Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Thursday 7 March 2013

World Book Day

How do I offend thee? Let me count the ways.

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.

It saddened me this morning to read one parent on Twitter say that he had discouraged his child from dressing up as Titty from ‘Swallows and Amazons’ for Book Day. Yeah, I know it was a joke, but what a great book, and what a great shame to rob a child of the chance to be her heroine for the day, and who gives a damn if the name makes the other kids titter? Titty had the courage of her convictions, why shouldn’t every child have that opportunity?


  1. I hadn't really thought of it that way, but you are right. I consider myself very fortunate in that my nudging towards books has been highly effective on both of my sons, but the same cannot be said for all children and some don't have the option at all.

    That's given the day a bit of a melancholy edge!

    1. Then thrust a good book into a poor child's hands, and make it a happier one. Smiles.

  2. A good read as always (I don't get to follow your blog nearly as closely as I would like these days) and a valid point. For me personally, the books of my childhood were a curious mix of fairy tales (Rumer Godden's Dragon of Og an Imogen Chichester's The Witch Child being two such highlights), 'standard' childrens fiction (of the time) such as Jan Mark's Thunder and Lightnings and the Great Gilly Hopkins, Enid Blyton (for which I remain resolutely unrepentant) and various and sundry others such as The Machine Gunners.

    Funnily enough, I recently re-acquired TMG and Thunder and Lightnings and re-read both - as excellent as they ever were and I am a little disappointed to note just how difficult they were to get hold of. Jan Mark in particular was a great childrens author and it's a travesty that she seems sidelined in modern childrens reading - almost as a big a travesty as the film version of Bridge to Terabithia which I still refuse to watch because the trailer alone made it clear that the people making it had entirely missed the point of the book.

    I'm not saying that there is no valuable reading material for children anymore - The Mortal Engines and Spooks Chronicles to name two, but it seems to me that the old stuff - Swallows and Amazons being a case in point - is slowly being dismissed as 'not relevant' and that makes me quite sad.

  3. Mark-Anthony Fenech7 March 2013 at 13:30

    My love for reading (and later for writing) was instilled in me by my parents before - according to my Mum - I could barely walk and talk, they always bought me loads of books and read me bedtime stories :) My father would buy me history books as well and see that I knew of most if not all of the major events in history.

    All in all I owe my favourite hobby to my parents :)