World Book Day – Missing the point?


Today all over the country children went into school dressed up to celebrate World Book Day. I have watched this day unfold over social media for the last couple of years and have seen parents plan, with dedication, their children’s outfits.

World Book Day celebrates the wonder of reading, books and authors with usually a week or so of events for the week around World Book Day and then a day of dressing up and fun for children everywhere. World Book Day was created by UNESCO and is a worldwide celebration of books and reading which is marked in over 100 countries all over the world. To put it bluntly, it’s quite a big thing.

At a time when children across the UK often spend a chunk of their day watching TV and movies it is great to get them interested in books, to read a bedtime story and to turn the TV off for a while. For me this celebration is something that I can imagine embracing with LP and Little Man as years go by, planning their outfits and grabbing the opportunity to read new books and find out about new authors.

But, today, across social media I saw a huge divide in World Book Day costumes. There were a few parents who had spent time creating costumes that their children would love, of characters that their children had read about and enjoyed, characters that the children wanted to be and characters that the children proudly dressed up as this morning – holding the relevant book and having their picture taken out the front of their houses before heading off to school for World Book Day fun.

Then there were the other children. The majority who were in a superhero costume or yet another Elsa dress. The ones dressed as characters that they had only seen on the big screen, ones where they knew the cartoons they’d seen religiously, ones they had learnt the songs from with the help of the TV and ones that they’d only read about in books that had were published after the movies were a success – or ones that were once comic books that the children are not even aware of.

One day in a whole year is dedicated to the wonder of books and reading and I cannot be alone in feeling saddened that children are going to school dressed as characters from movies and not characters from the books they love. They could dress up as Winnie the Pooh, Harry Potter, a Dr Seuss character, the Gruffalo, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, any of the Mr Men & Little Miss characters or any of the other wonderful characters that were created in the minds of great authors and immortalised in the pages of a book.

World Book Day is just that. A day. But a day celebrated by a big part of the world and one that I would love to see kids understanding, embracing and celebrating by reading a new book – not by going home and watching a movie.


29 thoughts on “World Book Day – Missing the point?

  1. i completely agree Donna but as a parent who’s not done WBD yet I also feel tied, I would love to make a costume like my own mum always has but fear that with all the princess dresses D will want to wear the same because the other kids are allowed or for fear of feeling left out or too different – sad times

  2. I couldn’t agree more. At my niece’s school, they have a theme which was Julia Donaldson books. They’re dressing up tomorrow so she’s going as a ladybird, some of her friends have chosen to be the Stick Man and Lady Love. It’s so cute! I can’t understand those that have chosen to dress as characters from a TV show or film, when there’s no book to back it up with. Part of me thinks it’s laziness on the parents part for not making/buying an appropriate costume. The other part of me thinks it’s laziness on the parents part for not reading to a child enough so that they have a favourite book. Great post Donna.
    mentalparentals recently posted…Sella Park Country House Hotel & Restaurant – ReviewMy Profile

  3. I thoroughly agree with you. My 4 year old daughter went as the butterfly from monkey puzzle. She had a homemade/stitched by hand costume that took longer to make than what she wore it and she was very proud and excited to wear. She was the only one in her class with homemade and only a handful from a book not film/TV .

  4. Spot on! This is exactly how I feel. A lot of the kids I have seen with a non book costume, the parents have said it’s too much hassle or money to do anything else. But why is it? Because you don’t have any imagination and your kids have to have the BEST outfit for appearances?! It’s so frustrating! x

  5. Here here! I considered dressing the boys up for nursery but it wasn’t something they were really embracing at our nursery (kids from 3 months upwards so perhaps still a little young).

    My easy option would have been John’s Gruffalo costume, with David as the mouse!

    Otherwise John would have loved to have dressed up as a Ladybird (What The Ladybird Heard), Bing the Bunny or a Very Hungry Caterpillar. And I think David would make a pretty cute Spot the Dog!

