Seriously, I haven’t begun this blog and I’m already wondering how many readers I’m going to annoy before I get to the end of it.
It is World Book Day. How could I possibly rail against such a glorious institution? I couldn’t, surely?
It all sounds rather wonderful, doesn’t it? A whole day every year for the purpose of celebrating books and reading... in fact, not just a day, but a global day, a day when everyone in the World can agree that books are good.
First of all, I’d argue that we really ought to be able to agree on that every day of the year, globally.
The fact is that we call it ‘World’ book day, but there are still plenty of countries in the World where reading material is restricted or proscribed, where all reading material is not celebrated, where all books are not considered equal.
Furthermore, what exactly constitutes this celebration? You might think that on this day of days books are held in great esteem, that on this day, on Book Day, (for I cannot, in good conscience, call it World Book Day) books are valued more highly than they are on other days. Stands to reason, doesn’t it? Not so.
On this day when books should be valued most highly they are, instead, hardly valued at all. Today more books will be available at lower prices than on any other day of the year. More vouchers will be given out to allow children to purchase books at below cost price than on any other day of the year. If children can buy books for a pound, and if they are given brand new books for free, how are they ever to understand their value?
Any day of the week, Mum and Dad can walk into our friendly High Street book shop, drink a cup of coffee and eat a sandwich each, and for the money they’ve spent they could have bought a book for each of their 2.4 kids. Today, with their pound a book vouchers, they can buy a book for each of their 2.4 kids for the price of one cup of cappuccino. I’m sorry, but how does that teach anyone the value of a good book?
Of course I want to give all children access to books, and of course I realise that not all families have disposable incomes, especially in times of recession (albeit I, for one, have always considered books a necessity rather than a luxury, so the use of the term ‘disposable income’ is a nonsense). What about encouraging children to bring in their used books to swap or share them with their classmates? What about children donating their used books to fill classroom libraries that all classmates can borrow from?
On this day of days all sorts of wonderful things happen. Children are allowed to use their imaginations and parents contribute somewhat to the event by providing their offspring with dressing up costumes. Lots of children will go to school dressed as their favourite characters from books. Where’s the variety, though? When my kids were at school half of the kids in any classroom were dressed as one or other of J K Rowling’s characters. I’ve got nothing against the writer, but when my daughter arrived at school one year dressed as Apparition from the Legion of Superheroes comic it was a terrible shame that the cultural reference was lost on every other child in the room.
Whatever happened to sharing reading experiences? Why shouldn’t every child in the classroom, who wants to, stand up and read from his favourite book? Or ask his teacher to do it for him.
I hope that lots of wonderful activities will take place in schools today, and I hope that lots of children will be exposed to books that would not otherwise have caught their attention. I hope this won’t be just another opportunity for the biggest publishers to narrow the cultural experience of the most impressionable members of our society, and I hope that, as parents, we don’t allow that to happen.