With just days to go until schools reopen, there are bound to be many frazzled parents gnashing their teeth with impatience and wondering why it can’t be this week, rather than next.
But hold your horses, people! There is a silver lining to the delay, and it’s not just the fact that it gives teachers adequate time to prepare. No, a March 8th reopening means that the horrors of World Book Day are swerved by a whole four days.
This fact is surely worth a few more days of homeschooling. For, as many parents may well remind themselves, what’s grappling with a fronted adverbial compared with a last-minute attempt to cobble together an Iron Giant costume out of tin foil? What’s the sullen face of a recalcitrant youngster, compared with the smug gurnings of that school-gates mum (you know the one) who has crafted her little darling’s costume from moonbeams and unicorn tears whilst whipping up a gluten-free, dairy-free souffle and practising pilates?
Oh no. Back to school on March 8th will do just fine, thank you very much. And I am speaking as someone who has never even experienced the trauma of substandard tinfoil. In fact, I’m not even a Dress Up Grinch – I rather enjoy a costume and, although I’m not particularly crafty, used to find it quite fun to put things together from charity shop finds and random possessions.
Over the years, however, my enthusiasm for such things has waned. Age and exhaustion? Possibly. Number of children? Yes, could have something to do with it. The competitive mums I’ve encountered over the years? Almost certainly.
It’s also, however, just the sheer blimmin’ number of days for which a costume is required. World Book Day is just the start of it – what about the nativity, the parties, the plays, the Easter parade, the Hallowe’en disco, Pirate Day, Roald Dahl Day and endless other excuses for parent-driven craft projects? One year, for some reason, we had Alice in Wonderland Day. In fact, our school even used to do Rolf Harris Day although, as you may suppose, that’s not been mentioned for a while.
One only needs to turn to Mumsnet to see evidence of the resentment with which parents start to seethe: as one poster wrote, “I love books, but I truly and utterly, really, really, REALLY hate World Book Day. I just see it as yet ANOTHER edict sent from above (i.e. ‘well-meaning’ schools) to make our lives as busy working parents the ultimate hell.”
You also have certain individuals sniffily posting that “All these children dressed up for World Book Day look lovely and happy, but shop bought costumes, especially standard princess costumes, are a lazy choice,” which in turn provokes “I thought WBD was for children to celebrate books and reading, and have fun. Not for judgy adults to get all snobby about where the costumes came from.”
I mean honestly, no wonder we have Costume Fatigue – and, as time goes on, so do the children. Not only do they probably pick up on much of this parental angst but, as Puff the Magic Dragon will tell you, children grow up and no longer want to be festooned in fairytales, whether store-bought or handmade.
Which is absolutely fair enough – after all, who wants to mortify their growing child by insisting that they still dress up as a friendly ghost at Hallow’een, when they just want to be a zombie? Well, our “friends” at the school gates perhaps.
But not me: I get it. My only request has been that there is still a modicum of involvement: non-participation on the basis of what others may think, I tell them, is not cool.
On a recent World Book Day, therefore, my three children decided to join forces and go as Boggis, Bunce and Bean, from Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox. Easy: jeans, checked shirts, a hat or two. A enormous rubber chicken leg from the pet store, a plastic bottle labelled ‘Very Strong Homemade Alcoholic Cider’ and a packet of doughnuts marked ‘Duck Liver Pate Doughnuts: Property of Bunce.’
A squeaky toy fox, also from the pet store, casually slung through one of their belts. Three water pistols standing in for firearms. Job done.
When I saw the glowers later that afternoon, I was all set to deliver the ‘it’s not about winning, it’s about taking part’ lecture. It turned out, however, that taking part had been the issue: after drop-off, too-cool-for-school Boggis had ditched his chicken leg, gun and hat, and removed his checked shirt so that he was essentially just in jeans and a white t-shirt. To anyone who asked, he said he was ‘Boy’ – still a Roald Dahl book, he pointed out, so “practically the same thing”.
“How is that the same thing? You left us just being Bunce and Bean!” fumed Bunce. “How can you only have Bunce and Bean? You’re a traitor!”
Bean, meanwhile, was trying to whack Boggis/ Boy with the cider bottle. I mean, it’s hardly the stuff of fostering a love of reading, is it?
I wasn’t sorry, therefore, when my costume refusenik graduated to secondary school – only to find that World Book Day costumes are still expected in KS3. I could share some of the panicked messages flying around on the parents’ WhatsApp group this time last year but, suffice to say, my child got the usual “don’t opt out on the basis of what people think” spiel and Alex Rider – teen spy, created by Anthony Horowitz – was decided upon. Jeans, t-shirt, black hoodie, trainers. Safe, but sufficient.
And yet – not sufficient. The result was a detention and a form tutor demanding that he find the precise phrase (within the series’ 13 books) describing young Rider dressed exactly thus – and decrying his failure to have applied hair gel and worn sunglasses.
This, naturally, was pre-pandemic. In the context of stunted social interaction and the attendant loss of confidence that young people have suffered over the last year – not to mention the utter exhaustion of parents – I’d imagine that an immediate, post-lockdown, World Book Day could tip a few of us over the edge.
Perhaps by Hallowe’en we’ll have pulled ourselves together. Until then, let’s leave educational staff to prepare for schools to reopen, and celebrate World Book Day a different way – not with costumes, but with books. Preferably with all of us piled together on the sofa, on a day when the pyjamas don’t come off, the laptops aren’t switched on – and with no tin foil in sight.