Dressing up for World Book Day in schools seems to split opinion right down the middle. Some people love it, and go all out to take part and to think up a costume. Other people hate it. They don’t like the way that it has been commercialised, they don’t think it has much to do with books or reading, or they don’t enjoy being forced to dress up full stop. Personally, I can see both sides, and most years I would tend to side more with the “oh god no, please don’t make me do that” group than the “I’ve been planning my costume for weeks and it is nigh on perfect” one. In our house, we’re pretty disorganised, so what usually happens is that we chuck something together at the last minute out of leftover bits and pieces from school plays and fancy dress parties. But this year, for some reason, the kid has taken on board the idea of becoming a character for World Book Day and she has embraced it with all of her heart and all of her soul. Maybe it’s because this is her last year at primary school, and she knows that she won’t get do childlike stuff like this when she moves on to secondary. Or maybe it’s because she’s (re)reading a book series that she is very excited by at the moment. But ever since we got the note from school saying they could come in dressed up as a character, her preparations have been in full swing.
“I want to be Newt from The Maze Runner,” the kid announced to me earlier this week. This sparked off an initial panic about what costume Newt might require, which then segued into a long discussion about what a Runner would wear. (Luckily for me, I’ve read the books, so I knew what she was talking about.) We checked out images from the films of the books, we talked about the things that the Runners do, and we rifled through our cupboards to try and find something that would be suitable. Newt is a boy, so we ended up trawling her brother’s old clothes to get what we needed. And as we figured out what she would wear for World Book Day, and worked out how we could create the accessories she needed to be authentic, we spent more time talking about books, and about the characters that inhabit them, and the way that authors work to make meaning, than we have ever done before.
We discussed how the characters in The Maze Runner are named after famous scientists, although you don’t find out until right near the end of the story, which makes it really clever. We talked about how the main character Thomas is named after Thomas Edison, how the character Alby is named after Albert Einstein, and how Minho doesn’t seem to be named after a scientist at all, but how anyway the Minho is a region of Portugal that we happen to know and love very much indeed. We discussed how the language in the books is different to normal everyday language (the children make up constructions of their own, reminiscent of the way that A Clockwork Orange is written). We talked about how far in the future we think the book is set. We talked about dystopian fiction, and how we both also love The Hunger Games, even though the bit where Rue dies is so terribly sad. We talked about our favourite characters, and the bit of the book that we both remembered best. (The part where they climb the walls and hang from vines, to escape the Grievers.) We discussed how eventually the boys find out how to solve The Maze, and how it turns out that there has been a group of girls, solving their own Maze as well. And it felt like me and the kid were in a book group made up of just us two.
Last night, the kid spent an hour making a map of The Maze, with authentic details written into it, like the number of days they had been trying to find a solution and the place where they jumped off the cliff into the invisible Griever hole. This morning, as we stood at the top of the lane waiting for the school bus, she told me that she needed to put a stone in her shoe, in order to make her character completely real. Apparently the actor who played Newt in the films had done this, to remind him that he had a limp. She stuck a big stone in her shoe but decided it was too painful. She tried a smaller stone but she gave up on that too. Then she started throwing Newt quotes at me, including her particular favourite, “Great, we’re all bloody inspired.” By the time the school bus arrived, we both had tears of laughter in our eyes at her attempts at method acting. The lady who drives the bus got out to open the door, looked the kid up and down, and said the words that I knew the kid was going to be hearing a lot that day. “What have you come as?” she wanted to know.
“I am Newt,” the kid said proudly. “I was named after Isaac Newton.” No shop bought costume needed. No money was expended. Mum and daughter bonded. Just imagine that.