As usual, World Book day has filled my social media feed with images of familiar looking little people dressed in a range of elaborate, creative and even expensive fancy dress outfits. Some characters, I recognise from stories which coloured my childhood; others I recognise from book covers in the shops and some, I have gotten to know through the books I read to my own child. Others however, are not characters which have originated from a book.
I see them in the mornings on CBeebies.
You may think I'm being cranky, but this isn't my only beef with World Book Day: I see and hear of parents flocking to supermarkets days before in a panic to buy their child the best outfit, I see parents (ok, primarily mothers) trying to out-do their fellow parent peers by swatting up on how to create wondrous character-like sculptures on Pinterest weeks before, spending a fortune on crafting materials and a huge amount of precious time creating the "perfect" outfit for their little ones.
I am no doubt going to be quite guilty of this some day too.
What does any of this have to do with books? Actual books? Surely, a parent's time would be better spent sharing and reading books together, making books a part of everyday conversation at the dinner table, savouring magical places and words and imagination. I argue that most fancy dress outfits are more about "the outfit" than the actual character the children dress up as anyway.
That's not forgetting the extra pressure on parents to buy, create and master the perfect fancy dress outfit, therefore creating an epidemic of World Book Day competitiveness and perfectionism.
It's not what it's all about.
In my past life as a teacher within a Secondary school, I was regularly asked the same question by parents: "you say he needs to read more, how do I get him to read more?
I've bought him all the books."
In a diluted fashion I would try to relay the message that reading isn't just about reading the books, it's about making books a part of the everyday, a part of conversations, it's about asking questions about stories and characters, embracing the worlds that books have to offer. It's about conversations at the dinner table and taking an interest in what the world is showing to your child; more than books, it's about the possibilities they offer.
Also, putting on a costume emulating a favourite TV character is not celebrating books.
Everyday, I know that an adult in my house is going to read to my child atleast once, I know that she's going to have a favourite story which will change as she matures: her current favourite being "We're Going on a Bear-hunt." Today, she did not dress up for World Book Day, besides I'm not too sure how I would concoct a suitable outfit for her favourite book! But at the weekend, we might go on our own bear-hunt whilst walking the dog and we may even use her favourite quotes from the story as we're tidying up,
"We can't go under it, we can't go over it, we'll have to go through it!"
Or maybe we'll go on a chocolate cake hunt instead (our favourite type of hunt.) Either way, the story becomes a part of our everyday, as do the characters as she carries her dolly around on her shoulders whilst wading through fictitious mud as she makes her way to the bathroom.
I know that for so many parents, books come to life as part of their everyday too and most parents I know read to their children regularly. Therefore, it's a shame that World Book Day can't be more of a celebration of bonding, of imagination, of quiet time and listening and less about the competitive epidemic of Perfect Parenting.