The most feared date in the working mother’s calendar – World Book Day

Ah World Book Day. One of the most feared dates in the working mother’s calendar. I saw the first post about this, from a friend about two months ago: “Remember, it is coming in March! Mark your calendar!”

And over the past week, the low-level anxiety has built up to a frenzy – yesterday my Facebook feed was full of nothing but angst about costumes. 

One friend wailed: “I hate world book day I can’t wait for it to be gone so much stress trying to find bloody outfits it’s actually making me hate books !!!!”

Today, the feed was full of triumphant photos and the schoolyard was full of Alice in Wonderlands, Robin Hoods, Hungry Caterpillars, Gruffaloes and Harry Potters. Those without children will have no idea what has gone on behind the scenes to achieve that.

For those that don’t sew there was the angst of how to create a costume. For those of us that do sew there was the inevitable argument with our children wailing: “But why do I have to go in in a HOMEMADE costume? Why can’t we just buy a costume off eBay like everybody else?”

“Because I don’t want to spend £20 on a piece of flimsy nylon shit that will fall apart before you even get to school,” is not considered a valid argument by my daughter who is in the full-on lemming phase of life and wants to do everything exactly the same as her friends.

Deciding which character your child will be is at least a three-week-long negotiation, as unpredictable and delicate as talks over the Iranian nuclear deal. This year, I decided to do some ground-work: I had found an Alice in Wonderland outfit in a charity shop six months ago for the youngest child. We then started reading the Lewis Carroll classic to her at regular intervals, upping the frequency in the run up to March so that she would “spontaneously” decide on Alice as her character…

And then, costume decided, you hold your breath and hope your child does not change their mind at the last minute and have a big tantrum over their outfit leaving you sewing cat ears onto a headband as an improvised Puss in Boots costume at 11 pm, which is what happened last year.

Yesterday, on the way back home from school pick-up more than one mother was heard to be hissing from between her teeth “We are not discussing this any more. You can’t change your mind now, the costume is MADE.”

There are other issues as well. This year, the children were asked to bring in a book that they would like to swap with someone. My 5-year-old was in tears because she does not want to swap any of her books, she loves them all. Finally she found one that she was willing to give away.

“This one is really boring,” she said, stuffing it into her bag. Luckily I checked what it was.

It was a book called “What is God” which aims to explain the concept of spirituality to children in a way that is not tied to any religious denomination. In a school that has a surprisingly large dose of Christian teaching despite not being officially a church school, this was potential political tinder. Wars have been fought over less.

I could imagine myself getting the reputation for being “that parent” that foists dubious religious pamphlets on other people’s children. I tried gently to suggest that this might not be the most appropriate one to swap, wondering how best to explain the concepts of agnosticism and religious tolerance to a 5-year-old. Thanks for that, World Book Day.

And at the end of all of this palaver, have we read any more books? Not really.

Don’t get me wrong. I love books. We are a family that loves books. But I could think of so many better ways to celebrate books than this dress-up malarkey. Two years ago the school had a wonderful idea and asked everyone to donate a book to the school library which badly needed restocking. I’d love for that to happen again.

Or we could fund more interventions into schools where children are not learning to read properly. Around 16 per cent of adults in the UK are functionally illiterate according to the National Literacy Trust. Or we could petition the government to stop closing libraries around the country – the library in our town, for example, runs partly on the back of volunteers who keep it open when there is no money for salaried staff. Nearly 200 libraries in the UK have closed since April 2012 according to the list on this site:

So celebrate World Book Day in style. Go to a bookshop. Go to a library. Read a bloody book.

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