23 August 2023

Thank you Kmart for saving Book Week (and other reasons why I'm failing as a parent)

| Claire Fenwicke
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children in Book Week costumes

A mad dash to the local Kmart resulted in knock-off costumes for Book Week. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Several non-child-friendly expletives crossed my mind when I received the notice from my children’s daycare: “Book Week is almost here! We invite your children to come dressed up as characters from their favourite books for the week!”

My twins are three, so they are starting to get the concept of a ‘favourite book’. I used to get away with saying the Very Hungry Caterpillar “ate a lot of food”, but now we name every single item and count how many apples, oranges and pears the greedy little bugger munched his way through before becoming a beautiful butterfly.

So I knew I couldn’t just find any old costume that vaguely resembled a book character to put on my kids this year.

I’m the first to admit I have lofty aspirations to be a ‘crafty mum’. I received a sewing machine for my last birthday, which has since sat untouched (it’s been at least nine months now). I attempted to knit two pram blankets for my kids before they were born (I completed one, which is now a doll blanket, and got three rows into the second before they were born). My attempt at the Number 1 Women’s Weekly birthday cake was a literal hot mess.

And now Book Week is rubbing may face in it, confirming, yet again, that thoughts and wishes don’t translate into heart-felt, decently handmade items for my kids.

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I can’t remember having a Book Week at my primary school when I was a kid.

We embraced Easter Hat Parades, and I was always ecstatically excited for the Scholastic Book Fair when it came around every year.

But for the life of me, I can’t remember donning the costume of a beloved book character and showing all my friends.

My mum could sew, and I have put my daughter in many of the outfits she made for me when I was a child, but I worry that my daughter and son won’t have those same handmade keepsakes for their children one day.

Instead, they’ll have baby clothes with labels from Big W, Kmart and Best & Less.

Some lovely family and friends have knitted the kids’ jumpers and beanies and coats, and I will treasure those forever, but my heart breaks that they won’t have something from this time in their lives, specifically from me.

What is it about parenthood – and I don’t think I’m stepping out of line to say motherhood, in particular – that creates this crazy comparison game between a person’s skills? Why should it matter if my son has a knock-off ‘bug’ costume over a handcrafted caterpillar head made from cardboard and paper-mâché? Is this a product of social media or did my mother also agonise over the same things?

And am I losing sight of the real reason for Book Week – to share the joy of literature and encourage children to read?

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In the end, I probably really shouldn’t have worried. Apparently, several other children in my kids’ daycare room also turned up throughout the week in store-bought knock-off versions of their favourite book characters, and they were just excited to be sharing their stories with each other.

Plus, seeing my son insist on sleeping in his caterpillar costume each night (or ‘applepillar’, as he says), and my daughter twirling in her red cape and hood, should be reassurance enough. I may not think I’m doing the best job that I can but my kids clearly do.

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I only had one child and was the sole Book Week costume provider in my house. We may have done two or three and then I think we both acknowledged it was not our thing. We both weren’t that into it. I’d guess it is mothers in the vast majority of cases who deliver the goods.

I hear so much about it now and am glad we are now making decisions about which college he should attend over what book character he could be for a day.

I’m wondering though, why this is not an activity which can be managed at school. I’m sure parents and schools together could stump up for craft materials to make good old fashioned glued and sticky taped efforts under the guise of art and craft lessons.

Why continue to make parents feel like they have to produce something or invest good money in items which will only end upon landfill eventually. The big stores will know when book week is and will be ready and waiting.

It could just be something the class does together and reduce the commercialisation.

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