Today is World Book Day, a chance for children to dress up as a character from their favourite book and mums and dads to whip together an outfit in 10 minutes before the school run (or is that just me?). Then find the book to support the costume choice. No stress there then. Mmmmm.
After I dropped my 11 year old son off to school dressed as a spy, MIB meets James Bond because he couldn’t find a scarf which would make him Where’s Wally? and his actual favourite books Diary of a Wimpy Kid are in black in white which is not helpful in outfit planning apparently, I went home, made a large coffee and tweeted @worldbookdayuk.
Incidentally on the way I did explain to my son and the other child in the car that James Bond was a character in a series of books written by a chap called Ian Fleming before the films were made. They were surprised at this. Nevertheless, spies are cool, as are sunglasses, a black suit and tie and converse boots when you are 11.
Once home after 20 minutes of navigating a selfie stick for my #shelfie photographs for various social media accounts a tweet pinged into my stream and caught my attention. It was from Kidscape, a charity whose aims are to prevent bullying and protect children. It said,
This made me think.
My World Book Day posts were of my favourite grown up book, I Claudius by Robert Graves. A tome of a novel which gloriously brings to life the Roman Empire through the eyes of an unlikely and somewhat unwilling Emperor Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus etc. He’s different. He stammers, has a limp, is thought to be stupid (but really isn’t), a true anti hero. I love the way this incredible work, first published in 1934, blends fact and fiction in such a readable narrative, as history is really not my thing unless it is delivered in an imaginative and visual way.
But the Kidscape tweet really made me think about why I read the books I did when I was a child, and why I read the books I do now.
I know my favourite childhood authors instantly, Beatrix Potter when I was at Primary School, and James Herbert when I was a young teen. I sought solace in those books to take me to a different world, as a child the illustrations drove the story then the sheer fright factor kept me hooked as I teened.
Miss Potter’s books showed me somewhere where bad things can happen but in the end everything turns out OK, but not in a perfect fairy tale way. Remember naughty Squirrel Nutkin losing his tail or poor Jemima Puddle Duck’s narrow escape, and I can still feel my finger tips tingle remembering how Jeremy Fisher sucks his fingers after the prickly stickleback lands on his lap!
With the horror novels I realise now that the feelings of fear they give us were emotions I was experiencing in my daily life and so was relating to (I was bullied which may explain why these books appealed to me so much). Pop over to this article ‘Why do we read scary books?’ by Lou Morgan for The Guardian which explains this much better than I can for those of you who wonder why teenagers like horror books so much. She talks about how this genre allows us to explore our feelings of fear, wherever they come from or whatever they may be.
Today, as a happy mother of two boys I do still reach to my bookshelf when I need some help, inspiration, or just to learn a bit more about something which has sparked my interest. I may choose Eat, Pray, Love or The Alchemist to find some emotional grounding and strength or Lord of the Rings when I am feeling indulgent and can devote the time to letting my creative mind run wild. An Agatha Christie or Jenny Colgan when quite frankly my brain needs a rest and an easy read, or the amazing historian Alison Weir when I really am feeling intellectual (which happens briefly after coffee for about 20 minutes).
The beauty of a book, apart from the fact you can take it in the bath and still works if it gets wet, is that you can always find a story which suits how you feel, and you can always read and re-read the good ones and still learn something more .
I still treasure my Beatrix Potter books on their original bookshelf, and even the residue sticker marks on the bottom where I would write ‘I hate (insert name of bully)’. It makes me smile now because if the stress of my day is finding a costume on a deadline for my child then really, life has turned out well. And with two happy children who are healthy, have friends and enjoy school then I guess that at this point in time I do have a fairy tale ending.
World Book Day Shelfie