Is it time to widen not limit WBD choices?

wbd choiceAs the mother of three spiderman fans I was fascinated by the focus on costumes for World Book Day, not least because the webbed hero sprang from comic books in the first place. I’m no fan of commercialisation but it is pretty inevitable that when something is successful sellers will jump on that bandwagon and sell things that busy parents will pounce on. In the meantime if spiderman can save the inhabitants of New York and get children reading he certainly is a superhero.

In the meantime because of World Book Day, one in four children (of 9000 children surveyed) bought their first book with a free voucher. This is a fantastic result and testament to the value of such a celebration. My youngest is fortunate to have access to many books, but this is no way diminished the excitement he felt when clutching his voucher, he made his decision and got his book. He had also taken some Christmas money and he chose 3 more books he wanted.

Obviously as a parent and educator I was overjoyed that he had bought books with his money and better still he has since read them. However, there was a little bit of me that was itching to make him have different books.  I didn’t because, hard as it is, I practise what I preach and stick to the mantra of choice. At 7 years old he is an enthusiastic reader in part because he has grown up in a house with four other avid readers and is surrounded by an eclectic mix of reading material.

My problem (and this is a completely personal opinion) was the World Book Day books were all well-established mainstream authors that are already high on children’s go-to lists. This is not an attack on those authors or World Book Day but a strong feeling that it would be so more exciting if there were a few alternative choices in there. Now I realise the administration of World Book Day must be a herculean task and it is incredibly successful. But now that it is so successful is it not an opportunity to offer up more diverse reading options to children?

David Walliams, who was one of the choices, has racked up the best single week of sales ever for a (single) World Book Day title, with Blob (HarperCollins Children’s) soaring 449%…Last week’s top 10 in the overall book chart was made up entirely of World Book Day special titles. With this reach it could be so exciting to offer up authors and illustrators that would not normally make the shelves of bookshops in such a prominent way. Because although children should be able to make their own choices, we also have a responsibility to make the opportunities as broad as possible.

My son’s additional books were from the Beast Quest series and How to make your Dragon Fall in Love.  His World Book Day was Horrid Henry.  Yes, yes, yes, his choice. But it is a little chicken and egg isn’t it? The World Book Day choices were very established authors and series. Are we all sticking to the same well-worn path because it works, or because it is easiest? Children are taking these books, but might we not lead them into more established reading if World Book Day holds up comics and less established voices and endorses them as equally valuable reading choices?

If World Book Day continues down the established path, then it will still be an enormously valuable boost to getting books into children’s hands. However, it would be so exciting if now they could broaden access and show reading is so much more than staying with what you know. Likewise worrying about the superhero costumes, limits rather than broadens our celebration of reading and worse gives very worrying messages about what we consider is “proper” reading and what is not. We are not all going to read the same kind of books, the more we dictate the correct books/costumes, the more we alienate groups of children and lose our chance to engage them as active readers.