World Book Day Alternative Ideas

Over the years, World Book Day has become a tricky time for schools and parents. Should schools encourage all children to dress up as a book character? Do princesses and superheroes from films count? Where are stressed parents supposed to find the money to buy a costume or the time and imagination to make one? What if your child is made miserable by the fact that their costume didn’t win the ‘best costume’ prize, even though they made it themselves and it was beaten by a shop-bought outfit?

It’s a bit of a minefield. Below are some suggestions of ways to ‘do’ WBD differently: first, ideas for schools to celebrate books in a way that avoids the dressing-up issue; second, extremely quick and simple costume ideas for kids. Finally, there are ideas at the bottom of the page for book-related activities that have been tried and tested by schools already. My thanks to all who have contributed ideas. It’s clear that lots of schools are already highly creative in their approach to books! 😀

If you would like to contribute an idea, please email me on and I will endeavour to add it to the list.

You might also want to check out this link on the World Book Day site, which is a collection of fantastic ideas already collated. And if you’re working to challenge gender stereotypes in your school, you should find lots of great ideas on the Gender Equality Charter website, which is using hashtags to flag up the best books that promote gender equality,

For schools

Books Before Bedtime: invite parents to come into school for the last hour in their pyjamas to join pyjama’d children and teachers (who have been dressed in PJs/onesies all day). Serve hot chocolate. Teachers, kids and parents to share their favourite books together. Contributed by Nia Talbot. Hannah Sullivan also added that her school is doing this as an evening event.

Addendum to Books Before Bedtime: kids decorate a pillowcase with book quotes. Contributed by Caroline Wood

Potato Characters: children dress up a potato as a character from a book, using fabric, paper, recycling bits and pieces. Background and props are encouraged. (I LOVE this idea!) Contributed by Anne Thompson, who also provided the photos

Egg Characters: same as Potato Characters, only with eggs. This helpfully combines Lent with WBD. Ensure eggs are hard-boiled or blown before using. Unless you want eggy disasters. Contributed by Caroline Fielding

On-The-Day Costumes: Provide the children with black bin bags, tin foil and sellotape. Give them half an hour to design their own character costume using only the materials provided. Contributed by Jo Cotterill

Donate A Book: Instead of asking parents to create or buy a costume, ask them to donate an age-appropriate book to your school library. Books could be good condition from second-hand shops. Every child brings in a book on the day and adds it to the pile in the library. During the day, each class has time in the library to look at the new books and share stories. Hopefully by the time the books are added to the library system, there will be a queue of readers eager to borrow them! Suggested by Miriam Storey and developed by Jo Cotterill

Make Something With A Book Quote On: Something to display; something to wear…it doesn’t matter as long as the children have made it and it has a quote from a book on it! A very open brief that can be interpreted in all kinds of ways. Contributed by Rachael Lucas

Dress as a character from a Book You Own: exactly what it says on the tin. Children do dress as a book character but they have to bring in the book to go with it. This avoids a lot of Disney Princesses and Batmen (though of course those characters do indeed appear in books). Guidance is given on costumes, e.g. piece of cardboard as tabard for playing card in Alice in Wonderland. Contributed by Milly Weaver

Build a Book Scene In A Box: Children create a scene from a book inside a small cardboard box using only paper, cardboard and paint (and glue of course!). Contributed by Stephen Baird

Create Your Own Character: Children come dressed as an imaginary character – that is, one they’ve created themselves. (One year, this particular school had a Book Fairy! Throughout school they talk, draw pictures and label, write descriptions and stories. All depending on their age.) Contributed by Rosemary Burke 

Bring In A Book Object: Ask the children to bring in an object that represents a book. How many people can guess it? Encourages lots of book talk and sharing. Contributed by Alison Nicholson

Booklikes: Children bring in a book with which they have some kind of link. Perhaps they share a name with a character, or the book is set in a place they’ve been to? Or maybe something more tenuous. Contributed by John Dougherty

