In defence of World Book Day fancy dress: 'Having fun at primary school is still important'

There is more than a hint of cynicism around this year’s World Book Day – but such naysayers miss the point, writes one primary teacher and TES columnist

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World Book Day seems to have come in for a bit of a bashing this year. Pointless, expensive, nothing to do with books; I’ve heard more than one respected educator publicly dismiss it as a gimmick.

But as someone who loves books as much as I hate dressing up, I am still a fan. It may not be on-trend to say this but it’s fun, and having fun at primary school is still important. Children love dressing up; they get excited and enthused and confident. This morning I dropped my daughter at school in a playground buzzing with excitement and laughter. Children who are normally reluctant to go through the doors were skipping up to their teacher (a very well dressed Mary Poppins) with beaming smiles.

Do the parents always get it right? Of course not (remember the mum who sent her child as Christian Grey from Fifty Shades?). Are the costumes always practical and conductive to learning? Absolutely not. One year we hosted a Saucepan Man who couldn’t sit down or release his hands to write, a Gruffalo who nearly passed out in assembly because of the heat of his furry suit and an Enormous Crocodile who needed three teaching assistants to help him walk round corners. 

'We can be silly for one day'

But for those who say, "Forget the dressing up, just read them a book," why not do both? Every Spiderman and Harry Potter in the classroom today will be reading a book; having a book read to them; talking about a book.

The great World Book Day dress-up isn’t a school’s attempt to tick a “love of reading” box. Good schools work on this every day, all year round. I like the dress-up precisely because it’s silly and open to misinterpretation. It shows children that books are not things to be sanctified and only discussed in libraries and classrooms wearing sensible clothes. For every Very Hungry Caterpillar wondering why his mum gave him a green face, there’s a Charlie Bucket or Hermione Granger desperate to share the story of a character they have come to know and love.

So maybe, on occasion, we can afford to be a bit less serious about reading. Just for one day we can celebrate reading with a glorious mash-up between classic children’s literature and flammable Disney princesses. A day of humour, jealousy, excitement, anger, happiness and all the rest of the sweeping spectrum of human emotions encapsulated within a school. After all, isn’t that what you’d get in a book?

Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym. She is a primary teacher and TES columnist. She tweets as @jo_brighouse

To read more from Jo, see her back catalogue

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