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The peril of Book Week for the literature-loving parent

Parents of twins must be overjoyed during Book Week. Pop a couple of red onesies on their duo and they have Thing 1 and Thing 2. Simple and irresistible.

While I was not fortunate enough to have twins, I am still inordinately excited that my son is now at school and required to dress up to celebrate Book Week. In preparation, I’ve been wading through his books, trying to inspire him to choose his favourite character.

But I’ve hit a stumbling block. While I thought I’d be sending off a cranky bear with cute little brown ears and a pillow, or Paddington with a red hat and little suitcase, my son will have none of that. He is insisting on going to school dressed up as a 91-storey treehouse.

I have nothing against Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton’s books and I love reading them to my children and seeing their joy in the wacky and exuberant storylines. I get almost as excited as my son when another instalment is released. But I don’t know how on earth I’m meant to dress my little guy as a multi-storey treehouse, complete with shark tank, the world’s strongest whirlpool and marshmallow-flinging machine.

Is it enough to get him to hold onto a few branches, tuck some leaves behind his ears and put a couple of marshmallows in his pocket? I’ve got a feeling that in this era of do-it-yourself, creative, self-esteem building parenting, this costume-making effort will be frowned upon.

I’m obviously not the first parent to have experienced difficulties convincing their children what to wear on Book Day – how else to explain the prevalence of decidedly unbookish Elsas and superheroes?

And neither is it the first time my literary preconceptions have been challenged by the reality of my children’s interests. As is often the case where kids are involved, you never know what to expect. So, while I might have had visions of reading the poetic and poignant story of The Little Prince to my kids, as tears welled up in their eyes and they begged me to read on, in the real world they are far more amused by Anh Do’s What Do They Do With All the Poo From All the Animals at the Zoo? Yes, toilet humour is a firm favourite in our household.

This was confirmed when I took my children to our local book store in Ballarat last week, and let them choose a book each. Happily, my daughter chose Mr Huff. Less happily, but perhaps more predictably, her favourite page is the one in which the little boy goes to the toilet, followed by his own gloomy mood. The book is beautifully illustrated, with an important message, yet it is the toilet that captures my little girl’s attention.

For a similar reason, my kids love Underpants Wonderpants, with its storyline consisting of undies blowing off the washing line and landing in a variety of unlikely places. And yes, their favourite page is when the explorer’s boot is about to step on a pile of ‘poop’.

Even the dung beetle in an old Balinese folk tale that we bought on holiday seems to be the main source of interest in that particular book.

And it’s not just the toilet humour that has captured my children’s imaginations in an unanticipated way – there has also been a surprising, and not altogether welcome, outcome of introducing my son to the Wimpy Kid series. Half way through the book, before I realised that some of the themes were a little advanced for a six-year-old, my son discovered the term ‘zoo wee mama’.  Suddenly, he had a catchcry he would use every time he saw me, courtesy of author Jeff Kinney. Endearing at first, six months later, it is starting to grate.

However, in other ways, my children have surprised me by their interest in classic reads in which toilet humour and kooky catchphrases are absent. My son was transfixed by The Enchanted Wood and Faraway Tree series. They loved The Digging-est Dog and Corduroy and Dr Seuss’s books, especially The Lorax, are firm favourites. While some of the language might have evolved and the pages are worn and faded, the stories are just as engaging as they have always been.

Perhaps, it’s not so surprising after all, and simply points to the capacity for children to find joy in different places, whether in toilet humour, wacky catchcries or traditional literature.

And while I might be stumped by the idea of creating a modern multi-storeyed treehouse, I suppose I’d have just as much trouble constructing a faraway tree (although, surely, red overalls with a missing button would be far easier to arrange…).

So, as you prepare your little Hairy Maclarys, Moonfaces and Harry Potters for school celebrations of Book Week, spare a thought for me as I attempt to construct a wearable multi-storey treehouse. At least my son didn’t insist on dressing up in the theme dreamt up by Anh Doh.

And I know that I’ll leave nothing to chance with my daughters, instilling in them a love of Pippi Longstocking so that in the future, Book Week will merely consist of hair plaited around a coat hanger.

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