I Love Books But Hate World Book Day

"World Book Day is in danger of losing its vital message."

Love books, hate World Book Day. Sorry – but that’s the truth, when you’re a parent.

Every year, shortly before The Big Day, the frantic search for a costume begins. And it’s not just me – there are Facebook messages about it, posts on local ‘sell and swap’ forums, even the school WhatsApp group is full of panicked mums and dads trying desperately to find something for their kids to wear.

Many of us give up and let them dress up however they please, whether it’s got something to do with a book, or not. That’s why you see Princess Elsa from Frozen, and characters from Paw Patrol. You’ll probably hear those costumes defended with the excuse that books have been written about the film, so that ‘counts’. Fair play. It can be a real struggle to find a whole new outfit – and expensive, too.

I can’t help but think we’re losing the meaning of World Book Day, too caught up with the costumes and group chats. Because the real meaning, the reason it all started, is to encourage our kids to fall in love with books. Does this one day do that? I’m not so sure.

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The concept of World Book Day is a wonderful one, for it can only be good to promote a love of literature – after all, studies show that reading to your children can strengthen the parent-child bond and make them behave better. There have also been many studies on the benefits children get from shared reading, including improved literacy, language-building and emotional skills.

But the day is in danger of losing that vital message, because it’s become so much more about dressing up and putting pressure on parents to fork out for a brand new outfit.

The costumes aren’t important. In fact, I made a pledge long ago never to buy anything new for my children to dress up in for special events at school. After all, they can just make use of our ‘dressing up box’ at home – filled with scarves, hats, wigs and hand-me-down outfits.

“The day is in danger of losing that vital message.”

My kids are those poor unfortunates who go to class in a bed sheet when it’s ‘Romans Day’. If they’re lucky, I’ll recycle last year’s Christmas wreath for them to wear around their heads, too. And any excuse for them to wear a black bin liner, I’m taking it.

In a case of life imitating art, my daughter attended her first ever nursery World Book Day dressed as the feral child from her favourite picture book, ‘Wild’, by Emily Hughes. At school, she’s been Matilda, Mildred Hubble from The Worst Witch, and last year she chose... Cinderella (what can I say? She already had the tattered dress). I want her to love books, of course – the costumes are secondary to that.

The answer, then? Let’s take the pressure off our kids – and each other. This World Book Day, let them wear whatever they want. But later that night, in bed, make sure you read them a story.