Dressing up as your favourite character from a book is a tricky business this World Book Day judging by the endless stream of princesses I saw going into my local primary school this morning. I saw princesses, lots of them; but spied no books.
What, I wonder, do poor kids do on World Book Day? The ones from families who are skint? Poverty clings to poor kids like a smell, it follows you wherever you go. As a former poor kid, I confirm this is true. It is obvious to your teachers, the other kids in class, their parents (especially them), all your neighbours; every single curtain twitching one, that you are poor. As a poor kid, you don’t anything new, or for spare. You live a life of hand me downs and free school dinners.
And everybody knows.
So on World Book Day, what’s the script for the poor kid? She hasn’t got fancy dress left over from Hallowe’en, and the whole wear-a-sheet-and-pretend-to-be-a-ghost thing doesn’t work if you’re poor. A homemade robot made out of a cardboard box is fine if it’s common knowledge your mam and dad have a nice car and you go on hols to Dubai every summer. If they know you walk to school no matter the density of the pissing rain and a day out in Southport seems exotic to you because it’s so rare, then that fucking robot underlines your poverty; a child may as well have a neon sign above her head saying “I’m a pov”.
My friend the children’s author Trevor Belshaw has a quirky idea. Why, he asks, aren’t kids encouraged to go to the library, take out a book they really like and bring it to school with them on World Book Day? It’s free to borrow books, anyone can do it and we need to boost activity in libraries, so…
Too radical an idea? Controversial?
No, let’s not bother with such bookish craziness; we’ll go for the costume angle instead and, y’know, children can bring a book if they really want to. It’s bound to work, and if it makes the poor kids feel even shittier than they usually do, we’re on to a winner. Well played.