World Book Day – a date, which if Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts is to be believed, causes parents no end of stress, rolls around annually. Yet, for some reason, seems to repeatedly take parents by surprise, and generates endless rounds of debate – including what technically qualifies as a book, how many ‘brownie points’ a home-made or non-Disney costume may or may not score, and why we need so many dressing up days anyway.
World Book Day is a celebration, they say: “It’s a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading.” Which suggests that perhaps it’s being taken a bit too seriously by the scores of parents who have strong opinions either way as to whether Elsa is a justified choice of costume. They go onto say “The main aim of World Book Day in the UK and Ireland is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own.”
My feelings around Disney and Elsa in particular are mixed. Pip recently persuaded me to buy her an Elsa dress in a charity shop and has been keen to wear it to a variety of occasions. When we started talking about World Book Day and potential costume options over our evening meal a few days ago, Elsa naturally was at the fore-front of her mind. Her reasoning was faultless – she loves playing Elsa, and Elsa is a character in at least two books that she has. However, in my opinion, those Frozen books belong in the recycling alongside Peppa Pig books – they are merchandise, with poor writing and sad illustrations. Why waste time on them when the other possibilities are amazing and endless. I have sympathy with both sides of the argument, and it really should be that anything that promotes reading is to be encouraged. As an English graduate, book lover, and with both a particular interest in children’s literature and feminism, I just couldn’t quite let it pass.
And to my amazement, Pip agreed. She wouldn’t go as Elsa – she’d go as one of other favourites: Max, from Maurice Sendak’s celebrated Where The Wild Things Are. Sure, this was also her choice last year, but who am I to argue. I bloody love that book, never tire of reading it, and would take it any day over some Elsa merchandising. It’s also a nice easy and comfortable costume to put together, and the crown can be worn for many other occasions.
Sendak captures perfectly in less than 350 words how complicated our relationship with anger and love is; how frustration can become all consuming and creep in before retreating just as quickly, and how important parental love, input and reassurance is in creating boundaries for children to feel safe. I particularly love the way the positioning of the illustrations on the page adds to the climax of the story; that Sendak is reported to have written the words and then removed as many as possible in the editing so that each word is essential – much like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s approach.
Of course, allowing her to go as Max, or Elsa, were indeed the lazy options. I could have come up with something far more original from one of her other favourites, which currently include Shirley Hughes’ Alfie books (front runner currently Alfie Gets in First) or one of the nincampoop knights from Princess Daisy and the Dragon. Princess Daisy can be recited word for word, whilst turning the pages accurately, which is somewhat disconcerting, particularly as it is one she has only encountered it at nursery. Likewise, Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy. Another favourite is What the Ladybird Heard, recited frequently as a song, to the same tune as the The Gruffalo’s Child. All of those, with the exception of the Gruffalo, would have no doubt made a more engaging and feted costume, but, to my mind, that is not what book day is about, boasting about costumes, despite my feelings about not going as Elsa. The argument that Frozen is based on the Snow Queen which is a book, is I think b*****cks and really irrelevant/missing the point. WBD is a celebration, not something where there are rules – if the Snow Queen is a child’s favourite book that is excellent. But Frozen is not the Snow Queen; it is a dumbed down version which has been princess-ified. To my mind, own the choice. If it makes your child happy to go as Elsa, or your life easier, then do it, without caring what justification is required.