World Book Day can elicit a wide range of emotions, largely linked to the amount of time and money that adults feel they need to throw at the challenge. Parents will have enjoyed the joke on facebook about a father grabbing household articles and sending his kids as a page from the Argos catalogue. I not only appreciated it, but if your child wants to read the Argos catalogue (and believe me those children definitely exist, especially just before Christmas) then I whole heartedly support that choice.
Putting aside the parental angst, I love World Book Day. As a teacher I got to dress as a wolf or witch, so perpetuating my role as class baddie, but more importantly children get so excited about it. This means you have already hooked them and now you just need to reel them in. Better still their excitement is already directed towards books. A small spark has been lit and now you need to fan it like fury to get the blaze going.
However, here we have Fear Number One: Managing a school full of highly stimulated children. Whilst it is daunting to be in charge of large numbers of animated children, it is very telling if a school is not willing to rise to that challenge. Is this a school where we want our children to spend most of their daily life?
Moving on we find Fear Number Two: Some children will not have an outfit. It is true that some parents are so short of time, or money or parental skills that they cannot provide a costume. Ready made dressing up costumes can be expensive, made ones take time and resources and some parents simply do not engage. This is a problem but do we therefore stop all children participating in these activities? That would be a depressing choice. Alternatively get in a selection of cat ears, pirate patches and witches hats. Take your pick from the many, many books they would cover (my choice would be Tabby McTat, The Pirate Cruncher and Winnie the Witch). Better still get classes to make their own masks the week before and come in their own clothes (alien masks for Man on the Moon; giant faces for the BFG; animals for Handa’s Surprise). For the older children channel Percy Jackson and give out orange or purple t-shirts. They could research whether they want to be a Greek (orange) or Roman (purple) demi-god. They could also decide which god was their parent and why. There is an endless range of discussions to have around the history, theology and social ideas of discovering your heritage is not what you thought it was. As so often happens this only works when a school is not totally shackled by a restrictive approach to the curriculum, or menaced by tests, assessments and inspectors.
Of course, this brings us to Fear Number Three: This all removes children from core lessons and activities. Making masks and researching Greek Gods is not worthy enough to step away from that spelling or times table test. This is when we have to put on the brakes and remind ourselves that reading is core to the whole education system. Children cannot pass their maths tests in Year 6 if they cannot read the tricksy, convoluted problems designed to assess them. A SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) test won’t happen if the child cannot read. The Government report Research evidence on reading for pleasure (http://readingriddle.co.uk/teaching-materials/research/) is clear that the studies show that children who enjoy reading are more successful readers. If you help children enjoy books they will want to be readers. If you create readers you give them crucial skills to become learners. Then a world of opportunity is open to them. This is a long-game, not something that happens overnight. I know that teachers know this, but in a repressive climate of fact-learning, tests and judgement by statistic, these activities get squeezed out. Schools are forced to prove their worth now, not in two years time.
Finally, this year there has been comment on social media about Fear Number Four: Characters that are not deemed to be from a book. Interestingly the articles I have seen have used images of Harry Potter to illustrate this. Harry Potter is most definitely a book character and it really is not his fault that he has become a massive film star! More contentious choices spring from the Marvel and DC universes. Again they do come from reading matter. In fact if a comic or age-appropriate graphic novel is what gets a child or young person reading I salute it and will call it a book every day of the week. Some characters start out in film or cartoons and now have a vast amount of reading material to go with them, the most immediate examples being Dr Who and Star Wars. So what? There are books about these characters. My son chose the Star Wars book when spending his World Book Day voucher and is already up to page 20. I call that a result, not a problem.
World Book Day is not the only way to celebrate books, but it is a great excuse to. Allowing these fears to detract from this opportunity is to lose the chance to join together, have fun and share the joy that reading a book can give. Do not be afraid, embrace it…..or I’ll send round the wolf.