Don’t Read This Book by Jill Lewis and Deborah Allwright is one of the picture books my six year old son has chosen for his summer reading challenge at the library.
He has rated it as 3 stars, which is the top rating for the challenge.
This is a deconstructed fairy tale, which only really works if you and your child have a pretty good grasp of a) the traditional way fairy tales are told, and b) the plots of some of the more common fairy tales.
It starts out with the king hysterical because his story has started, and the reader (you) has started reading, but it hasn’t got beyond the first page.
The king is very angry, and throughout the book he exhorts you, the reader, to stop reading and go away.
In the mean time, the king contacts his writer and together they go on a quest to hunt down the missing bits of the story that the writer was meaning to tell before he lost the crucial notes he was making.
You, as the reader, have to piece together the bits of clue that the king and the writer leave you as they progress through the pages of the book, to figure out which story they are trying to tell.
It all comes good in the end, and the story gets told on the final two pages of the book.
All the while this is happening, various characters from other tales either pop up as minor illustrations around the edges of the pages, or have a more important part to play in piecing the story together.
One of the things I particularly loved was the sense of the story literally being built around you, particularly as, at the borders of the page, there are illustrations of builders, putting up border trim, painting in letters and illustrations and generally working on the physical aspects of the book to bring it to you, the reader.
Some of the story appears on the page in ‘rips’ that show what is going on under the blank page in front of you, which is also quite clever.
The story is very humorous and full of lovely jokes and ideas that really, really work if your child is a fan of fairy tales, but has exhausted the traditional supplies and is looking for something more sophisticated.
Because there is so much going on in the pages, it can sometimes be difficult to navigate your way round the narrative. The author and illustrator have done their best, using the comic book trope of framed boxes, that move you across in the right direction, different fonts for different characters etc, but it can still be a little confusing.
I would recommend that this is a book that is best read by a parent to a child, and then explored with the child before they get it to look at alone, if they want to get the best out of it, unless they are a very confident reader. It is however, clearly a picture book aimed at younger children, rather than something which an older, more confident reader would pick for themselves, which is why I suggest parental supervision might work best at first.
The book appears to be out of print at the current moment, but we got our copy from the local library and have read this on more than one occasion, borrowed from different libraries, so there are still copies in circulation should you wish to read it.
It would be great in schools for a Key Stage One project on fairy tales, and there are lots of interesting writing projects that could be linked to reading and exploring this text.
It is suitable for both boys and girls. I would recommend it for ages four to six/seven.