It’s World Book Day 2018… why am I uneasy?

Tomorrow (1st March) is World Book Day 2018 UK and there are WBD events happening all over the UK and Eire, (though not, necessarily, over the rest of the world, because different countries celebrate the Day on different days).

Nonetheless this annual celebration of books, authors, illustrators and reading is designated by UNESCO as a worldwide event and is marked in over one hundred countries. In the UK and Eire it focuses very much upon children and young people.

Chances are, if you know a young person under the age of 18 still at school in the UK and Eire, they will receive a WBD Book Token. The small charity which runs WBD has formed some tremendous alliances, working with booksellers, publishers, the National Book Tokens scheme and schools so that this year they are giving away more than 15 million £1 World Book Day tokens. That’s almost one for every child and young person under the age of eighteen in the UK and Eire. The £1 tokens can be swapped, at any participating bookseller, for one of the ten WBD books for children, or count towards the £2.50 cost of the five WBD full-length books for teenagers. Alternatively, the recipient can put the £1 towards any other book purchase.

This can’t be bad and shows just what energy and co-operation can do.

In addition, the WBD web-site offers all sorts of excellent resources and materials for libraries and schools, some real thought has gone into this  – lesson plans, posters, competitions, book club ideas, snippets from audio books read by famous folk… And there’s the rub, there are a lot of bona fide children’s and YA authors taking part in WBD, yet, of the ten books available for nothing if you have a £1 book token, two are old favourites (Mr Men and Paddington), one is about Marvel comic characters and three are written by celebrities better known for other areas of expertise (Julian Clary, Clare, Balding and Nadiya Hussain). The Story Bazaar posted about this back in October, in particular agreeing with author Nicola Morgan’s comments when the list of books was first announced. Other authors have weighed in since.

An opportunity lost, perhaps, but this isn’t the only element about WBD UK this year that makes me slightly uneasy.

In curating storytelling and literature for more than one festival, I have a more than passing acquaintance with bunting and banners.  I was surprised, and a little alarmed, to see e-mails arriving in my Inbox from companies which provide such, promoting WBD associated fancy dress costumes for children.  Now, the WBD site offers free images for branding and WBD posters and banners for printing – the images in this article are from there. It also encourages children to dress up as their favourite characters from books and, linking with Book Aid International, it seeks £1 donations in return for free info and guidance on how to make costumes.

Nothing wrong with that, good ideas.

But the e-mails I received were selling costumes ranging in price from £10 to £30, using WBD as a promotion tool. There was no specific WBD endorsement, but the message was clear. If you want to take part in the WBD dressing up, buy your costumes here.

I’m not sure how WBD could prevent this sort of band-wagon effect and you might say, so what, people have a living to make and it’s all publicity for WBD. But any sort of manipulation of children for profit (and let’s face it, sellers have been doing this for years) is slightly unsavoury. It’s something WBD need to be aware of (they probably are already) and consider in future. At some point free publicity and engagement might back-fire.

That’s not to say that World Book Day is a bad thing, it’s a very good one and lots of reading and book-based events are happening around the country because of it. The web-site has a handy ‘find the nearest event to you’ search facility. I entered ‘London’ and was immediately directed to Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls book signing at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, Story Feast in Leytonstone and Lost & Found at Millfield Theatre, Edmonton. So get along to one of your local events, taking your children (suitably costumed or otherwise) with you.

I you enjoyed reading this article there are lots of others on this site about books and how to celebrate them. Try                  Clapham Book Fest – a taster                  The Countdown Begins                  The Coolest Place in the Park           South London Festivals 18                          The Godmother’s Tale

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