All-Day Author: Children spend all day looking at books by one author, eg Julia Donaldson. One book can be the focus, eg The Gruffalo – not too young even for Y6! To make it more cross-curricular, read the story in French (with lots of joining in!) and ask the children to write descriptions in French. Contributed by Ang Stockwell

Whole Class Book: The class picks one book. They decorate the class door and/or the class room, and on WBD everyone in that class comes dressed as a character from the chosen book. Contributed by Ju

Variation on Whole Class Book: “Each class choose a book and plan the day’s activities to link to the story. Celebrate your story in music, drama or art to be shared with children or parents.” Contributed by Mrs Bartlett

Vocabulary Parade: Children come dressed as a word – the more unusual the better! (This has also been reported in another school as ‘Come Dressed As An Adjective’) Contributed by Miss Biddle. If you want to see photographs of how this could work, check out this link supplied by Rebecca Kirvar!

Book Review T-Shirt: every child creates a book review on a t-shirt which they then wear around school all day. Contributed by Nicola Elliott

New Stories from Old Characters: If they ARE going to dress up, how about dramatising/re-imagining stories while children are in costume? How would Red Riding Hood react to meeting a Power Ranger? Harry Potter to Narnia”s White Witch? Contributed by Chris Connaughton

Book Quiz Across Schools: “Porthcawl Library holds a Book Quiz every year and all the local schools take part. Each school reads a different book and then a team of two answers questions on it.” Contributed by Elaine Winstanley

Book Balloons: Each class has a paper lantern (these can be bought quite cheaply) that they have to decorate with the theme of a book (the class chooses the book) in the style of a hot air balloon. Then the balloons are hung from the ceiling in a chosen place – they look stunning! Contributed by ScoobieSue

Wooden Spoon Characters: The school buys every child a wooden spoon. The children take the spoons home and turn them into characters from books. Then there’s a huge spoon-character display at school! Contributed by Mrs EM

Character Clue Hunt: Everyone wears a ‘hint’ of a character. The children have to guess as many as they can! Contributed by Rebecca Stacey

Whole-School Consequences: children and staff get printed slips with various starters on eg ‘He said…’ ‘There was…’ and they have to complete them. Then the slips are collated and placed in some kind of order that makes sense! See this link for how one school did it! Contributed by Beth G-G

The Great Literary Bake Off: “Great cakey texts for each year and a Tales and Teapots-style event on WBD to involve parents. We have invited parents for a story, tea and cakes – and all children have been bought a chef’s hat too so we will have a school of bakers!” Contributed by Joanna Coop

Character Photo Booth: “Pop-up Photo Booth & a supply of  book character props means that you do not have to have a full costume and can take some great photos (with permission of course). The top hat was the most popular and versatile!” Contributed by Ann Montgomery


For costumes

There are lots of ideas on the World Book Day site itself. The lovely peeps at Book Aid International have also pointed me towards their Quick Dress-Up ideas which are fab! Below are some very simple ones, many of which can be cobbled together in under ten minutes.

Janet on Twitter has also shared a Top Tip that is stunningly simple and makes a WBD costume much easier to think up: “We think about this [what character we could dress up as] every time we complete a book… means that by WBD we have a library of characters to choose from! Schools could do it too. It promotes reading, it’s an “in” to talking about characters. It gives everyone notice. As a busy working mum, doing this has made book day a doddle.” Fantastic idea, Janet!

The Boy In The Dress by David Walliams

  • Put your son in a dress (NB this costume does not work for girls. Unless you are being very meta)

Time Travelling With A Hamster by Ross Welford

  • Find a small soft toy that vaguely resembles a rodent
  • Cut air holes in a small cardboard box (or, if you’re handy with a sharp knife, cut bars in it to look more like a hamster cage)

Tin Man from Wizard of Oz by Frank L Baum

  • Wrap your child in tin foil. (NB remember to leave air holes)

Electrigirl by Jo Cotterill and Cathy Brett

  • Electrigirl doesn’t have an official ‘costume’ until Book 3, so basically, any generic superhero outfit (cape, shorts over tights, t shirt) will do
  • Add lightning drawn onto the face with eyeliner and/or a lightning badge for the t-shirt and/or backcomb their hair so it stands up around their head like they’ve been electrocuted (you might need to buy shares in gel or hairspray for this)

