As March begins, we should expect daffodils to be emerging and the warm weather of spring to be gently cooking our cockles. And yet, the reality is that we are being covered in freezing snow. Is it actually a cruel cosmic plan to cancel ‘World Book Day’?
For a few years now, I have been playing the role of Grinch when it comes to ‘World Book Day’. As each year passes, it proves less a celebration of reading, and more a supermarket ploy to dredge a few more quid out of hard pressed parents.
Without snowing on our students’ joys, we should take a long hard look at WBD. I’ll admit, I have donned a Gandalf costume myself in the not-too-distant past. And yet, I’ll claim it was at least part of a day bursting full of reading activities and not just a pricey costume parade. But now I’m not so sure.
Did anyone read more fulsomely the day after, the week after? Did my dressing up inspire a single reader? Well, you probably already know the answer to that.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I am not dismissing the importance of reading for pleasure. Indeed, much of my teaching career is testimony to the pleasure and power of reading. But it appears to me that as every year passes, we lose a little more of the thread of why ‘World Book Day’ was ever conceived.
I remember fondly winning the right to gift a stack of books away in conjunction with WBD. It was a deep – although slightly daunting – pleasure (the book was Alan Bennett’s biography if you are wondering). It meant that World Book Day lasted beyond a few hours in fancy dress at least. Still, even that is probably too tenuous to embed reading into the lives of the read-nots in all likelihood.
I think we should be wary of costumes and gimmicks and move towards something a little more meaningful and sustained. Something, well….more about reading deeply and well.
The Million Word Challenge
I’m not adverse to a little excitement – even a fun day (though don’t get me started on the sham that is Valentine’s Day!) – but it needs be the start of something. So here is my idea for something a little more meaningful, but potentially fun and fulfilling.
When the supermarket has shifted the shelves free of tenuously linked costumes (“That is a film, not a book, Mr TESCO”!), we can quietly, in the comfort of our own homes, with little fanfare, take on a reading challenge.
Everyone likes a goal. So how about the ‘million word challenge’?
Take your average novel, say Harry Potter. That is about 77,000 words long. Now multiply that for about twelve novels – and a couple of non-fiction titles – and you quickly reach a grand total of 1,000,000 words. It feels like something to aim for – something we can hook onto as we enjoy the reading ride.
I’d much rather encourage students in my classes to take up the ‘million word challenge‘ than dress up for a day and buy a one-off book they’re not quite interested in. They might build up a reading habit. By Easter, they may spurn the supermarket shelves for a bookshop even.
Whatever we do, let’s cancel World Book Day if it is proving little more than a commercial costume competition and let’s get back to the root of it all: reading. If we are to do it, let’s make it the start of something meaningful.
Let’s make it about reading well and reading deeply again.
When the snow is pelting the window and the house is warm and cosy, I can think of nothing better.