Ah, World Book Day. One of my favourite days of the year, not least because I love books ... and so what's not to like about a day that is dedicated to them?
I'm not sure that it actually is Book Day around the World. I suspect it may be UK and Ireland only, and I'm not there this year to join in with my usual gusto. But anyway, wherever it is, the day celebrates books and reading and encourages children to dabble in books they may not have considered reading before. Heck, they may not have considered reading before, full stop. So anything that lights that spark is a good thing in my ... erm ... view.
So what exactly is World Book Day?
It's a day in UK, Ireland and Possibly Other Parts of the World where a few happy authors get to write a WBD special. A wee taster, if you will, that's also a complete story to entice kids to try out a book (as in a real, printed, hold-it-in-your-hand-and-crack-the-spine book). They are sold for £1, and luckily most children get a £1 voucher so they can book-taste for free. Hundreds of thousands of potential new readers (or readers of new things) are born in the course of a few days, and books are venerated across the land.
One of my series and characters, Jane Blonde, was once chosen to be a World Book Day title. I loved having the opportunity to write a short-form Jane Blonde, at only 10k words instead of the usual 60k or so, and had tremendous fun inventing the gadgets, storyline and evil spy overlords for my spy girl's mini-mission. It also produced the kind of stats every author dreams of:The Perfect Spylet reached the UK Top Ten for all fiction, and at its peak the title was shifting at 12000 copies a week. When 500 copies sold on Amazon can make you a best-seller, that's quite a number.
This is not the main reason I love WBD, however. No. The main reason I love it is because of the kids. Seriously.
As both a parent and an author, I've been lucky enough to go to dozens of character parades and WBD school events over the years. Without exception the children throw themselves into it wholeheartedly, dressing as their favourite characters, laughing at the teachers who are dressed as their favourite characters, and pulling disgusting items out of their lunchboxes that their favourite characters might or might not eat. There are some perennials (Cat in the Hat, Pippi Longstocking, anyone and everyone from Harry Potter) and then new-in-this-year characters (Gangster Granny and whatever David Walliams' latest is, and a few current film characters that you have to pretend were once in a book. Frozen, for instance, had a lot to answer for). Everyone learns about reading, writing, story, life as an author, and all in all it's a fantastic hoot.
Now and again a dressed-up character appears that is most special to me personally, in the form of little Jane Blondes. Those tiny JBs and their parents tend to write to me directly around WBD. They send me photos, ask to be in the movie of the book, and grill me on all sorts of lurid personal details for their book report. It's an absolute joy - the kind of stuff that makes you remember why you write in the first place.
Sometimes they become your uber-fans and penpals, especially individuals who feel your books somehow made a difference in their lives. I've met some of these boys and girls and their families, turned up at their schools to their great joy or searing embarrassment (depending on their age) and sent them my newest books before a single soul has seen them. Sometimes they inspire characters. Sometimes they have the same name as my characters. Often, they actually are my characters - the living embodiment of someone I thought I'd dreamed up.
That's why we all love books, I suppose. We find ourselves in there. We lose ourselves in there. We connect with something intangible and bigger than us - a story, a theme, a challenge, a cause, a calling. Perhaps every day should be World Book Day, but if on just one day a year everyone rallies around a story and expands their being a little, then I'll take it.
And just to end this little tale, I'll relate my favourite ever WBD story. It comes from my sister who works in a large academy-type school, where they go to great lengths to instill a love of reading in kids for whom it may come pretty far down the priority list.
On World Book Day a couple of years ago, she was shepherding students along the corridor to the 'Guess Which Teacher is Which Character' parade in the hall, when she overheard two girls caught up in the fever. 'What do you think all this is about? What's in the hall, do you reckon?' said the first girl excitedly. 'Perhaps,' said the other, round-eyed, 'it's the actual World Book!'
Nice. I'd like to think that there is an Actual World Book that is gifted to someone new each World Book Day.
In the absence of that, grab yourself any book that takes your fancy, settle in for a good reading sesh, and have a Happy World Book Day, wherever you are.