Last minute world book day costumes

by Philip Robinson, Feb 2020

I received a very pleasant surprise last year. Someone, who I had not met before, contacted me on Twitter. She shared a picture of their daughter’s World Book Day outfit and wrote:

“My daughter’s costume is all ready for #WorldBookDay tomorrow. Just have to attempt the hairstyle in the morning! Thank you @phildmusic. It was an easy choice for the favourite book character this year!”

In November 2017, I self-published my first picture book called “Nia and the Kingdoms of Celebration”. I initially wrote it for my daughter after seeing a lack of books celebrating different cultures. At least without making their distinctive characteristics the main theme of the story. And I was pleased that it turned out to leave an impression with other children and their parents. Certainly other authors, especially those of greater renown, get sheer delight when seeing characters that first lived in their heads inspiring the imaginations of children.

World Book Day

If books and stories remain only available to exclusive, privileged parts of society, this would exclude children from a chance to engage in the cultural heritage of the place they live and see themselves represented in the stories that continue to shape the world around them. This is where World Book Day emerged as a global, charitable initiative with local chapters. It shares the same aim of making books accessible to all children, encouraging literacy, creativity and a pure joy for reading.

World Book Day, also known as World Book and Copyright Day, or International Day of the Book, was started in the 1990s. It is an annual event organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to promote reading, publishing, and copyright. I love this quote below from UNESCO’s director general.  It reminds me of the importance of promoting reading, writing and preserving stories across traditions and generations.

    “In these turbulent times, books embody the diversity of human ingenuity, giving shape to the wealth of human experience, expressing the search for meaning and expression we all share, that drive all societies forward. Books help weave humanity together as a single family, holding a past in common, a history and heritage, to craft a destiny that is shared, where all voices are heard in the great chorus of human aspiration.”

    — Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO

In the UK and Ireland it occurs annually on the 2nd Thursday of March. Every year they publish a selection of £1 books that can be purchased from participating bookstores. The proceeds are going towards universal literacy. Below are some of the books included in this year’s list. It includes titles for every age group from early readers to teens. I’m sure all of the dads in mffonline are pleased to see our favourite bunny, Bing, making the list!

MFF Last Minute World Book Day Costume Chart

Even though this is such a significant date for writers, publishers, children, teachers, parents and readers it can creep up on us. If you are like me, you only remember World Book Day when you happen upon a crumpled notice in the bottom of your child’s book bag. Along with the rotting orange or banana they claimed to have eaten 2 weeks ago. It is easily done but have no fear!

We present the MFF Last Minute World Book Day Costume Chart! We give you a step-by-step guide to getting your child in World Book Day costume on budgeted money and time. World book day should not be about dressing up. But if you are at a school that encourages it, have a look at this chart to get your mind in gear.

Step 1: Be aware of the books your kids read and love

World Book Day has the tendency to become focused on dressing up and loses some of the intent of promoting literacy. It is at risk of becoming an alternative, early Halloween. It is fun and meant to bring out loads of creativity. But that should not sacrifice the opportunity to inspire readers and expose young minds to a variety of books. We try to our best to remain aware of what our kids and their peers are reading. Although this varies and we have to constantly remind ourselves that different children have different interests and reading abilities. The National Literacy Trust ( offers a list of recommended books for different ages and abilities. Along with a host of other resources. Visiting local libraries and bookstores will also provide recommendations for age groups. And it allow a chance to judge the book by more than its cover.

Step 2: Encourage your kids to read – don’t make it a chore

We are all busy people. Our schedules and energy levels do not often afford spending time reading with our kids or even reading for ourselves. There is that saying that children are more likely to do what they see and enjoy. Rather than what is told and enforced. I try more to make a habit of reading for myself but also to encourage my kids to read. Rather than using it as an instrument of discipline. We tell them about reading as a great alternative to watching television. How it allows them to create images rather than ingest those created by someone else. Reading is a creative activity and not a dormant, non-participatory experience. Tara Parker, Senior Programme Manager at the National Literacy Trust, gives some great tips for encouraging children to read in an article at this link.

Getty images
Getty Images, taken from BBC Newsround article

Step 3: Select a theme for your world book day costume

There is the temptation to follow the crowds and go for the “where is Wally/Waldo” outfit. It is easy to do yourself or find in most supermarkets around this time of year. Yet I think that World Book Day costumes should be a chance to bring stories to life that our children are reading and enjoy. Dressing up and pretending to be the character adds another dimension to engaging with stories. It is amusing to see kids dressed as the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz chasing others around the playground like a zombie. Even when the scarecrow character is hardly scary. Make a theme fun, authentic and, of course, achievable. 

