This is a community service announcement for parents of children in primary school: Children’s Book Week has begun.
‘So what?’ you might ask if you are blissfully unaware of the pressure that comes with trying to find a suitably bookish costume every year for one, two, or (god forbid) three children by 8.30am on your school’s designated Book Day.
But for parents, this announcement will be a wake-up call that will see them trawling through the costume tub and craft box in hope of inspiration. After all, no one wants a repeat of last year’s debacle, in which they yanked a stripy top over their scowling child’s head, called them ‘Wally’, and told them to blend in with the crowd.
On learning that it is almost Book Day, many parents who have fought this battle before will resignedly pull out an Elsa or a Jedi costume, figuring that there are many of both in books. Alternatively, they will grab a footy jersey from their child’s cupboard – isn’t there a book by a retired footballer who turned his mind to writing about … footy?
But, even though I understand the pressure of just getting the kids out of the door in the morning, and I really, really want to support other busy, exhausted parents, the booklover and pedant in me cries out – are they really book characters? Surely, on the one day of the year dedicated to the celebration of books, characters from books trump sporting heroes and Disney princesses?
I realise that, in our age of hyper commercialism, when it is hard to find an unlicensed pair of pyjamas in Kmart, most movie characters swiftly make their way into books, as well as onto drink bottles, toothbrushes, underwear and doona covers. Yet, I am not convinced that this makes them ‘book characters’.
I’m afraid that while my children’s past Book Day costumes might have left a lot to be desired (see the truffula tree costume below), I also believe in the value of encouraging children’s enjoyment of books, beyond those licenced by Disney.
A love of books and reading can be a crucial building block in a child’s education during their primary school years, with a report of literature for The Reading Agency revealing that the benefits of reading for pleasure include: “enjoyment, knowledge of the self and other people, social interaction, social and cultural capital, imagination, focus and flow, relaxation and mood regulation. Improvements in young children’s communication abilities and longer-term education outcomes were also reported for early years children.”
The whole point of Children’s Book Week according to the Children’s Book Council of Australia is to: “to bring words, images and stories into the hearts and minds of children and adults”, and a day dedicated to the celebration of books is one way of showing children that literature is fun, hopefully helping them develop a lifelong interest in reading, and offering then all the associated educational, social and personal benefits.
It seems that teachers agree that children should be encouraged to dress as book characters on this day, rather than merely fictional characters or sporting heroes, and many now ask students to bring the book in which their character features along with them to school. This way, there’s no avoiding the bookish nature of the day.
But, you say, parents are busy. They barely have time to dress themselves in the morning, let alone arrange a costume (or two, or three!) by the time the school bell rings. And I know better than to expect the child to show initiative on this one – a parent is lucky if the said child agrees to pull on the costume, let alone looks up from a screen for long enough to contribute to the discussion about what they will wear. I’ve tried. And tried. And given up.
With this in mind, I have come up with some easy solutions to the busy parent’s Book Day dilemma. Here are some costumes that can be thrown together with little fuss from what might even already be lying around the house.
The Boy in the Dress – if your son is happy to don a dress, this is perhaps the easiest costume of all. Unfortunately, not all boys will be amenable to this one, unless they have read David Walliams’ book and recognised the glorious freedom of wearing a dress on the soccer field.
Ada Twist – grab a white shirt and put some pens, a ruler or a magnifying glass in the pocket and you have your own little Ada Twist, Scientist.
Saucepan Man – anyone who has read the Faraway Tree series will recognise Saucepan Man from the saucepans he has dangling from his clothes and atop his head. You could use the real thing, or, if you have time, a less cumbersome alternative is to use foil and cardboard to make the saucepans.
Mr Twit – put on a fake beard, stick some coco pops and other assorted foods to it, get your child’s scruffiest clothes and they’ll be a dead ringer for Mr Twit … even better if they haven’t washed their hair for a few weeks.
Pippi Longstocking – if your child has long hair, plait it around a wire clothes hanger stretched into a big ‘U’ shape and you have Pippi Longstocking. Wear knee high socks and draw on a smattering of freckles to complete the look. A Book Day classic.
Giant in Jack and the Beanstalk – make a little house out of Lego and hey, presto – your child is the giant holding it. If you want to go all out, get them to take along a little Lego or Ken doll Jack.
Truffula tree – last year I got my son to dress up in brown clothes and put on a brightly-coloured wig from the costume tub, and he was, unmistakably (in my eyes and possibly, my eyes only) a truffula tree from The Lorax. Not quite a character, but close enough.
Witch – who doesn’t have a witch costume at home? Put on the black hat and some dark clothes, stick a broom in their hand your child will look like they’ve walked straight out of Room on the Broom.
Crayon – create a cone shape with a piece of coloured cardboard, place it on your child’s head as a hat, dress them in clothes of the same colour, and you have one of the defiant crayons from The Day the Crayons Quit.
If all else fails, go ahead, grab a princess dress, a footy jersey or a tutu. Who am I to judge? No doubt, my own enthusiasm will wane when my daughter demands her Frozen costume and my son refuses to put on a dress. But when I give up trying to find the perfect costume, in recognition of an important day that should be celebrated, you’ll find me sitting down with my own little Hawthorn ruckman and Elsa, reading a book.