This morning, my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds are full of proud children dressed up as their favourite book characters. Most are posed by their front door, for a quick snap taken before they head off to school. As a teacher, even a Secondary School one, I’ve also noticed my teaching friends asking to borrow tiger suits or put together a pirate costume. The reason for this crazy phenomenon today? World Book Day.
However, if you’ve been on social media in the weeks leading up to World Book Day, you might be forgiven for thinking that today is every parent and teachers’ worst nightmare. Fancy dress? On a weekday? And one you should link to a book? How unreasonable!
But I love World Book Day. I love the costumes. I love the fuss and the effort. I love the children smiling really proudly in their costumes. Because World Book Day is achieving its aim: people are talking about books.
As a child growing up in the 1980s, there were nothing like the childrens’ books we have today. There was no Gruffalo, no Room on the Broom, no Pirates loving Underpants. After Peter Rabbit stories, I devoured outdated books written in the 1950s – Mallory Towers, The Famous Five – and, as a teenager, Judy Bloom and R.L. Stine. There is nothing wrong with these books, but we really are in a golden age of children’s writing.
Quite often, when I go to pick Ben up from preschool, they are getting ready for their story after lunch. While the adults clear up, the children sit in pairs and threes, and look at books. They can’t read the words, but they sit there, quietly, studiously examining the books on the stand. These three and four year olds absolutely love books. In fact, I’ve never met a young child who doesn’t like reading.
But by the time they get to secondary school, a lot of children hate reading. Their passion for books has been pressed out of them by the need to reach targets and achieve certain levels on their SATs exams. It’s incredibly hard work to foster any kind of enthusiasm for reading in a child whose experience of books is limited to incredibly dull stories – or books where they already know the plot because they’ve seen the film.
That’s part of our job as secondary school teachers. I’ve seen students finally, at the end of Year 11, profess a love for Of Mice and Men. I’ve seen 14 year old boys read the opening to Great Expectations and declare that it is brilliant. That’s the kind of thing you live for as an English teacher.
But in the meantime, while our government is trying to crush the joy out of reading through endless grammar tests, World Book Day is putting the joy back in. So children all over the country can discuss their favourite book.
As for us, Ben will be going as Tyrannosaurus Drip. Samuel will be discovering the joys of Dear Zoo. And I will be pretending that my favourite novel is Anna Karenina, whereas it’s actually the whole of Harry Potter.