    Elsa & Spiderman just seem a little boring, particularly with kids seen wearing them walking down the street pretty everyday now! I think it’s way more fun to get stuck in & go for something a little more fun and a little less ‘oridinary’ & ‘now’.

    And Elsa/Spiderman is hardly going to strike up the “who are you and what book are you from?” conversation intended by World Book Day.

  6. thank goodness it’s not just me and my pregnancy hormones that got SO angry at all the posts today. It is so sad that children didn’t want to go dressed as a book character, I would have loved this as a kid! If it’s still going when indiana is bigger she will be doing it the way it’s supposed to.. Even if it means creating something haha xx
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  7. I totally agree too. I didn’t dress Toby up for nursery, although I’ll be happy to when he’s a bit older. It’ll definitely be a character from a book though and not someone from a Disney film!
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  8. I completely agree, although gave in to the Elsa obsession last year as she wouldn’t have gone to school otherwise. And I did source a copy of The Snow Queen to read to her to give some literary context. This year they didn’t get to choose which was a shame as she’s really into her books now!
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  9. We’ve not yet had enter the waters of costumes and World Book Day but I agree it should be about the books – so if anyone wants to turn up in an Elsa dress they need a copy of Hans Christian Anderson under their arm! When we had book day at school my sister and I went as the Amazon pirates (from Swallows & Amazons) and stuck out a bit in a sea of “The Famous Five” – just normal clothes!!
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  10. Our sons’ school did a snuggle down day where they all came in their pj’s dressing gowns and brought their favourite books and a teddy in with them, which I thought was brilliant.
    They run a buddy system where all the juniors buddy up with and look after an infant child all year, and today they all snuggled into a corner somewhere and read to their little buddies! Lovely idea…even if my eldest insisted on taking a minecraft book *groans*
    Stevie x
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  11. I do agree with you to an extent. It would be nice to see children dressing up as great characters from timeless stories on WBD. However we are living in a day and age where, not necessarily everywhere mind, there are children who do not have access to books other than what they read in school or a public library for many reasons and scarily one of them is lack of money. There are families who simply can’t afford to buy different costumes each time a dress up day or fancy dress party comes up or make their children costumes. World Book Day is definitely a great day to appreciate and love books and stories old and new but for some that isn’t possible and if by wearing a movie themed costume because that’s the only one they have means they can join in then so be it. I would hate for my child to feel like they were being excluded from dressing up for the day just because they turned up in a Disney or Marvel themed costume.
    Personally I liked the way the school I’m currently with did it. The children didn’t dress up for WBD. Instead they brought in books from home or used the school library to pick a book and throughout the day they had to stop their work and read their book. We went round each group and asked them what they were reading. We also had a teacher swap where the teachers chose a book for a different class and went to read to them.
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  12. So glad you’ve posted on this, it was something that was annoying me yesterday too!! Whats happened to tradition?? I saw alot of Elsa and Anna’s posted on my facebook feed and my eye rolling became to much! Give me a gruffalo, a stick man, a witch on a broom or even a cinderella (if one needs to be a princess!!) I feel your pain

  13. It’s a tricky one. Last year my son went as Cat in the Hat, but most boys in his year were superheroes. He was too little to feel ‘different’ (still in the school nursery at that stage), but as he gets older, I suspect he might want to join in with the rest of the boys and dress as a fighting superhero….I feel a bit sad about it, but luckily his school postponed WBD till the summer so I don’t have to worry about it for a while. recently posted…E-books for World Book Day?My Profile

  14. I don’t think it’s anything like as bad as it looks.

    I went in to school to read with the 4yo’s and 5yo’s. There were a LOT of Disney costumes and Superheroes, but those same kids were also passionate about reading and talking about their favourite books. Some books matched their costumes but many more didn’t.

