On World Book Day, should we be worried that children are dressing as YouTubers?

Kids are dressing up as that beloved classic fictional character, Zoella.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman\'s Morning Call email.

It’s World Book Day! Yes, children across the UK will today receive a £1 voucher that they can put towards the cost of a book, or use to buy one of World Book Day’s specially commissioned books from noted children’s and young adult authors. It’s also a day where you can see thousands of schoolchildren in adorably literary costumes, from Hagrid to Mary Poppins.

 

When you're one third of a wizarding trio but you keep your Vans on because skateboarding is lyfe #worldbookday

A post shared by Rebecca Vincent (@rebecca_vincent_tattoo) on

But how did this fiction funfare start? World Book Day began in 1997, making this the 20th year of the celebration of reading. Why? The founder of the day, and chair of Penguin Random House UK, Baroness Gail Rebuck, notes that literacy was at a “crisis” point before the event was organised.

“In 1997 the level of children’s engagement with reading was at a point of national crisis,” she said. “The previous year a government report had been released showing that 42% of 11-year-olds failed to achieve level 4 in reading and writing on entry to secondary school. We wanted to do something to reposition reading and our message is the same today as it was then – that reading is fun, relevant, accessible, exciting, and has the power to transform lives. I’ve seen first-hand how World Book Day has affected social change and long may it continue.”

Since then, the event has developed and grown considerably, with 2 March now a national day of fancy dress at many schools, and children dressing up in elaborate and hilarious costumes. The choices give an insight into the popularity of different children’s stories: Harry Potter dominates World Book Day year on year, and 2017 is no different. Three different reports from Amazon, Sainsbury’s and Blinds-Hut (no, I don’t know why either…) found that Harry Potter was the most popular costume, with Blinds-Hut also revealing that the Harry Potter series is also the most popular book among children. The next most popular costumes include Horrid Henry, Hermione Granger, Peppa Pig, The Gruffalo and Alice in Wonderland.

 

Happy World Book Day from the mini Body Coach  #WorldBookDay #thebodycoach #leanin15 (photo: @cbt_din on Twitter) 

A post shared by Joe Wicks #Leanin15 (@thebodycoach) on

But the Blinds-Hut survey also suggests that a third of children will choose to dress up as a fictional character from a book they haven’t read, while another third will dress as a character that isn’t from a book at all. We’ve seen children dressed as celebrity chefs and footballers, and this year has seen a rise in children dressed as Youtube stars with book deals: from Zoella to Alfie Deyes to Dan of The Diamond Minecraft fame:

 
 

Happy #WorldBookDay guys!! Thanks to so many of you for dressing up as me, you look awesome

A post shared by DanTDM (@dantdm) on

Does this spell bad things for children’s literacy in general? A National Literacy Trust survey of over 9,000 pupils aged between 8 and 11 found that one in four pupils (25.2%) said the book they ‘bought’ with their 2016 World Book Day book token was the first book they have had of their own.

But World Book Day’s director, Kirsten Grant, said the day is crucial for its focus on enjoyment of reading (rather than an emphasis on what children should read). She said that World Book Day empowers teachers to reprioritise the enjoyment of reading in literacy classes. “The day is the antidote to the curriculum demands,” she said. “Teachers are amazing, but they don’t have any freedom and are under so much pressure to get through, so anything that makes space for them to do fun things around reading is really important.”

She added, “Evidence suggests that there is a lost generation of readers among today’s adults, but we truly hope and firmly believe that World Book Day is ensuring that the next generation carry a love of reading with them on into adulthood.”

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

Free trial CSS