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World Book Day 2024

And so it comes around again...

Regular readers will know of my annual trials and tribulations when it comes to World Book Day. Unlike many other parents, I don't have the issue of 'who does my child want to go as?' Instead, my problem is that my child has all to clear an idea of who he wants to dress up as and it's never anyone I can just buy a costume for. Over the last couple of years, he has gone to school dressed as Dick Turpin and Sherlock Holmes, for both of which I have been given specific costume design requirements. This has involved me adapting various items of clothing to make sure that I can meet his very high expectations! I genuinely don't mind doing this - in some ways, I'd be disappointed if he opted for something normal. It's a bit like the birthday cake situation where the boys like to challenge me every year to see what madness results!

This year however, not only do I not have the fun of seeing everyone's reaction to his costume choice (I'm doing an author visit at another school), but I thought the costume was going to defeat me. On our Friday night film nights, I had introduced him to a number of war films in a bid to divert him away from Titanic (there are only so many times I can watch the same film...) and the one that really stuck with him was The Dambusters. Consequently, he announced he wanted to go to school on WBD as Wing Commander Guy Gibson. When I protested that he was a real character not from a book, he reminded me that I'd allowed him to go as Dick Turpin who was also a real person. The only thing I had insisted on at the time was that he had to read a book about him first. He explained that I'd told him Gibson had written a book about the Dambusters raid (Enemy Coast Ahead) and all I needed to do was to get him the audiobook so he could listen to it. He had it all planned out...

There was only one slight snag. There is literally nowhere online to buy a child-sized WW2 era RAF uniform, unless you are prepared to shell out c.£170 to have one custom made. (Spoiler - I wasn't!) I tried CCF outlets, eBay, costume shops and even spoke to people I knew could sew to ask if it would be possible to buy an adult one and adapt it. In the end, I managed to find a girl's WRAF costume and adapted the top to make it more of a jacket-style then paired it with a pair of trousers in RAF blue, a pair of WingCo epaulettes, a shirt he already had, his dad's tie and a replica officer's cap. The advantage to all this was that when I launched my latest book, which is partially set in WW2 and has RAF characters, he was able to dress in his costume, much to his delight. To make things even better, he also persuaded his brother to wear his WW1 costume to represent the first book in the series, which was partially set in WW1!

Nevertheless, the main point of today's blog isn't to complain about my son's rather unique requirements for WBD. What I actually want to talk about is children's non-fiction and the role audiobooks can play in helping with a child who is interested in history. Over the last couple of years, since he developed an interest in history, he has made various requests for books on different topics. The only one I've ever been able to find books for that were both age appropriate in terms of reading ability and which contains the kind of information he wanted, was Titanic. I can understand why they don't exist - I don't imagine there is much of a market for children's books on The Dambusters, The Memphis Belle and sunken ships from the twentieth century!

However, understanding their absence from the market doesn't make it any easier for me as a parent with a child who is desperate for more knowledge. I'm a fairly recent convert to regular audiobook use and I still prefer to read a book myself if I can, but in this case, they've been an absolute godsend. By getting the books in audio form, he can listen to them in the car with me. If there's anything he doesn't understand, we stop the book so I can explain it and often discuss things that have caught his interest. Because we often listen to them on long journeys, the length doesn't matter too much, so it means he can access a greater range of books than he would be able to do if he was reading them himself. Our current listen is 'Wilful Murder' - over 500 pages/17 hours on the sinking of the Lusitania! We've almost finished it now and he's already eyeing up the next one he wants to listen to. I love that he is so interested in these subjects that he's not daunted by the length of the book and it certainly means I'm learning things I'd never have looked up myself! It also gives him something to talk to people about, although I'm not sure his friends always appreciate this... (I am joking - his friends are amazingly tolerant of his need to share his obsessions!)

So, on World Book Day, I want to apologise to and celebrate audiobooks - this is the first year I've properly included them in my reading journal, rather than listing them separately. At times, they keep me sane, they give my child information I would otherwise have to spend hours researching, they bring a book to life and they keep me entertained on the endless trips to and from Cornwall, so what's not to like? Audiobooks, we salute you!

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