Having books in my life, from as early as I can remember, is the reason I love words and writing now. I have no doubt about that, and I’ve surrounded my own children with books from the day they were born as well. World Book Day is coming up, and I wish we’d had it around when I was at school.

We’ve been making our costume choices for this year, and the little one has picked – predictably – Thomas the Tank Engine. You can go all out with some very crafty box work to make a full on engine, but I have taken the easier route and borrowed a tunic-style dress-up top from toddler group; it took me half an hour to alter it for him, whereas the box effort estimates 24-48 hours to allow for paint and glue to dry (paint AND glue?!), and there’s half a chance he’ll keep it on all day.

The older one has gone with Julia Donaldson’s Highway Rat (inspired in part by the BBC adaptation at Christmas). This one was quite easy too – white shirt, black trousers, a bit of lace for his collar, a cape and mask set from ebay for a couple of quid, and a tricorn pirate hat with the skull and crossbones coloured black.

Both of my boys have books, look at books and like books – but both of them have made their costume choices from characters they love that they have seen on screen, as well as read about. And choosing characters who are predominantly known on screen is where I’ve noticed a degree of snobbishness around World Book Day costumes creeping about; mainly in some large online parent communities, although I have heard a couple of remarks in person before, too . You don’t have to look too far to find some snooty remarks about superhero and princess costumes being a cop-out, or costumes based on film adaptation of a character not being “proper” book characters, and this makes me sad on number of levels.

If a child cares enough about a character to dress themselves as that character – basically, tell the world that this is a person that they want to be like – shouldn’t their excitement, and that spark of imagination be praised, encouraged and carefully kindled? And anyway, every character everywhere appears in a book nowadays: Disney princesses have their own Ladybird books, and there is a strong contingent who will fight tooth and nail for the graphic novel status of their superheroes. So to kids, these choices are just as valid as “proper” or classic literary characters. The minute they get the sense that their choice is not as good as another child’s, their feeling of connection to the whole event can be tarnished.

If they’re in a costume, they have bought into the concept, and that’s half the battle. If a child cares enough about a character to dress up as them, doesn’t it make that child more likely to read a book about them?

And isn’t that the whole point? On discovering how much you can get from reading a book, aren’t they more likely to give others a second glance? Worlds upon worlds then open up to them – opinions, voices, other cultures, other imaginations, history, space, science fiction, technology and the future. So to all the World Book Day snobs, I say let them wear whatever inspires them to be part of it and pick up a book, because you never know where it might take them. 

And don’t get me started on homemade costume snobs, either.

I love looking at all of the inspired costumes and dress up ideas, before and after the event – there are loads on the World Book Day official website, who have very kindly allowed me to use their images for this blog post. Here are some of my favourites from their gallery: http://www.worldbookday.com/

The BFG, and the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland

Harry Potter, of course

The Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham-Carter version)


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