Literal Thinking

It was with a massive sense of relief I dropped my 8-year old daughter off at school this morning. It’s World Book Day here in the UK and as anyone who’s got young kids will know, that’s a day many schools encourage their pupils to dress up as their favourite book character. I’ve no problem with that per se, except that at my daughter’s school, there’s a ‘friendly’ competition about who’s got the best costume, and thus far my daughter has never won.


Ever since the beginning of the year, she’d been thinking about who to dress up as, but since she changed her mind at least once a week, there was no point in getting a costume sorted until last weekend. That’s when she finally settled on going as Amelia Wishart, a spunky chimney sweep girl and the heroine of Matt Haig’s The Girl Who Saved Christmas.

Great, I thought, that will be easy, no elaborate craft skills necessary, just some clothes and a bit of face paint to make her look sooty. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Even though my daughter is the first person to protest that there’s no such thing as perfect (especially when it relates to homework), it turns out that when it comes to dressing up for World Book Day, nothing less than perfect will do.

My attempts to convince her that since Amelia is a fictional character, there’s no particular rule about how she must look, fell on deaf ears as my daughter waved her copy of the book in my face.

‘Look at the cover, mummy!’ she yelled. ‘I’ve got to look exactly like that!’

‘But it’s a drawing, sweetheart,’ I pleaded. ‘It’s impossible to recreate it down to the minutest detail.’

‘It’s a catastrophe’ she cried and slammed her bedroom door so hard that some paint came off.

What did the fictional Amelia wear on the book cover? Tattered dark brown/black dungarees and an equally tattered frilly shirt. And lace-up boots. We already had the boots, and my fashion design savvy teen daughter made a frilly shirt out of a couple of old school uniform shirts.

As for the dungarees, I had to go out and buy a pair of blue denim ones, which I dyed dark brown and made to look ragged and frayed. I should have known the colour wouldn’t turn out entirely as intended and the yellow seams remained yellow no matter how much dye I poured into the washing machine. Cue another round of door slamming and shouts about how grateful she was to us all for helping, but that her costume was still a disaster.

Once the costume was as complete as we could make it, it took a family-wide effort to persuade my daughter that she looked ‘just like Amelia’. By the time she’d vanished into the school building, she did seem pretty pleased with her outfit, even though it may not win her any prize.

Next year, I am going on World Book Day strike. I refuse to be part of any ‘friendly’ competition for, as my daughter’s teachers ought to know, there’s nothing friendly about a bunch of 8-year old girls competing with each other. No, it’s more like an all-female cast of Lord of the Flies.

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