A Muggle from Harry Potter

  • Send them in normal clothes

A Wizard dressed as a Muggle from Harry Potter

  • Cobble together an outfit from mis-matched items: clashing colours and patterns, random bits of jewellery, a hat…basically an outfit that looks like it was designed by a wizard trying to fit in
  • Top Tip from author Sally Nicholls: ‘If anyone asks who you are, you look very indignant and say “I’m a Muggle! Muggles wear this! I bought it in a Muggle shop!”‘

Stunt Bunny by Tamsyn Murray

  • Bunny ears and a bandana. Sportswear if you have it

Jack Sullivan from The Last Kids On Earth by Max Brallier

  • long-sleeved t-shirt
  • spiked quiff
  • zombie-slaying weapon of choice

Camicaze from How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

  • black clothes
  • back-combed hair
  • some rope
  • any other Bog-Burgling equipment you fancy

Dave Pigeon by Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey

  • Grey clothes
  • Sling made from fabric or toilet paper (both are used in the book)
  • gold medal made from card or paper
  • Mask – print off here

Boy from Where Bear? by Sophy Henn

  • stripy top
  • shorts

Butterfly from The Very Hungry Caterpillar (NB this one can’t be made on the morning, so technically it shouldn’t really be included but I like it and it’s my webpage, so ner)

  • Cut out large cardboard wings (this DOES assume that you’ve just had a boiler or a flat-screen TV or a delivery from Amazon)
  • Get child to paint the wings crazy colours
  • Elastic or string to tie them to your child

The Little Princess by Tony Ross

  • Oversized white T-shirt
  • wellies
  • yellow paper/cardboard crown

Mr Bump by Roger Hargeaves

  • blue clothes
  • pillow/cushion under top, to make big belly
  • wrap with loo roll ‘bandages’

Pom Pom by Sophy Henn

  • white t-shirt
  • black leggings
  • black and white face paints if you have them
  • attach black paper ears to Alice Band, or use ‘space buns’ if you have them in your Star Wars dress-up!

Witch from Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson, also Winnie the Witch by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul, also Meg and Mog

  • witch costume (because most of us have one of those hanging around from Halloween)
  • toy cat (black for preference)

What the Ladybird Heard by Julia Donaldson

  • red top
  • cut out black paper spots and stick them to the red top
  • deely bopper for antennae if you have them, or black pipe cleaners twisted round alice band

Lost Boy from Peter Pan by JM Barrie

  • camouflage top
  • war paint
  • bandana

Tintin by Hergé

  • blue top
  • shorts
  • spiked hair
  • toy dog (white if you have it)

Emily from the Adventure Island series by Helen Moss

  • t-shirt, shorts, trainers
  • a satchel type bag – investigation kit – filled with e.g. notebooks, magnifying glass, “fingerprint kit” “evidence bags”, etc
  • toy dog (named Drift)
  • Long brown curly hair optional

George from Spaghetti with the Yeti by Adam and Charlotte Guillain

  • woolly hat
  • backpack
  • tin of spaghetti

Kate from The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

  • practical clothes
  • a bucket filled with ‘useful stuff’

Daisy from You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School by Em Lynas

  • school shirt and skirt
  • woolly hat
  • stripy tights/socks
  • black school tie with white paper cats stuck on it

Arthur Dent from The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  • pyjamas
  • dressing gown
  • towel

George from the Famous Five by Enid Blyton

  • flared jeans or old shorts
  • t shirt
  • ‘jersey’ or woolly jumper
  • backpack filled with picnic/binoculars/torch/map
  • soft toy dog to be Timmy

Sophie from The BFG by Roald Dahl

  • nightdress
  • toy glasses from dressing up box (or make them? Pipecleaners?)
  • ‘dream jar’ – glass or plastic jar filled with glitter and/or cotton wool

