World Book Day – a celebration or a mourning?

Tomorrow (Thursday 5th March) is World Book Day and it seems to pass by each year with a whimper rather than the bang it absolutely deserves.

World Book Day was first celebrated in 1995, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s inception was as a result of the commercial success of the Internet in the mid-90’s. Was this the brainchild of a fellow literature fan who feared the impact that the internet may have on the concept of books and reading?

When my (now almost 15-year-old) daughter was in primary school in the mid-noughties, her school went all out for World Book Day. The kids dressed up, the teachers dressed up. The entire day was devoted to all things literary. Sure, there were the kids who wore their Disney princess outfits and there were Captain Jack Sparrow outfits as far as the eye could see but a lot of these characters originated from books, I rationalised. Some parents complained that little Alice had dragged them to Disney Store for a top of the range Belle outfit and that little Jack didn’t even read books. Signs of the times, in retrospect.

As the years passed the celebrations dwindled to a passing mention in the newsletter and by the time my other (now 8-year-old) daughter started school, it was only mentioned in passing that they would not be celebrating World Book Day as there was a non-uniform day at the end of the week instead. What a sad state of affairs!

All change again this year! My 8-year-old and my 3-year-old have brought letters home from school and nursery to say they can bring their book in to school and send in a photo (by email, of course!) of said children reading their books in an obscure place around the home.

This instigated a discussion amongst friends about the various ways in which schools are celebrating World Book Day and it seems that some schools are still making a day of it, dressing up, a day positively overflowing with literary activities. Yet some schools are barely acknowledging it. As I lamented this affront to the world of literature, a friend replied “yeah, but you’re a book lover”. I absolutely and wholeheartedly agree and perhaps I have taken this a bit too seriously, but surely, in schools of all places, World Book Day should be an opportunity in this increasingly technological age to actively encourage children to cherish literature and all that it can offer.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that reading is not encouraged in our schools. After all, the ability to read is taught in our schools (to varying degrees of success if you believe the tabloids) and, one would hope, will be further encouraged at home. However as tablets and video games become such a massive part of our culture, the lowly book seems to be the consolation prize for when the batteries run out. Whilst I encourage my girls to read as much as possible, when they can be easily visually entertained by their devices, books just seem too much like hard work to them. Imagination? What’s that?

I understand the appeal of technological products. My iPhone is never far away from me. I also have a Kindle and the Kindle app on my phone. I don’t share the view of many other literature advocates that actual, honest-to-goodness, books are the only way to read. Reading is reading, whichever medium you use, in my humble opinion. However, I still appreciate the value of reading a good book. Immersing yourself in a fantasy world for a little while as you take a break from the trials and tribulations of everyday life is an amazing tonic.

I desperately want my children to enjoy reading and to indulge in a good book as often as possible, and they do, to a large extent (although how much of that is as a result of my thrusting a book into their face at the earliest opportunity, I couldn’t say). I fear that books may eventually disappear into the ether and the hobby that I have enjoyed since I was knee-high to a grasshopper will be frowned upon. “Reading? Why on earth would you do that? Just watch the film! Save yourself all that hard work!”

I may be exaggerating the situation somewhat but in a time when we see so many remakes of films and regurgitated ideas for drama, I wonder if the up and coming film-makers and screenwriters will have the imaginations to come up with anything  new in years to come. Books feed the imagination and the fact that a day has been earmarked across the globe for the celebration of literature, this day should warrant an important calendar note. I’m sure there’s an app for that!