A Word About World Book Day

I support everything World Book Day stands for. Who wouldn’t want to support reading, advance literacy, encourage authors and readers, swell the book borrowing and buying audience of all ages and races? Do you sense a BUT coming? It’s only a small one.

Ginny and Ron Weasley, 2002

The schools I taught in and the ones where my children went celebrated World Book Day. One way to do this was by inviting the children and staff to dress up. (Fortunately for you, ex colleagues, I’ve lost the photos.) For me as a parent it was, mostly, fun deciding with the children who they would dress up as, how to put together the costumes, working out the inevitable challenges (Babar’s ears, Pirate Pete’s parrot). Some of that time I was working from home as a translator; at others I had access to my own school library and stationery cupboard which clearly did make my challenge easier. Even so, making a costume at home, if the school gives you enough notice, is not usually difficult.

Babar, 1998

It’s creative, collaborative, and involves exploring the story, characters and illustrations in more depth than you do by “just” reading the books where they feature (I put “just” in inverted commas because learning to read and continuing to want to read are incredibly complex processes – but that’s for another post).

Making a costume together promotes all the following skills: gross and fine motor skills; listening; decision making; art and design; interpretation; acting/role play; compromise; language – receptive and active; imagination; mathematics (measuring, perception, shape, calculation); sense of humour (yes, humour is an innate skill but if it doesn’t get practice, it withers). And it promotes parenting skills and the right to a childhood. All that, just from making a costume! (Oh, and thrift, as ideas can be reused – Babar can be adapted for Jill Murphy’s Mr or Mrs Large, or for The Elephant and the Bad Baby. Meg can grow into Ginny Weasley, the Worst Witch or witchever you prefer.)

So I was saddened to read this year, that by 27th February British people had spent at least £386,000 on World Book Day costumes. If you DO want to take the quick and easy route, of course you could buy next year’s costumes in the Tesco sale now. When I was trying to consult the Asda cheap costumes page a BMW advert kept driving over it: perhaps you could wear officially licensed Dorothy Deluxe Red Slippers available on Amazon for £80.45 as you go for a spin. But if parents are going to spend £80.45, or £386,000+ for World Book Day, shouldn’t it be on books and literacy projects, not in supermarkets and online giants?

There’s a way of getting ahead of the game for next year, spending just £1 and benefiting Book Aid International, by using one of their 18 costume templates. The World Book Day site’s inspiration page also refers you to Book Aid International, and has plenty of other ideas. Book Aid International aim to equip and run libraries in sub-Saharan Africa: a better cause than Tesco, surely, at 25% of the sale price of their cheapest item today? (I’ve added the link to show I bear no grudges). Tesco do at least manage one black child model out of 20+ (unless they’re all hiding under the superhero costumes), but Book Aid International – sadly, in view of their aims, but in fact in view of everything – none at all. Whoops, I’m going off post again.

The photos on this blog post, rather dog eared and faded now, from pre digital days, are not intended to be smug. I was a good parent in this respect because it appealed to my own interests, but inadequate in others (nutrition, sport, and patience come to mind). What my photos illustrate are happy memories of joint parent/child projects, inspired by books we read together. I’m now milking the experience by writing in the novel in progress about the relationship between parents and schools and the everyday pressures and joys involved for both – the first rough draft went to the agent this week which is a milestone of sorts. March 2020 update: that novel became The Magic Carpet. It took off successfully and got some great feedback, but you could help me celebrate this year’s World Book Day by buying, reading and reviewing it – please! I do have some review copies available (ebook or paperback with UK postage only). Please comment below if you’d be interested in reviewing it.  

I’m quoting from the Manchester Evening News now: With the … finding that 28 per cent of children will choose to dress up as fictional characters that aren’t even from books, and a further 33pc as a character from a book they have never even read, the company is reminding people to not lose sight of the real meaning of the event

The Artful Dodger, 2001

We used to have a poster at school, in the library, which we showed to parents who asked about tutors and workbooks and extra homework. Often they were stressed themselves and were stressing their children and the poster was intended not to criticise but to help. It looked more exciting than this but all it said was:

Ten Ways to improve reading:

1.Read. 2. Read. 3.Read. 4.Read. 5.Read. 6.Read. 7.Read. 8.Read. 9.Read. 10.Read. 

I would add: 11. Enjoy! (See my post from 2016 for some more ideas – and they don’t involve dressing up.)

No children were hurt in the making of this post and we all continue to live happily ever after.

© Jessica Norrie 2017


20 thoughts on “A Word About World Book Day

  1. Great post Jessica. I agree that commercialism shouldn’t overshadow the meaning of World Book Day, but again, perhaps even the costumes become motivators for the kids to want to read more. 🙂


    1. Yes, I think that’s what I’m trying to say, and I’ve seen many children over the years come to school proud and pleased to be in costume, so it is a motivator. But I do think they’d have even more to be proud of and more connection with the book they’re representing, if they’ve been helped to make a costume by a loving parent. Whatever the standard, it would be unique! Of course, many children don’t have such a good relationship with their parents/carers and for them we always used to keep a stock of things at school that they could put on to help them participate. Thanks very much for your comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jessica, you are so right on World Book Day. The costumes and fanfare have nothing to do with…reading. A party does not promote reading. Reading promotes reading. You say it very well in your ten points. I’m a long term teacher who is passionate about reading aloud, because it makes a difference. So, yes, let’s stick to the real deal- reading.


    1. Thanks for your comment. I agree reading aloud is excellent (for most people – those who are struggling may find it makes things worse!) I may need to edit my emphasis a bit as I wasn’t actually objecting to costumes and fanfare as I think they do have a part to play in promoting enjoyment of reading. Imagination enables a kind of theatre in the mind, after all, and costumes are part of that. But I’d like them to be less commercial and more creative, and to bring the reading part back to centre stage – as I think would the publishing industry and the literacy campaigners! Goodness we teachers could talk and talk about this…Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A good post, Jessica. It’s great fun for kids to dress up as their favourite characters, even if the meaning of the day sometimes gets lost. That’s why we have quiet corners and books – to get away from the world when the pressure becomes too much and just be yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I hear you about the commercialism but I think this is a lovely idea. We have Nelson Mandela Day in South Africa and my firm collects contributions of good condition used books and new books to contribute to the libraries of disadvantaged schools.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great Jessica..was interesting reading about the amount spent on costumes… I seem to remember we had something similar back in the day. Nothing as grand as World book day but I seem to remember that we each took our favourite book to school and lent it to a classmate in return for theirs. There was some parental and teacher supervision as I used to read my much older sister’s books but it seemed to work. thanks. Sally

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love these costumes, very impressive! I agree about putting in a bit effort. We never used to buy a complete costume but used our imagination. I remember my brother once being a dice at Halloween (when costumes didn’t used to be scary – remember that?). My parents found a big box and painted it to be a dice.

    Liked by 1 person

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