World Book Day: it’s not the dressing up that matters

I have a confession to make: I like World Book Day. UNESCO’s celebration of books and reading is marked in 100 countries but many parents dread it because children are encouraged to go to school dressed as their favourite character.

When I realised I was going to have to deal with this myself, I was apprehensive. I can’t stand fancy dress. And like all parents, anything that takes up additional time and I have to remember to sort out in the rush to find bags, water bottles, coats, get shoes on and actually leave the house to get to school on time is a hassle. 

However, to my surprise, I found I enjoy the challenge of creating a character each year. 

Story book heroes

When my eldest was in his first year at school, he announced his favourite character was Max from Where The Wild Things Are. I was quite surprised as it wasn’t a book we had read at home. I looked it up and realised the costume could be put together fairly simply. I hunted down a plain white hoodie (surprisingly tricky to find) and then got some felt to create claws and a crown (thanks to a pattern on Pinterest and the acquisition of a glue gun).

My son dressed as Max

Yes, it took me a while and it did cost money, both good reasons to object to taking part. But I found I liked figuring out how to put something together. 

Last year his favourite book was Fantastic Mr Fox and I confess I bought him a costume in a supermarket. I didn’t feel it was cheating. He had read the story several times and it was the most time and cost-effective means of sending him in as the character he wanted to be. 

This year’s candidate for World Book Day was clear. We’re currently reading The Story of Doctor Dolittle. Father Christmas’s hunch that my 6-year-old biologist would love a tale about a man who could talk to animals has been proved correct and there’s much excitement about reading the next chapter at bedtime. (“The Pushmi-Pullyu isn’t real Mum, no animal has two heads.”) 

A photo of two monkeys. Photo by Brian Mann on Unsplash
Doctor Dolittle sailed to Africa to treat sick monkeys. (I confess I don't know where these monkeys live.)

We have a vast collection of small toy animals, including a blue and yellow macaw and a monkey. The only difficulty has been assembling a suit (annoyingly pricey but my choice). Now we’re racing to finish the story before the big day so he knows what happens. And I need to conjure a white mouse to go on his hat. 

Getting kids reading

It’s not about the costumes though. It’s about focusing on the joy of books and stories. It doesn’t matter if your child doesn’t dress up or you go with a really simple idea. The props are meant to be fun for the kids, not designed to add stress to parents. Classrooms will be full of Harry Potters and comic book heroes and that’s great, because those stories have inspired children to become their characters.

More than 7 million adults in England – 1 in 6 – struggle to read, according to the Literacy Trust. In today’s digital world that’s a lot of people who are unable to access information and will face limits on the jobs they can do. 

The aim of World Book Day is to encourage children to take pleasure in reading.  The Department for Education reports just 35% of 10-year-olds say they enjoy reading. But reading can improve a child’s chances of success in school and widen their opportunities in life.  The average reading age in the UK is 9-years-old. A GCSE science text book is likely to require a higher level of understanding. Literacy impacts everything from people’s ability to take an active part in their community, to their health.

A photo of two students reading together. Photo by Alissa De Leva on Unsplash

Taking part in World Book Day has led to children reading more. They share more stories and they read more with their parents. Children who read increase their vocabulary and learn more about the world around them. They have increased emotional intelligence – vital in today’s job market. They are empathetic. Reading also provides relaxation.

Giving children books of their own

As part of World Book Day children get £1 book tokens to spend in stores – and there are brand new £1 books to spend them on! A whole story for £1.

One of our favourites is Super Duck, about a little duck who dresses as a superhero, which we were all given a copy of at the library when my eldest was very small. His little brother loves it now. And 10 Little Bookworms is a tale every child needs to show them the delights to come in books of all kinds.

This year there are books by Matt Haig (we loved The Truth Pixie) and Anthony Horowitz. There’s one called Kid Normal In The Loudest Library and an adventure involving meeting the Queen. Matthew Syed has written a book all about “how to get good at stuff”, busting the myth that you either have talent, or you don’t. I have to confess, it’s going to be hard to choose which one to buy. 

For children from disadvantaged backgrounds, the £1 book they buy with their token can be the first book they have bought for themselves. 

Creating a costume might be a faff but the joy of World Book Day is the characters children find in the pages of a new book. It’s also a great excuse for adults to enjoy a childhood favourite or find a new story too.

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Rachel Extance

Rachel Extance

Award-winning journalist and blogger. I help businesses communicate who they are, what they do, and why. If you struggle to talk about yourself in your marketing, get in touch with me.

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