World Book Day has, for many, become a cynical ploy for Supermarkets to sell cheaply made, bad quality plastic costumes intended for single use. Is the focus on dressing up really the right thing for children, their families, and the planet?
So, it’s World Book Day again. We got away lightly this year. I gave my four year old carte blanche to wear whatever he wanted to his nursery. The little daycare nursery that my son attends has organised a dress-up day for what has, at many schools and nurseries, become a yearly tradition. As my son is becoming more aware of what his peers would be doing for the day I gave him complete free choice as to what he might want to wear. I’d absolutely make a costume if he wanted, or if he wanted to wear just his normal clothes or a special decorated sweatshirt (as I have made for other years) that would also be fine. This year he said he wanted to wear the dinosaur costume that he asked for last summer and that he wears regularly (so he knows it to be comfortable and fun), so that was easy on us. I know not all families and children will have had today play out so smoothly, though.
I have said before that I’m not really a fan of World Book Day in its current form, and I think it has lost its way of a celebration of books, and of reading.
The Impact On Children
There are a large number of children for whom dressing up for World Book Day is not a distracting bit of fun. There are many children that for all manner of reasons find this break from routine and the expectation to dress up stressful and worrying. The build-up to and then arrival of World Book Day can cause confusion and difficult emotions in children and young people that thrive with a more steady routine. As well as having to deal with the expectation on themselves to dress up, being surrounded by the unusual costumes and appearance of their classmates and the changes in usual behaviour that sometimes accompany them can be extremely stressful and upsetting, and can impact some children and their families very negatively.
The Impact On Families
There is no doubt that World Book Day can put the stress of expectation on parents who are struggling financially. With more than 1 in 4 children in the UK living in poverty that is no small problem. In the build-up to World Book Day many parents will feel pressured into buying a costume for their child or children, and the knock on shortage affects the ability to buy food and other necessities.
These same pressures might be especially difficult if you are perhaps a sole carer, or have multiple children to get costumes for. I’ve heard past arguments that perhaps these parents should make their costumes, that you don’t have to buy one, but absolutely the same difficulties can apply there. Not everyone has the time or materials to make costumes, and as the popularity of supermarket-bought costumes grows it is inevitable that some children feel compelled into buying a new costume due to classroom peer pressure.
The Impact On The Environment
Of the many thousands of supermarket costumes that are bought for World Book Day, almost all are 100% polyester, cheaply made and designed to be discarded after one day of use.
World Book Day has turned away from the joy and importance of reading, and into a more a cynical way for supermarkets to shift thousands of rails of polyester landfill.
As we are becoming increasingly aware of the devastating global impact of fast fashion, both on the environment and especially the oceans, and also on the poorly paid and appallingly treated workers whose labour is exploited to create clothes made to be thrown away, is the current World Book Day model at all sustainable?
Books, Not Costumes.
Last year a friend told me that her school had moved away from costumes and had each been asked to decorate a wooden spoon as a book character. Ideas similar to this encourage the actual reading and sharing of books! Enjoying the very thing that World Book Day was apparrently created to promote, by challenging participants to decide on a character, to research how that character might look and then using their imagination to create something unique.
There are so many other ways this *could* be implemented if we can just start to move the focus away from dressing up. It would be so good if schools didn’t let supermarkets hold power over what should be a celebration of reading. It would be kinder to the environment, to families with less time and money, and kinder to children and parents/carers who feel an undue amount of stress at World Book Day’s demands.
Other ideas for World Book Day might include making a 20cm tall paper figure of a favourite book character to be added to a classroom frieze and discussing how those characters might interact, or tasking older children in creating a miniature (4 or 8 page) book of their own about how they might behave if inserted into a favourite story or meeting a favourite character. What about organising a book swap? Fundraising activities that could be used to buy new books for the school library? Honestly, the possibilities are so endless that it seems strange that we’ve got hung up on it being all about a single idea. Surely it is time to let the costume idea fall by the wayside for a kinder, more inclusive and less environmentally impactful celebration of books?