I always remember World Book Day being one of my favourite events when I was at school. It appears to now be a much bigger event at schools here in the UK, with kids dressing up as their favourite characters and schools holding huge events and such, but back when I was a kid, I only really remember one or two occasions when we were allowed to actually dress up. Despite that, I remember most years we were allowed to bring in our favourite book to read in class, and on one occasion we even wrote our own stories – I wrote one about a bunny rabbit who was ridiculously sassy and naughty. It didn’t win the competition and I was RAGING.
So what actually is World Book Day? Well, I didn’t actually realise that back when I was at school, it hadn’t been going for very long! I guess that answers my question on why it’s much more of a thing these days. The 5th March 2020 will be the 23rd World Book Day, which is an event in the UK and Ireland where children are encouraged to explore and develop a love of reading. The World Book Day charity is there to make sure every child has a book of their own, and sends out book tokens to schools across the country. These tokens will allow every child to get either a free book from a pre-selected list, or £1 off any other book when they visit a store that’s taking part in the event. I don’t know about kids these days, but I was always BUZZING when the teacher handed out the book tokens. Who doesn’t love free stuff?
Now, you may be wondering why someone like me, who can’t stand kids, is writing an entire post around an event mainly aimed at kids. However, I have my reasons. Back when I was a kid, I really loved reading, and I did it from quite an early age. My Mum would regularly read to me at bedtime, and when I started school I was one of those kids that was reading at a higher level than everyone else. Not to brag, but I still have my little reading journal from reception stashed somewhere that is filled with notes to my Mum telling her that I’m bloody smashing it (or words to that effect). I may have been shit at maths, but I totally bossed it at reading.
I remember Biff and Chip books (do they still have those?) of various levels, and I remember being read the classics like Charlotte’s Web, The BFG and so on by teachers over the years. However, as I got a bit older, I didn’t really respond much to being read stuff as a class. I much preferred being able to sit quietly on my own and read at my own pace. I’ll admit I’m probably giving the impression that 7 year old me was a pretentious little twat – and in hindsight, I think she probably was. I was that kid who would sit in the pub with their parents (along with a pint of coke and a packet of crisps), but instead of talking to the other kids, they’d have their head in a book.
Anyway, as reading played quite a large part of my childhood, I thought I’d write a World Book Day themed post that looks at some of my favourite books from back in the day. These are all books that I adored throughout different points of my childhood and that still stick with me even now. Whether you remember these yourself or you’re inspired to check them out for your own kid, I hope you enjoy my list.
The Illustrated Mum – Jacqueline Wilson (1999)
Jacqueline Wilson books played a huge role in my childhood. I don’t remember specifically how old I was when I first read The Illustrated Mum, but I remember reading it several times as I got older, once even reading it as an adult. Each time I read it at a different age, I would understand more of what was actually going on, and how Jacqueline Wilson writes about mental health issues so brilliantly, and from the perspective of a child too. I still have this in one of my drawers in the spare room, and you can tell it was much loved by the absolute state of it!
The Illustrated Mum tells the story of Marigold and her two daughters, Dolphin and Star. Though it’s never said directly, Marigold suffers from bipolar disorder and her fiery, unpredictable moods and behaviours are a key fixture throughout the novel. Dolphin is the youngest of Marigold’s daughters and thinks she’s unique and beautiful, especially with all of her glorious tattoos, each having its own special meaning. Star on the other hand, as the eldest, is often left in charge and feels embarrassed by her mother’s erratic behaviour. Things become more complicated when Marigold finds her ex-boyfriend, and Star’s father, Mickey, at a concert. Marigold hopes to reconcile with him, but she’s distraught to find out he’s in a relationship with someone else. As Star’s relationship with her father develops further, Mickey becomes increasingly concerned about Marigold’s ability to care for the girls, inviting Star and Dolphin to live with him. Dolphin refuses to leave her mother, but as a result of Star leaving, Marigold’s mental health begins to deteriorate.
You may be reading this thinking that this is definitely not an appropriate topic for a children’s book. But trust me, Jacqueline Wilson makes it work, and it definitely has set the bar for future children’s books. As the novel is told from Dolphin’s perspective, there’s a naivety to everything that happens and it definitely opens up the possibility for kids to ask questions. Given the time that this was initially published, it was definitely something more out there from the conventional children’s books. However 20 years on (like what the actual F?!), I would hope that there are more books like this aimed at this age group (ages 9 and upwards) that raise awareness of these sorts of issues. Also, shout out to the TV adaption of this which I believe you can watch on YouTube – it’s bloody good.