Image taken from

Step 4: Decide if you want to team-up with friends

There are advantages and disadvantages of getting your kids and their friends to combine effort and dress up as related characters. On the plus side, kids are more likely to be motivated about World Book Day. It is a chance to do something cool with their friends. On the downside, you might have to mediate squabbles over who gets to play the favourite character or lead protagonist in the story. Dressing up like the cast from the Harry Potter series is a popular option. You could get away with wearing a school uniform, an orange scarf and a long black cape or robe if you have them. Other popular team characters include Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five, who just dress-up in regular clothing. And The Wizard of Oz, which is much less subtle but does take a bit more effort and imagination.

Did I mention that I wrote a book? It would be incredible to witness a group of friends teaming up to dress as the characters from the cover of my book.

Step 5: Consider making your own costume

There is always that artsy parent who is already planning next year’s costumes. They draw sketches, trawl sites like Pinterest for inspiration, and set aside space, time and budget for their costume projects. Though not a craftophile myself, I like these people very much and have plenty of time for them. We have one particular friend who is a craft machine. She makes everything from pompoms to garlands to angel wings. Once she dressed up her daughter as an Oompa Loompa from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. She even sprayed her in orange body paint and hair dye. Unfortunately, she did this the day before World Book Day and had to rush her home and wash the paint off. Only to reassemble and repaint the next day.

The blog site provides some tips for costumes that don’t require sewing. Which is handy if you have to make a last minute costume for world book day. Another quick-fix opportunity is to combine reuse with your child’s sporting passion. For example, Tom and Matt Oldfield have released a series of illustrated books telling the stories of their favourite football heroes. You could simply dress your child in their football kit.

I was disappointed that the collection does not include female football stars. But then came across Charlotte Brown and Day Leydon’s Women’s special. It includes stars such as Alex Morgan, Fran Kirby, Kelly Smith and Marta.

Step 6: Look for opportunities to reuse or borrow

This is admittedly my preferred option. It is good for the pocket, the environment and community. Making use of pre-owned and pre-worn costumes from siblings, relatives, friends and neighbours can lead to saving money and bother sourcing an outfit for World Book Day. This reduces the number of costumes that end up in the waste. According to, people throw an estimated 300,000 tons of used clothing in the bin in the UK annually. For this reason, ideas such as Costume Swap organised by the 360 Play Group in Milton Keynes, are events that could help reduce waste from unwanted World Book Day costumes.

Step 7: There is always the option to buy but be wise

World Book Day, like any other global event, has become a commercial opportunity for many organisations. There is a growing marketplace for attractive, ready-made costumes. They allow your kids to unmistakably dress as their favourite characters. Moreover, you don’t have to spend the night on a sowing machine or sticking paper and card to an old onesie. No judgement here. We have done that on a few occasions. I’ve gone as far as paying a seamstress to make a costume for my daughter based on my design. If buying is affordable and makes sense based on your time constraints, then go for it.

That said, we have to be aware of the social pressures that families face. Believing they have to get fancy, expensive costumes for their children. In addition, the growing marketplace increases the risk of unethical sourcing and unfairness arising. Most one-off outfits get made and imported from the poorest nations in our world.

Step 8: Persevere even when it looks hopeless

Still don’t know what to do for a last-minute World Book Day Costume? Keep going, and remember that the goal is not to dress up but to inspire kids to read. If you still feel the need to get a costume, take a break from thinking too much about it, breathe and read a book. Maybe the right idea will come.

Step 9: Use your imagination beyond finding a last-minute costume for World Book Day

Whether or not you find the right costume for World Book Day, join in the celebration and let your imagination get to work. For starters, if you haven’t settled on or sourced a costume, think of other simple ways to make the day meaningful, memorable and magical. Some schools make it into a onesie or pajama day, instead of promoting buying costumes. Autobiographies, biographies and historical narratives also make great reading and can at times be more appealing than fiction to kids. You could also visit the library. Find out more about an author, discover stories from another culture or have a go at creating your own story.

For even more ideas, check out the resources link on the World Book Day website. Whatever you do, do not let World Book Day become stressful, expensive and unenjoyable. Get involved in its mission and give every child and young person a book of their own. Celebrate authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) celebrate reading.

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