I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me want to read a book more than someone telling me I can’t or shouldn’t read it. Maybe this is why I love banned books so much. I just have to know what all the fuss is about! Today’s review is of the newly released Don’t Check Out This Book! by Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise from Algonquin Young Readers. The book is an illustrated novel for young readers in grades 3 through 7. As the title suggests, it’s all about fighting censorship and corruption.
This book hooked me right away with the title instructing readers not to check out/ read the book. Clearly, a strong message regarding censorship was tucked into the pages. It was an intriguing title, and it worked – I couldn’t wait to read it! I was also pleasantly surprised by the format. It is an epistolary novel told in letters, memos, emails, texts, and newspaper articles.
This story takes place in the small town of Appleton, Illinois. A town called Appleton – let the wordplay begin! There’s the local newspaper, The Daily Apple, bringing all the juiciest news, “even when it’s rotten to the core.” And the characters’ names in this book were simply perfection! There’s Cy Durr, who owns the local apple orchard, and his son, Reid Durr, who quickly becomes a fan of the new school library. There’s Ivana Beprawpa, the new school board president and owner of Beprawpa Attire, a shop in town selling formal wear like gloves, dresses, and tuxedos. There’s Penny Counter, a bank employee in charge of collecting on past due loans. There’s the school principal, Noah Memree, and yes, he has trouble remembering things! His assistant, Gladys Friday, was a personal favorite of mine. There’s also Etta Toryal, the editor of The Daily Apple, and Sarah Bellum, a fifth grader who writes to Ms. Toryal in the hopes of helping out with the paper.
Funny and punny names aside, there is a lot going on in this book, but the main story centers around the new school librarian at Appleton Elementary, Rita B. Danjerous and her daughter, May B Danjerous. Ms. Danjerous is an instant hit with the kids and a miss with the parents because of something she calls her “green dot collection.” Any book in the school library with a green dot on it can be checked out by a student without having to use their library card.
The books in the green dot collection cover topics kids are curious about but are too embarrassed to ask about. They don’t want to use their library cards to check out the books and let the grown-ups see what they’re reading. No books are ever mentioned by title but I imagined authors like Judy Blume and Roald Dahl while reading. The kids are thrilled to finally have access to books filled with characters just like them – characters who are growing and curious. I also imagine some stories are considered too scary for kids or tackle issues of injustice. While these books can spark uncomfortable conversations, they are conversations worth having. Banning books is never a good idea, and believe me when I tell you that if you tell a kid not to do something (or read something), they will find a way to do it (or read it!).
While the kids love Ms. Danjerous’ library and green dot collection, the adults in town are scandalized. They plead for Ms. Beprawpa to find out what the green dot collection is all about and to put a stop to it. She makes suggestions like enforcing a reading curfew for the town – no reading past 9 o’clock! She also suggests that the principal force Ms. Danjerous to get rid of her green dot collection entirely. Desperate to control the children, actions, and thoughts of the town, she finally suggests Ms. Danjerous be fired immediately. Will Ms. Danjerous concede and remove her controversial green dot collection? Will the two newest, youngest reporters in town uncover a scandal the size of Illinois that lies at the heart of Ms. Beprawpa’s motives? Will the true bad apples of Appleton be found out? You’ll just have to pick up the book to find out!
I loved this book! I finished it in one sitting. I loved the initiative of Appleton’s newest investigative journalists, Sarah and May. Their determination to get their interviews, fight corruption, find loopholes, and get to the bottom of things makes them two fantastic role models for young readers. There was a strong message of fighting corruption, oppression, and censorship. The idea that power corrupts and that one person shouldn’t have too much power also resonated with me and I think will with many adults. And oh the wordplay! This is truly one of the most creative and most fun books for young readers that I’ve read in a long time. The illustrations are also spot on, moving the narrative forward and making you anxious to pick up the next edition of The Daily Apple.
I would recommend this book for kids and adults alike. The message is critical and the story is fun! I would love to see this book in – you guessed it – school libraries!
Don’t Check Out This Book! is available now! The publisher recommends this book for ages 8 to 12. For updates on Don’t Check Out This Book! and other great books for young readers, follow the publisher on Twitter @AlgonquinYR.
I received an early review copy from Algonquin Young Readers. All opinions are my own.