Barney Willow from To Be A Cat by Matt Haig

  • black clothes
  • cat ears
  • cat tail (tuck one leg of black tights into back of trousers, leave other leg dangling out)
  • face paint

Boggis, Bunce or Bean from Fantastic Mr Fox

  • flat cap
  • checked shirt
  • cushion under shirt plus belt to hold cushion in place
  • wellies
  • ‘Wanted’ poster

girl white dogJessie in ‘Girl With A White Dog’ by Anne Booth

  • jeans
  • hoodie

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

  • pinafore
  • stripy tights or socks
  • pigtails

Characters from The Sinclair Mysteries by Katherine Woodfine

Silly Suzy Goose by Petr Horacek

  • white clothes
  • orange paper ‘duck feet’ attached to top of shoes
  • Orange paper beak if you have time (or face paint)

The Saucepan Man from Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree

  • attach saucepans to your child

Anna from Ballet Shoes for Anna by Noel Streatfeild (or Posy Fossil from Ballet Shoes)

  • ballet kit

Miffy by Dick Bruna

  • white tights and top
  • pinny
  • bunny ears

Novak Cutter from the Beetle Boy books by MG Leonard

  • white dress
  • black feather boa (you know, the one you secretly keep at the back of the wardrobe from that party you went to one time)

Hazel from Watership Down (or Fiver, or Bigwig etc) by Richard Adams

  • Bunny ears
  • Pom-pom tail

Noi from The Storm Whale by Benji Davies

  • blue and white striped top
  • wellies
  • balaclava (or dark woolly hat)

Mango from Mango and Bambang by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy

  • stripey skirt
  • hair bow
  • button-down shirt with white collar (could be paper!)

Dotty Detective by Clara Vulliamy

  • spotty t-shirt
  • hair in bunches
  • toy dog
  • notebook (ideally spotty)
  • detective paraphernalia (torch, magnifying glass, secret code banana/lemon)

Daisy or Hazel from Murder Most Unladylike



School Activity Ideas

Book Aid International is a super organisation doing extremely important work and they’ve put together a resource pack for schools who would like to look a little further outwards and help fundraise for books for people around the world.

Book Buddies: Older pupils are invited to read to the younger ones. Contributed by Caroline Wood

Library Trip: Take the children out to the local library if you have one and it’s accessible. Many children will never have been to a public library. You could be opening up a whole new reading world to them. Contributed by Miriam Storey

Staff Share Books: Each member of staff brings in their favourite book from childhood and visits each class during the day to do a short reading and say why they enjoyed it. Contributed by Caroline Fielding

Match the Badges: Staff wear badges with book references on and the children have to find the matching badge. E.g. ‘Harry Potter’ matches with ‘Voldemort’, ‘Scientist’ matches with ‘We Are All Made Of Molecules’, ‘Alex Rider’ matches with ‘Stormbreaker’. Contributed by Caroline Fielding

Short Story Day: A short story is split into sections, and at the beginning or end of each lesson, the teacher reads a section until the story is finished by the end of the day. Contributed by Rachel Marshall

Guess The Quote: Pin a quote to the back of each staff member. They have to try and guess which book it’s from. Contributed by Purple Penguin Publishing

Design A New Cover: Children design a new cover for a book and attempt to ‘sell’ it to a panel of judges (other pupils or teachers) Contributed by Morpeth School Librarian

Collage Cover Comp: Children recreate the front cover of a book in collage but without the title. A gallery is then created and viewers have to guess the book. Contributed by Morpeth School Librarian

PowerPoint Story: Older pupils write a short story for younger pupils using PowerPoint and present it to them. Contributed by Maria Aylward. Paul Tyler also does this at his school – children write stories to read to each other.

