One of the rites of passage that every child – and every parent – has to go through as they grow from wide-eyed pre-school tot to slack-jawed partied-out teenager is that jamboree of literacy that is World Book Day.
This year’s WBD is on Thursday, March 4. Which is today, if you’re reading this on time. And if you’re not, then shame on you.
By time-honoured tradition, children keep WBD a secret from their parents until the very morning of the day itself.
And this is why one of the more charming aspects of this annual festival of literary consciousness-raising is the screams of mums and dads at 7.30 in the morning of World Book Day as their little ones leap from their beds and announce cheerfully: “Mummy, Daddy! I’ve got to dress up for school today!”
It’s at times like this that parental resourcefulness and initiative are stretched to their absolute limit.
First you have to persuade your offspring that even though they’ve got a ready-made costume, the Incredible Hulk is not in fact a character from a book. Or at least not the right sort of book for World Book Day.
Then, once they’ve got over that little disappointment, you have to make them realise that converting them into Mrs Tiggy-Winkle or Peter Rabbit is going to take more (a) time and (b) fake fur than you can conjure up between now and the beginning of school.
As you wipe away the inevitable tears, inspiration strikes: Harry Potter. The kids in JK Rowling’s money-spinning wizard-fest look and dress just like ordinary schoolchildren. All right, rather posh ordinary schoolchildren, but something’s got to give.
So all you have to do is put your child into their everyday school uniform, slap on a lightning-flash scar with some lipstick, take the lenses out of an old pair of specs and Albus is your Dumbledore.
The howls of protest have to be heard to be believed. “But everyone’s going as Harry or Hermione!” they shrill. “Can’t you think of something better?”
Eventually you stick a cushion down their fronts and pack them off to school as half-convincing Fat Controllers. Honour is satisfed, at least until next year.
Luckily for parents, World Maths Day, which this year was one day before WBD, doesn’t arouse quite as much enthusiasm.
Not because of its unfortunate initials, but because it involves visiting a website and doing lots of sums. And in any case, who wants to dress up as a quadratic equation?
Eventually, of course, like Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy, these childhood rituals slip into the past. But next time you see a bunch of kids looking like Tracy Beaker or Captain Underpants, please spare a thought for their parents.