World Book Day happens every year in the UK and Ireland, and next year will be held on 3rd March 2016. Many children will take part by participating in some book-led activity in school. They may dress up as a favourite character, have an author visit, or discuss favourite books at school. This is great. As a children’s book advocate I’m delighted to have these days/weeks in our schools to promote reading. This is A GOOD THING. And for children it’s an opportunity to take their ‘£1 off’ or free book voucher to the local shops and pick one of ten exclusive books. For some children this is their only opportunity to own a book. According to the National Literacy Trust, 15.4% of children don’t have a book of their own.
What’s the aim of these ten books? Is it to put books into the hands of those 15.4%? Is it to provide a familiar landscape for children to navigate, or give them another title by their favourite author? Or is it a chance to broaden their horizons – make them reach for a book that they might not have otherwise picked – to explore the huge vista of children’s books available? Last week the ten books for next year’s World Book Day were announced. And although my heart rose at the opportunity for young adults to read a book by James Dawson or Rainbow Rowell (those lucky things), my heart sank a little for those key stage 1 and 2 children.
Because from the huge wealth of children’s literature, the ten books on offer included these three: A Star Wars book; a celebrity author book – The Boy Who Could Do What He Liked by David Baddiel; and a Roald Dahl book – The Great Mouse Plot, which is an extract from his autobiography Boy.
Firstly, if reading the Roald Dahl spurs a child into reading more Dahl at Key Stage One, I sincerely hope it’s The Enormous Crocodile or The Twits, and not Boy. I don’t want to spark a huge debate about censorship and reading ages, but frankly, I would recommend Boy as a 9yrs+ read, not for Key Stage 1. Secondly, with McDonalds giving away free Roald Dahl books with Happy Meals for the next few weeks, I wouldn’t want our children to think that the only children’s book author is Roald Dahl.
Why, when limited to just ten titles, are we going for a celebrity author, a film and merchandising brand, and a Dahl extract? If children walk into a WHSmiths on their high street, these are the authors who already get top billing. I’d love people to think beyond Roald Dahl, David Walliams, and David Baddiel when they think of children’s books. There are so many wonderful books out there.
Also, why aren’t there any ethnically diverse authors or illustrators featured? With momentum growing to portray our multi-cultural society in children’s books, and to show children that you can be a writer regardless of your background, this is the opportunity to do so. Those ten books are a wonderful chance to give attention to lesser known authors – those with equal or even higher quality narratives and illustrations. Lastly, what about non-fiction? I know plenty of children who are happily introduced to reading for pleasure through non-fiction rather than fiction, and yet none is featured within this ten.
Saying that, I applaud World Book Day for the work they do, and for including such treasures as James Dawson, and Kes Gray’s Daisy, as well as Sue Hendra’s Supertato, because no one could possibly resist Supertato: Hap-Pea Ever After.