Reading Relay: Every child in the school receives a ticket to go to a classroom within the school (meaning you can mix up children within Key Stages) and they hear three different stories from three different teachers or TAs or the office staff. Contributed by Laura

Book Amnesty: Children bring in any books from home that they no longer need in order to help create or build on school library resources. Contributed by Marilyn Rust

Book Swap: Many schools have a book swap. Oakfield First School adds an extra dimension that benefits the school library: “Every child brings a book or two that they’re finished with and 20p/50p to buy a book from those donated. Every child goes home with a new book and the school raises funds for new books for the library.” Contributed by Abi Moore

Class Mystery Book Swap: children bring in a book wrapped in brown paper and swap with their class mates (also ensures age appropriate books received) Contributed by Anna Harrison

Door Book Collage: Children make a big collage of books they’re reading and display it on their class door. Contributed by Morpeth School Librarian

Whole Class Book: The class picks one book. They decorate the class door and/or the class room, and on WBD everyone in that class comes dressed as a character from that book.

Story Time: “We had all teachers choose a fave book. Children from yrR to yr6 then chose one of the stories, half a hour a day of story time. Just listening to a favourite story. Children loved it! No cost, just time.” Contributed by Gems

Drop Everything And Read: Children carry around a book with them during the school day. At random moments, the bell rings and everyone has to stop what they’re doing (including the teachers) and read their book for five minutes. Contributed by Rachel Sowerby

Guess The Book In The Jar: Choose a well-worn book from the school library that needs replacing but is fairly well-known. Cut up the pages into strips and put them in a large glass jar. Pupils have to work out what they think the book is just from reading the strips through the sides of the jar. Contributed by Edgebarrow Library

Shelfies: children take a photo of themselves in front of a bookshelf which shows their favourite books. Contributed by WMSExplore

Art Installation: Choose a book and involve the whole school in creating an art installation based on it. Larkfield Juniors is creating an installation out of bikes to celebrate the new Flying Fergus book by Chris Hoy and Joanna Nadin!

Staff Recommendations: “We’re a secondary school. On World Book Day, every lesson in every subject begins with a reading from a favourite book of that teacher. By the end of the 5 period day, students will have had 5 book recommendations.” Contributed by Tom Stevens

School Write-A-Book: “This year we have an author working with all the children. They’ll be writing their own section of a book. In addition to this we have a printing press coming into school so that we can publish our book.” Contributed by Catherine Skinn

Match the Selfie to the Shelfie: Pupils have to match the ‘shelfie’ to the staff member. Contributed by Emma Suffield and others

Book Treasure Hunt: see Jonathan Emmett’s wonderful post on this activity he organised at his Patron of Reading school. Jonathan explains exactly how to carry out this fantastic idea!

Poetry Slam: “kids read poetry books, perform poems in groups. Each class chooses a winner to go forward to a Grand Slam final in the hall watched by all.” Contributed by Andy Seed

Book Surgery: “Pupil librarians wear lab coats. Anyone come to them with their ‘ailment’ – they write a ‘prescription’ of a great book recommendation!” Contributed by Jenny Bartlett (secondary school)

Bookface: “Teachers choose a book that represents them – photograph themselves with book covering face. Pupils have to guess who’s who.” Contributed by Jenny Bartlett (secondary school)

westburyPublish a Whole School Book: This one takes a lot of commitment and organisation but Westbury School signed up for the Scholastic ‘We Are Writers’ scheme and ended up with a beautiful finished version which contained super stories from all age groups. You can read how they did it here. Contributed by Beth G-G

Blind Date Books: Wrap up books in brown paper and allow children to select one. You can write clues on the paper to the book inside to help guide readers to something they’ll like. Read how Westbury School did it here. Contributed by Beth G-G

Words In A Hat: “We’re doing WBD Assemblies with a hat containing 40 unusual new words to learn from ‘defenestrate’ to ”cryptozoology’ and ‘clishmaclaver’ – 10 kids in each year 7-10 will pick out a word, we talk about its meaning and their challenge is to use it properly before the day is out! And we’re planing on giving the head teacher a particularly challenging word to get in to his WBD assembly talk. The older kids will also get some dialect words from diffferent English counties.” Contributed by Kenilworth Books

Exploring authors and illustrators: “This year we are celebrating picture books; each year group has an author/illustrator to explore. Our wonderful education library service sent as many of their books as they could to support each one.” Contributed by Hillsbjorn