I never have felt as uninhibited and proud of myself as the day I purposefully pranced in front of 500 people in a black leotard and tights, with a stocking stuffed with balls of newspaper pinned to my bum, a bit of striped red and white cardboard taped into a cylinder plonked on my head and pipe cleaners poking out my nose.
It was 1984 – my first Book Week Parade, and ladies and gentleman, I was the Cat InThe Hat.
Any kid growing up in the 80’s will remember the Book Parade. In fact, most kids who have ever been to primary school in the last 67 years will remember it. The Children’s Book Council of Australia (www.cbca.org.au) has been giving Aussie kids a reason to parade around embodying their favourite book characters since 1945.
A quick Facebook survey of friends reveals a lingering fervour for Book Week. From the winning Pippy Longstocking entrant who overcame the lack of orange hairspray at the local chemist, opting instead for purple plaits. To the embarrassment of a hipster-in-the-making who delighted in her Flacco outfit and bald-head with a single curl, was horrified to realise not only was he not a book character, but also not real. Or the brother and sister duo as Storm Boy and Mr Percival – oh, swoon.
I don’t remember exactly how I learnt to read. I remember being in Kindergarten and seeing squiggles of chalk on the blackboard. I remember seeing ‘this is’ written and wondering why Mrs Clarke had left the ‘th’ off the ‘is’ in the second ‘this’. I remember the exact moment I realised they were different words and then whoosh – I was reading.
I now work with children, most with learning and behaviour difficulties, and my biggest fear for them is that they won’t discover the magic of a story, and that they might give up before they work out what the squiggles mean. Maybe they won’t ever read a whole novel, but if they can engage in the possibilities found within stories then so much is possible.
In an effort to reconnect with the process of learning to read, I took an Arabic language class. Once again I was presented with a collection of squiggles and marks and was told they had names and sounds. Just like with Mrs Clarke, 30 years earlier, it all started to make sense. Very, s l o w l y.
By Year 4 I had devoured every single book in the Little Bush Maid/Billabong series by Mary Grant Bruce. I refused to go near the Sweet Valley High series based on the pretentious covers and the Babysitter’s Club bored me. I adored Playing Beattie Bow and everything Ruth Park and D’Arcy Niland ever wrote and then, the real game changer, Picnic at Hanging Rock including the final secret chapter published after Joan Lindsay’s death. It was the first book I ever requested out of the Auburn Library’s mysterious ‘stack’ (a place that special but seldom borrowed books live).
My love of books and reading got me in trouble in year 6. I managed to get my hands on Judy Blume’s Forever – the only book of the wildly popular 1980’s author that I hadn’t already read – I smuggled it to my Catholic school. I orated the juicy virginity-losing section to some friends whom I thought were trustworthy. Unfortunately someone, who I think was called Carly, went home and asked her Mum about penises and got me busted. The Headmistress, Sr. Barbara was unimpressed, although I think my Mum got into more trouble than me for not supervising my visits to the local library closely enough.
Later that year I was sent to see the school counsellor when I told my teacher that ‘I would rather read books than have to play netball with those bitches’. The books by this stage were Man From Snowy River style Australiana Romance novels, which provided ample daydreaming material for what might be possible on school holiday horse-riding camps.
Repeat a similar scene of preferred social isolation in Year 12, when I discovered a single computer connected to something called the world.wide.web and the philosophy section of the library.
Each year the CBCA announces a theme for Book Week that builds on the concept of the love of reading and riches that are discovered in stories. From 1987’s ‘Sail Away with Books’ theme – a year in which I remember a glut of The Owl And The Pussycat parade entries – to 2008’s borderline political ‘Fuel Your Mind’ premise. In 2012, I am faced with finding a costume that fits the post-Olympic theme of ‘Champions Read’.
Yep, more than two decades after leaving primary school I am still delighting in the idea of a bit of cosplay. Except this year, I’m not parading in the safety of a primary school where dress-ups and being funny/kooky/odd is not total social suicide, but at my High School (I work in three schools as a psychologist) where the idea has been as popular as wearing ugg boots and trakkie daks to march in the Mardi Gras.
The clash of sporting references with an inherently nerdy event is unnerving. Again, Facebook comes to the rescue with ideas for my costume. Thanks for the hilarious suggestion I lose a section of my ear and go as ‘Chopper Reid’ (Champions Read, geddit?). I considered it for several nano-seconds along with more obscure ideas of Freddy Mercury and a pouch of Champion Ruby tobacco.
I am bracing for an onslaught of girls with dragon tattoos and Katniss Everdeens, the usual array of Harry Potters (yawn) and very hungry (not human) caterpillars at Friday’s event. Along with many of the middle aged teaching staff in various shades of grey.
As the school counsellor, I ponder personifying a self-help book – wearing all yellow for Who Moved My Cheese?, hooking myself up to a parachute to answer the question What Colour Is Your Parachute? or even co-opting a colleague to be Rich Dad, Poor Dad with me.
A decent impersonation of Sigmund Freud, Champion of Psychoanalysis and his book the Interpretation of Dreams, proved both too highbrow and tricky. So I settled on a classic, which requires no major preparation. Taking Tim Burton’s upcoming film adaption of Great Expectations as a guide, and wearing a vintage lacy wedding dress that I got at Lidcombe Vinnies is about 1998, I’ll proudly rock up to work on Friday with cobwebs in my hair as Miss Havisham, Champion of the Broken-hearted. I can look as old and haggard as I want, and it’s a bit more classy, yet the total opposite of shoving a pillow up my dress and representing What To Expect When You’re Expecting!
First posted on The Daily Life: http://www.dailylife.com.au/life-and-love/real-life/why-no-one-is-too-old-or-too-cool-for-book-week-20120820-24huh.html
August 21, 2012
Photo: Getty Images