in ways you may not expect. Stories can have great power, but telling too many embellished tales makes it difficult for people to trust when you're telling the truth.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Smart, resourceful P.T. is brimming with optimism. He loves his family and his home and is willing to work hard to care for both. He shows a lot of respect for hardworking people at his motel and for his mother and grandfather. He uses his talent for storytelling to improve the motel and amuse friends, but sometimes he uses it to deceive people and get his friends to do his work for him. Gloria is smart and business-savvy. P.T.'s mom is hardworking and practical, and his grandfather is cheerful and creative.

Violence & Scariness

Several menacing characters, including thieves and a character who threatens kids with a gun, and dangerous animals.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Home Sweet Motel kicks off the Welcome to Wonderland series about an imaginative 11-year-old boy who lives in a down-on-its-luck motel run by his single mom and grandfather. Written by Chris Grabenstein (Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library), it's packed with humor and heart. P.T. doesn't know anything about his father but feels his absence keenly. Another character has a dead parent, and there's a backstory involving a character who died in prison. P.T. and his friend Gloria have some perilous encounters with two elderly criminals and a thuggish private investigator, but goofy touches keep these scenes more fun than frightening.

User Reviews

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Kid, 9 years old December 4, 2017

A Great New Book By One Of My Favorite Authors!

Chris Grabenstein did a wonderful job weaving an intricate mystery full of suspense and positive role models including P.T. and Gloria. Good for kids of almost... Continue reading

What's the story?

P.T. Wilkie, 11, has a knack for storytelling -- a gift he inherited from his grandfather, who built the Wonderland, which P.T. calls HOME SWEET MOTEL. When he learns that a looming mortgage payment could force his family to sell the Wonderland to a scheming developer, P.T. rolls up his sleeves and gets to work. He and Gloria, a young, business-savvy friend, come up with new attractions to lure paying guests. Two new guests, they soon realize, are actually jewel thieves whose stolen loot has been missing for more than 40 years. If Gloria and P.T. can find the jewels before the brothers do, they just might be able to save the motel.

Is it any good?

A warm but wacky setting, diverse and appealing characters, and a satisfying puzzle come together beautifully in this cheerful start to a new series from I Funny co-author Chris Grabenstein. Home Sweet Motel: Welcome to Wonderland has an old-fashioned charm with a cheeky, modern feel. Grabenstein pays homage to kitschy roadside Americana and winking hucksterism. Though a handful of cartoonish criminals slouch through the story, the real villain is the sneering, no-nonsense teacher Mr. Frumpkes.

P.T. and his family are close-knit and proud of what they've accomplished, kooky as it may appear to others. Aspiring entrepreneurs will appreciate P.T.'s ability to sell a good story and the business lessons he and Gloria learn (including the need for a steady flow of new ideas and the fact that businesses have neighbors, too). Plentiful illustrations by Brooke Allen (Lumberjanes) woven into the story add to the fun.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about tall tales in Home Sweet Motel. P.T. spins some fantastic tales -- often to entertain, but sometimes to further his own goals. What's the difference between a lie and a tall tale? Are all of P.T.'s stories harmless?

  • P.T. says every story needs a plan. What does he mean by that?

  • P.T. and his grandfather focus on gimmicks to market their hotel. What kind of gimmicky attractions have you enjoyed visiting?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love humor

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