Thank YOU, World Book Day — for making us cry

World Book Day just made two of my children cry… Why?

It’s not that old bandwagon, “illiterate boys” — my children love books. They are both free readers,  published writers and they run a book review website. The elder has already won a prize at one of the “Book Oscars” and most of the walls in our house hold book shelves.

Nope, they love books but, like me, hate — by which I mean


— fancy dress.

And it’s astonishing how often they are expected to do it. Parties, Hallowe’en, plays and rehearsals, pageants, festivals, and charity events, we end up in costume perhaps twenty, thirty times a year? And in most cases, fair enough — they expect to be dressed up on stage.

But World Book Day? Why?

I don’t object, in the sense that if the kids enjoy it then it’s fun, but by turning this, as we do with so many things, into a dressing up and public speaking opportunity, are we not ignoring one of the most rewarding aspects of reading — the chance to disappear into a world outside our own? For me, reading is a quiet and contemplative pursuit and that is one of the reasons I love it. It’s the ultimate retreat — escaping into the pages of a book, travelling through distant minds… the silence in the ears, the cacophony of voices and images in our brains, the Zen, magical feeling of swimming through streams of imagination, weaving in our memories… it’s almost a meditative process.

Is this not a chance to show our children that being quiet can be great fun?

Ramming a mouse into your child’s pocket, drawing whiskers on his nose, and trying to find out if the boy in The Witches had a name, while your real life child goes pink-eyed and bolts under the bed… that is not the same as loving books. That is not conducive to loving books.

I have worked too hard at my children’s enjoyment of books to allow World Book Day to ruin it. One of my kids went to school. “This is rubbish,” he complained, “but my mate’s dressing up as a girl and I want to see it.”

The other one refused to come out from under the bed and in a moment of rare laxity, I decided to keep him at home. He’s had a sore throat, what the hell.

“You can write my shopping list,” I said, and he scuttled out, pen in hand. He loves writing for its own sake, loves playing with words.

“If I spell it the other way, will you buy a flower?”

“Yes, I’ll buy a flower and we’ll bake a petal cake.”

He added salt and chewing gum to my list, to confuse me, and soon he was in tucks. He included the obligatory toys that we will buy another day, maybe.

He said, “When we’ve done the shopping, can we read Where’s Wally?”

“Yes,” I said, “We can read anything you like. It’s World Book Day.”

“And I want to finish The Witches.”

I’ll get the hot chocolate, he’ll get the duvet, and we already have the books.


  1. You really must read ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain if you haven’t done so. This is precisely the problem of everything having to be a group exercise and talking as opposed to listening.
    I don’t know why schools insist on kids dressing up all the time. It’s stressful for parents and a lot of children really don’t like it anyway.

    • t upchurch says:

      It’s a book I’d like to read, one of these days in between chasing children and stories! Have heard good things.
      I think it’s important that children are shown that being quiet and contemplative can be really enjoyable. I was a quiet, bookish child and yet even I struggle sometimes if a child is nestled away in a corner — always asking “Are you OK?” in case they’re feeling “left out”. We need to include people in group activities so that no one’s excluded and everyone picks up interactive team skills, but there just needs to be that bit of “down time”, time spent alone, to appreciate the state of being by oneself — or even just being oneself.

  2. Brilliant article! It really is time for adults to ask the kids what they would like to do on World Book Day rather than assuming that “they all love dressing up.” Sounds like you and younger son have really enjoyed today so good call on your part.

    • t upchurch says:

      Thanks, Josephine, and yes, we had a very relaxed day. The guys at school had fun too but it gets quite competitive (Book Oscars). Quite nice to be zoning out in our home library, very mellow.

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