World Book Day is nearly here for its 21st year, which means kids will go nuts for the favourite book characters and their parents will hyperventilate over the pressure to knock up a costume, true MacGyver style from some scraps of fabric, papier-mache and face paint. But is that what World Book Day should really be about?
We won’t be taking part in dressing up and thankfully neither will our school so there will be no panicking to rustle up a costume. Don’t get me wrong, I think the benefits of reading books are unquestionable and the love of reading and sharing stories should be celebrated. I just can’t help but feel that World Book Day has become yet another commercialised EVENT rather than something that will make a lasting difference to those who need it most.
A survey reported by TES suggests that there may be more than 750,000 school children in the UK don’t even own a single book. How will dressing up as a Gruffalo help them? The same survey found that boys are twice as likely as girls to not have one and unsurprisingly 28% of book owning children are likely to read above the level expected for their age compared to just 1.9% of those without. This is despite BookStart (the charity behind World Book Day) and its various initiatives and events.
Ok, there is more to World Book Day than costumes. It is also about sharing a love of stories and recommending your favourite books, yet the choice of official World Book Day books is hard to be excited about. Four come from ‘celebrities’ known for non-writing success – Tom Fletcher, Julian Clary, Nadiya Hussain and Clare Balding. They may be well known names and if the aim is to appeal to as many children as possible then great. I just find it a shame that a day dedicated to books and storytelling doesn’t use it as an opportunity to celebrate talented storytellers who have toiled for years over their craft, rather than those who let their name do all the hard work for them.
As parents we have nurtured a passion for books and reading in our kids – NJ, our eldest is eight and has read all the Harry Potter books, Tom Gates, Threehouse stories and Diary of a Wimpy Kid books on his own. He is currently reading books from Frank Cottrell Bryce and Diana Wynne Jones. Roo is four and is learning her phonics and can read some basic books on her own. She loves being read to and her current favorites are Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree books and the Oi Frog! series by Kes Gray and Jim Field.
This makes the figure of 750,000 bookless school children simply incomprehensible. Obviously not all families have such an interest in books and will not own them out of choice – if World Book Day can inspire them to change then job done. But there are also families who simply can’t afford books, who are struggling to provide warm clothes and food for their children. In 2015-6, there were 4 millions children in the UK who were considered to be living in poverty. There are so many kids missing out on what we take for granted and spending £12 in Primark on a Willy Wonka costume for one day isn’t going to help them.
So with World Book Day around the corner, why don’t you share a book with those who really need it rather than stress about a costume? Leave a book on a train or bus or tram, on a park bench or at a supermarket. Give a book to a friend, a cousin, a colleague. There are charities, libraries and schools who will take your books too. Share stories this way, rather than worrying about dressing your kids as Harry Potter. Give it ago – you never know who you will inspire.