Five Minutes Peace – Jill Murphy (1986)
Looking at a book with a generally much lighter subject, Five Minutes Peace was a highlight of my childhood. It tells the story of Mrs Large, the elephant, who decides to escape from her three children by treating herself to a bubble bath. Unfortunately, to put it bluntly, her children are dicks, and Mrs Large’s five minutes of peace she so desperately wants are very short lived!
I remember this being one of my favourite books that my Mum would read to me at bedtime – I guess she probably related to it! It had some lovely illustrations, it made me laugh, and it was easy to read. I love how it’s still featured in book shops even now, and if I ever do decide to have kids, this will be one of the first books I buy for them.
Old Bear Stories – Jane Hissey (1994)
Old Bear stories again were a huge part of my childhood. The series focuses around a group of cuddly toys and their playroom adventures, and there were so many different stories from it. Old Bear is of course the key character, and their adventures begin with the rest of the toys rescue him from the attic. It’s full of plenty more lovable characters too including Bramwell Brown, a wise teddy bear who’s always full of good ideas; Rabbit, a bouncy and energetic toy rabbit, and Little Bear, a happy and adventurous young teddy bear who refuses to let the fact he’s small hold him back and is characterised best by his bright red trousers. It was later made into a TV show, which I had on VHS and regularly played on repeat, and I was given the Old Bear Stories book for Christmas one year, which is a collection of some of the most popular tales in the series.
As a big fan of cuddly toys, this had pride of place on my bookcase and was another popular choice of bedtime reading. My favourite story in this book had to be Little Bear’s Trousers, where Little Bear enlists the other toys to help him find his beloved red trousers, which mysteriously vanished in the middle of the night. I still have this book in my wardrobe, complete with a note on the front page from my Mum, written in 1996.
Owl Babies – Martin Waddell (1992)
Owl Babies was read to us all the time at playgroup, and on the last day before we all went off to big school, they gave each of us a book. I was given Owl Babies, which without a doubt was the story I loved the most. It’s all about a group of three baby owl siblings, Sarah, Percy and Bill, who wake up during the night to find their mother’s missing. While Sarah and Percy try to reassure their younger brother, Bill, the youngest owl just wants his mummy to come home. It’s such a sweet story and has a lovely message about being brave, and teaches you that your mama will always come back. Not gonna lie, that was one of the first things I said to Tilly when we brought her home.
I love the illustrations in this and the baby owls are just the cutest, especially Bill. I saw this in the book shop when I was looking for a present for my friend’s little boy, and I couldn’t resist picking up and reading it through again. I mean, I looked like a bloody weirdo – a 27 year old woman on her own in the kids’ section with her head buried in one of the books – but it was so nice to reminisce!
Lola Rose – Jacqueline Wilson (2003)
I won’t lie, the original draft of this post was pretty much 90% Jacqueline Wilson books. I eventually dug a little deeper into my book memories to bring a few more into it just for a bit of variety. However, I couldn’t not include Lola Rose. My Mum bought me this when I got my year six SATS results, and I still have the original battered copy (again with a note from her on the inside) upstairs in my drawer. Lola Rose tells the story of Jayni, her little brother Kenny, and her mum, who are all forced to run away in the middle of the night to escape her abusive father. Starting a new life in London with brand new names to go with it, Jayni becomes Lola Rose – a name she chose because it’s cool, grown up and glamourous. However, things become difficult when her mum finds a lump in her breast and has to go into hospital, leaving 10 year old Lola Rose in charge of her little brother. Having run out of money and fearful that her father will track them down, she makes contact with her mum’s estranged sister, Auntie Barbara, who comes to the rescue and allows Jayni and her little brother to enjoy some normality while their mother gets better. Things take a turn for the worse when Mum is diagnosed with breast cancer, and Lola Rose is forced to confront a situation that’s even scarier than the life she previously left behind.
It’s definitely a difficult read in places, but as Jacqueline Wilson does in all of her books, she writes about difficult topics brilliantly, and Lola Rose covers a whole range of them. She’s able to create a world of young characters who are often forced to grow up a little too quickly, and I think for kids who are actually in these types of situations for real, it’s so important for them to have characters they can relate to. Despite the difficult topics, Lola Rose is a great read – it’s heartwarming in places, and as with most Jacqueline Wilson books, it ultimately comes down to the importance of family and how they come in literally all shapes and sizes.
This was a difficult list to put together, and I definitely could have gone with more than five, but in particular, the books I’ve mentioned genuinely have stuck with me over the years. While World Book Day is an occasion aimed at encouraging children to celebrate their love of reading, I think for us adults, it should be an occasion where we fondly look back over the books that shaped our childhood. Let me know in the comments what your favourite children’s books are!
Find out more about World Book Day 2020 by visiting the charity’s website. All of these books are available to buy on Amazon, or at all other book retailers.
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