Class, race, gender and World Book Day 

Let me start by saying that I am a huge fan of World Book Day. In England we have seen independent reading and class story time increasingly put under pressure by the top-down demands of curriculum and results, and the joy of early discovery of stories threatened by the inappropriately early introduction of formal reading instruction. Children and families are finding their family time put under pressure by homework, where there is inconsistent evidence of impact, which limits time for conversation and reading. So a day dedicated to promoting joy of stories, however they are accessed, is to be applauded and supported. The #worldbookday hashtag on Twitter is delightfully full of photos from events and with photos of children dressed up.

There is no doubt that dressing up is difficult for a lot of reasons. Firstly, financial: it is not easy for parents on limited incomes to whip up a Gruffalo at short notice. Nor for time-poor parents, especially when children regularly forget to give parents letters, or lose them. Secondly, not all children like dressing up. Shy children and those who find change in routine difficult could particularly suffer. Schools could-and should- choose a range of activities to promote World Book Day. I used to do activities such as making a hat for a book character, or designing a new book cover, or a treasure hunt with clues related to a class book.

However, every year I get very annoyed about three issues.

  1. Comic books are books. Children and young people have been reading comics for nearly 100 years. Dennis the Menace appeared in the Beano in 1951. Batman was in Detective comic from 1939. Wonder Woman has been a feminist icon since 1941. Reading comics is real reading. 
  2. Children’s TV characters are in comics, annuals and story books. We all know how few popular children’s books feature characters of colour. If you object to Sofia the First, Doc McStuffin, Rastamouse or the Go Jetters as a World Book Day costumes, you are denying the opportunity for children of colour to dress up as their favourite characters that look like them.
  3. Thirdly, generic character costumes can be bought very cheaply from Primark and Tesco- and probably more places, but those are the ones I know about. Dressing up costumes are regularly passed from child to child. Children wear character onesies. Busy parents who may feel that they are asked to send kids in pyjamas/ red clothes/ in jeans/ wearing a hat/ with cakes every other week may be able to shove a child into a dressing up costume without too many arguments at 8.30am.

By objecting to comic book or film costumes, schools and commenters are not forcing lazy mothers to do better, nor are they making children better readers. They are instead taking away the opportunity for children to share their favourite stories, and get a £1 book token. Those not allowed to wear Batman or Minions onesies may just not come to school.

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2 thoughts on “Class, race, gender and World Book Day 

  1. I think this is really important – my Mum worked from home when I was little, so was constantly being asked to do things she couldn’t do (help out on field trips, for example) and costumes for World Book Day (which we did, my school were really early adopters!) were put together from whatever clothes were lying around the house. Both time and money were far too precious to spend on fancy dress (including for fancy dress parties – those outfits also came from old clothes. And Ancient Greek Day, when everyone else wore a sheet but we didn’t have old, spare sheets in plain white that I could mess up, so I wore a dress). I would hate World Book Day so much if I was a kid now, which is silly, because I love books and always did.

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    • Most of my teaching was in schools in areas of significant poverty. World Book Day never involved dressing up; it was about activities to do with reading, a book sale and author or storyteller visits. They were really well received by the children. My stepson loves dressing up, but many, many kids hate it. I think I shall make a list of not-dressing-up activities for schools.

      Liked by 1 person

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