World Book Day and the nicest school I have ever visited
I have now done two World Book Days as an author, and I always think back to the ones when my own two children (now 14) would dress up for school as a favourite book character.
We did, among others,
- Angelina Ballerina (a fairly easy costume, that one, largely achieved with face-paint and a tutu),
- Tom from Tom’s Midnight Garden (pyjamas and a large grandfather clock made of cardboard),
- a Mallory Towers schoolgirl (easy if you can borrow a grey pinafore dress),
- Karlsson from Astrid Lindgren’s Karlsson On The Roof (involving a box with a moving propellor strapped to the back and a willingness to explain to everyone who Karlsson was and why the books are brilliant)
- Scamper the dog from The Secret Seven (an existing teddy-bear costume with a collar saying “Scamper”)
- John Thornton, the gold prospector in Jack London’s The Call Of The Wild (checked shirt, stick-on beard, bag of “gold”)
Above left: Tom’s Midnight Garden – a book. Above right: “The Vicar Dibley” – not a book
I was – and remain – privately scornful of those who dress up as film or cartoon characters. I’m not keen on Superman costumes, either. Do comics count? I don’t think so. And I retain an especial sniff of disapproval for the teacher who turned up dressed as Dawn French from the Vicar Of Dibley. This is not, and has never been, a book. It’s a television sitcom, and surely the WHOLE POINT of World Book Day is celebrating and promoting BOOKS over other forms of storytelling. The clue is in the title. Sheesh.
Anyway, there I was last week, surrounded by ten year-olds in their costumes and I was the guest author for the day!
Tower Hamlets is one of London’s very poorest – and most ethnically diverse – areas, where children of a white, English heritage must be a pretty small minority. It includes much of the old “traditional” east end of Pearly Kings and jellied eels and the Kray Twins, right next to the shiny towers of money in Canary Wharf.
Hanging onto the edge of the Isle of Dogs is Cubbit Town, its primary school set among low-rise social housing and boarded-up pubs. It turned out to be probably the nicest school I have ever visited.
Two prefects had been assigned to greet me. They called me “sir” and shook my hand, and showed me around the school and delivered me to the first classroom, where the year 6 children (10-11 years old) were lively, funny, engaged, polite and a complete joy.
And so it went on for the remaining sessions. They listened, they contributed, they asked interesting questions.
Many of them, I found out later, had not had the best start in life. Broken families, homelessness, addiction, learning disabilities, language differences and more – some of these kids were quite significantly disadvantaged. And yet here they were: happily engaging with the whole idea of learning, guided by hard-working and caring school staff.
I was moved, and struck by the profound wish that, when these children move out of this school next year and onto secondary education, they do not lose the lively spark that made my World Book Day such a joy.
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