Monday 9 March 2015

Dressing Your Hero

Last Thursday I had the privilege of helping to launch Wimbledon Book Festival’s Young Writer’s Competition for 2015. It was World Book Day, the day when many children are encouraged to come as their favourite character in a book (or movie!) When I arrived at Wimbledon Chase Primary School, I was delighted to see two teachers got up as Batman and Superman welcoming children and parents to the school. 

The children were buzzing with excitement. This year David Walliams dominated with his Demon Dentist, Gansta Granny and Boy in a Dress. Harry Potter characters are now a staple. There were several Cats in Hats and even a couple of Sherlock Holmes

I was assisted by literacy coordinator Linda Darlington who came as Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird. We posed with children dressed as Pippi Long-stocking and Darth Vadar. As I looked out over a sea of faces, masks, hats and fake glasses, it suddenly occurred to me that many of the best characters from children’s fiction have looks that lend themselves to World Book Day dress up. 

Here are three elements I think the best dress-up-able characters have:

1. An identifiable silhouette. In an interview with Kidzcoolit, one of the directors of Shaun the Sheep the Movie says, “You can recognise most famous characters from their silhouettes. Shaun’s definitely got that.” Think of The Cat in the Hat, Peter Pan, Paddington Bear and Little Red Riding Hood. And look at Pippi with her sticky-out plaits.

2. A fun accessory or talisman. A soft toy animal is always fun, like Pippi Longstocking's monkey (see above). Kids also love swords, wands and replica revolvers, if the school allows such things! Katniss has her bow and arrows; Dorothy Gale her basket.

3. An outfit that's easy and warm. Easy for the parents to assemble and warm for the comfort of the children. World Book Day is usually early March which can be chilly in the UK. 

Some of my fellow History Girls have come up with great characters who boast distinctive silhouettes, fun accessories and warm costumes.
Girl Highwaymen at one of Marie-Louise Jensen's events
Sophia from Marie Louise-Jensen’s The Girl in the Mask is a girl highwayman. You can easily make a mask and tricorn hat. Black cloaks and flintlock pistols can be bought early, around Halloween. This costume would be especially appealing to a tomboy. Here are some year 7 girls from Walton Girls’ High School dressed up for an author visit. 

Louisa Young’s Lionboy, Charlie Ashanti, could have a soft-toy lion as his accessory and dress in circus gear. He's already made it big on stage and the film rights have been optioned.  

Girl pirate at one of Celia Rees' events
Susan Price’s Sterkarms wear doublets (short padded jackets), long woollen stockings and leather thigh-boots. Their accessories are daggers, lances and shaggy hobs (strong ponies).

Celia Rees has created highway women, witches and pirates. It's almost as if she wrote her novels with World Book Day in mind! These archetypal characters are distinctive, dashing, easy to put together and warm... unless you go for bare midriff. 

Joan Lennon has created a Viking: a small one named Leif Frond. He wears tunic, trousers, furry waistcoat, cloak, boots and a horned helmet. You can accessorise your Viking with bow and (safe) arrows.

Flavia Gemina and Lupus
Kids love dressing up as villains. I spotted Darth Vadars, Demon Dentists and Cruella de Villes! Michelle Lovric’s new book The Fate in the Box features a villain called Fogfinger who wears a turban with a ruby in the middle. Simple and brilliant! 

The four detectives in my Roman Mysteries are always popular. Each of the four is colour-coded as one of the four elements. Flavia, the leader, wears a sky-blue tunic and palla. Lupus the mute boy wears a sea-green tunic and has a Roman wax tablet as his accessory. Nubia is fire, so her clothes are yellow, orange or red. Her accessory is a flute. Jonathan, the Jewish boy, is steady and grounded with a nutmeg-coloured tunic and a herb pouch around his neck against asthma. He sometimes carries a sling. His element is earth. 

Threptus and Sherlock
The picture on the right shows a girl fan dressed up as Threptus, the beggar boy in my spin-off series The Roman Mystery Scrolls. She is posing with her brother who is dressed as Sherlock Holmes, a superb example of a character with a distinctive silhouette. His accessories were no doubt bought at the Museum of London's Sherlock Holmes' exhibition, soon about to end.

Another of my characters is P.K. Pinkerton a half-Sioux 12-year-old detective in the Wild West who wears fringed buckskin trowsers (sic), a "faded red (not pink)" flannel shirt, a blue woollen coat, moccasins and a black slouch hat with a hawk’s feather. P.K.'s accessories are a medicine pouch and a five-shooter revolver, a gift from Mark Twain. P.K. can be a boy or a girl as s/he is a master of disguise.

Desperados and detectives at a Caroline Lawrence event
World Book Day has sharpened my focus; for my next series I'm going to create characters that kids will want to dress up as. I'll give give each one a distinctive silhouette, at least one fun accessory... and nice warm garments. Just as well: it will be set in Roman Britain!


Sue Bursztynski said...

How wonderful, having kids dress up as your characters!

Carol Drinkwater said...

This is such a fab idea, Caroline. I feel sorry that none of my characters fit the bill, but I will consider for the next YA book.

Becca McCallum said...

This was a lovely breakfast post to I want to go and dress up as something!

Celia Rees said...

Great post, Caroline, full of excellent and easy ideas for WBD costumes. You've done the mums of Britain a favour. Perhaps you should contact Mumsnet? Plenty here to stop mums tearing their hair out the day before WBD at the dreaded question: 'What should I go as?' Also all Children's BOOK characters, no inappropriate ADULT sleazeballs, or FILM/TV characters here (my pet peeve).