    Whether they were reading ‘classic’ titles or a Disney annual, for me the love of reading is what matters, and what they’ll take into their adult lives. And on that score I don’t think we have anything to worry about.
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  15. I hear you, I do but yesterday Jen went to school as batman. Last fortnight I asked him what he wanted to be. … “nothing. I’m not dressing up, I don’t want to” until the morning came and he stamped his feet and asked why I have not been making a costume! So off to school as Batman he went, as that is the outfit he grabbed.

    There were 7 batmen in his year (2 classes) & 7 Elsa’s in his class.
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  16. Great post! I am so glad that you put pen to paper (as it were!) about this! It has been really bothering me….the day is World BOOK Day! NOT World Movie Day nor World TV day….BOOK day! A day to celebrate books and the characters we have met through them. My sons school didn’t do the whole dressing up thing, they simply had to take in a favourite book for Show and Tell….he took The HIghway Rat! Who doesn’t love a bit of Julia Donaldson right?!
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  17. I read your blog post with great interest. I am a children’s author and love it when children really get into the language of books, exploring characters and plots with enthusiasm.

    Like you, I am bemused by the fact that some parents are happy to stick their child in a ready-made costume related to a film or TV character. That said, I have worked in TV and appreciate that there is a cross-over between books and movies.

    TV or Film tie-ins will be created to maximise sales and generate exposure. My daughter has an Elsa dress and several ‘Frozen’ themed books. Not great literature but the books do engage(ish) and might be a doorway into encouraging ‘free reading’.

    My hope is that World Book Day celebrates Book characters from all periods, where parents show children the books that made them smile and laugh and cry. I share countless ‘favourite’ picture books with my daughter. World Book Day is there to encourage a bond with the written word.

    Though perhaps we are being too sensitive by ruling out inspiration from Movies and TV? A hankering for the traditional titles may not be what motivates the wee ones these days.

    Maybe parents just need to relax a little and go with the flow – then jump on the back of whatever it is that motivates their child – so that after a child has read ‘Frozen’ and gone to school dressed up as Elsa or Olaf the she or he is encouraged to read a really engaging book at home. Just a thought.

  18. I couldn’t agree more with this post. This was my first world book day (my son is only 2 and started pre-school last year). He went as the Gruffalo – a really easy costume considering I picked up a reduced Gruffalo hoody in the Debenhams sale a few weeks ago! Most of the other kids went as things from Toy Story or Frozen and although I can understand the logic of putting them in what are probably their easiest and favourite costumes, it does seem to be missing the point of world BOOK day a little. Especially when there are so many lovely characters out there which are easily achievable. I read another blog post today about kids dressing up as Zoella! Barmy!

  19. Just stumbled across this and am appalled at how judgmental this post (and especially the comments) were. It’s nice to see how many perfect mummies have the time, energy, money, and talent to make costumes for their book loving darlings. And how horrible the mothers who send them in store bought costumes are.
    While I understand the point you’re trying to make (the focus should be on books), the fact is that these characters do have books associated with them. My daughter has book adaptations of Frozen, Sofia the First, original Disney Christmas stories set after the movies, Batman, and the Avengers, along with classic children’s books and some fun new ones. If she decides she wants to be Elsa or Batman, I’m not making an issue about it. Because she’s read and enjoyed books featuring those characters (in fact, she knows these characters primarily through the books, not the movies or TV shows). So don’t assume the child has not read something just because they’re in a mass produced costume. That’s snobbery of the highest order that doesn’t fit with the wonderfully helpful and supportive blog posts I’m used to seeing here.
    This year, I think my 3 year old daughter wants to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’d love her to have a handmade costume, but I don’t know if it will happen. I work full time (8-6) at a day nursery, so I don’t have the time to spend at the sewing machine. And I have recently broken my elbow, so I’m physically not able to even if I wanted. It’s nice to know there could be mothers judging me for not meeting outrageously high Pinterest standards on a day that should be FUN FOR THE CHILDREN! That is how World Book Day is missing the point, and it is sad to see how many are falling into that trap.

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