World Book Day was first launched in 1995 and is a way of celebrating the power of storytelling – and to encourage young people to start reading. Since then it has become an annual fixture in every school’s calendar.
Most schools mark World Book Day by inviting children to dress up as a character from their favourite book for the day. This year schools won’t be opening their doors but World Book Day will still be encouraged and more important than ever as a way of uniting children who have been out of the classroom and away from their classmates for so long.
But what makes the best World Book Day costume? Every year parenting forums are riddled with mums and dads arguing about whether it is okay for kids to wear Disney outfits, or go as a footballer who published an autobiography.
If we’re being “proper” then World Book Day costumes really should represent characters from literature, not films (although of course plenty of famous books are now films too).
But as always, making sure your child is happy and confident in their costume is the top priority.
We were looking for outfits which were distinctive, fun, well-made, and where possible unusual.
We were keen to ensure that children were going to be warm and comfortable too, so we wanted to know whether there was scope for wearing a base layer of clothing under a costume, and we looked at seams for potential “itch inducing” areas which would render even the most fabulous costume unwearable.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
From its depiction of true love to the battle between good and evil, 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith has all the elements of a great tale for all ages.
This costume could be any one of the 101 dogs trying to escape the clutches of Cruella De Vil, and what we particularly liked was that there is plenty of room for another layer underneath. The fabric is soft to touch and includes lovely little details like a bone collar and swishy tail. Our four-year-old tester found this easy to put on by stepping in and fastening with Velcro, and it was also easy for them to move in, allowing for the sort of energetic play expected of a dalmatian pup.
Buy now £20.99, Smiffys.com
Mermaid wrap costume
The mermaid is such a popular image in folklore, fairy tale and literature. The Little Mermaid which is now one of Disney’s most famous movies was based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, while in recent years Julia Donaldson wrote the hugely popular book The Singing Mermaid.
This is such a glamorous costume thanks to supersized iridescent sequins all over the tail, which is worn as a kind of apron down the front of the legs, attaching around the waist with a strong Velcro strip. The top is a backless halter, which is very mermaid-like, but given that World Book Day falls in March in the UK, parents might suggest a t-shirt underneath (be warned – this will probably go down badly).
Since our four-year-old tester first put this costume on, she has worn it every single day with no sign of getting bored. With this said, be prepared for some of the sequins to come loose if the costume is enjoyed on a 24/7 basis.
Buy now £50.00, Merimeri.co.uk
The ladybird is an enduringly popular creature for young children who are in thrall to this little insect’s colour, pattern – and the fact that it has hidden wings. It is found frequently in literature – from the nursery rhyme “Ladybird, Ladybird, fly away home” to bookshelf favourites such as The Bad-Tempered Ladybird by Eric Carle or What the Ladybird Heard by Julia Donaldson.
This costume is really cute, but completely simple: it’s essentially a hooded tabard that can be easily slipped on over a child’s head. Children will need to have a base layer of clothes – perhaps black tights and a jumper – underneath to complete the look. Our tester loved this because it was a complete transformation in seconds – plus she found it cosy inside the hood, which was roomy and with no sign of being tight or restrictive.
Buy now £16.95, Pretendtobee.co.uk
Rubies Willy Wonka childs costume
As the owner of a gigantic chocolate factory, he is surely one of the most popular characters in children’s literature, so marking World Book Day by dressing up as Willy Wonka is always going to be a good idea.
Roald Dahl wrote Wonka as something of an eccentric and this costume amply reflects this. The vivid purple tail coat, the mustard bow tie and rather groovy floral shirt are in fact all one piece, and teamed with the top hat you have all of the key elements here to give any wearer the golden ticket into Wonka’s world. There are no trousers or shoes included, but we think school uniform will easily suffice.
Buy now £10.99, Bargainmax.co.uk
Love monster costume
Love Monster by Rachel Bright tells the story of a fuzzy, toothy beast who feels lost in a world of cute creatures. This plush costume features a hood where the monster’s eyes are placed and slips over the head to the knees. There are lots of charming details, like the claw paws at the end of the sleeves, as well as a tail and toy that attach with Velcro.
It’s hard to overstate quite how squashy and fluffy this feels and it’s really warm, too – our tester, who is four, has it doubling up as a dressing gown!
Buy now £14.99, Partydelights.co.uk
Miffy dress up costume
The first Miffy book by Dutch author Dick Bruna was written in 1953 and since then Miffy has become one of the best loved and most easily recognisable children’s characters of all time. The Miffy books are always about normal, everyday life – there is no jeopardy and the focus is on simplicity and happiness, making them enduringly comforting to younger children.
This costume includes a dress headdress complete with ears and Miffy’s distinctive cross mouth, and is available for children aged between one and six years.
Buy now £22.99, Miffyshop.co.uk
Great Pretenders gold knight set
There is a multitude of books for children featuring knights – think Zog, The Knight Who Wouldn’t Fight and The Princess Knight – which makes this rather jazzy number a versatile choice for anyone interested in medieval battle, castles, dragons and the like.
The cape alone is a sight to behold – a shimmering gold to match the lion’s head in the middle of the velveteen tunic and the crown. It is certainly a stately and dramatic outfit that feels weighty with quality without being heavy.
Buy now £32.95, Scandiborn.co.uk
Kids Alice in Wonderland fancy dress costume
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been luring children and adults alike down the rabbit hole of surreal storytelling since it was written in 1865.
This outfit, right down to its silky bow headband and little apron, is unmistakably Alice. We love the illustrations of some of the story’s best-loved characters, including the Cheshire Cat, around the hemline which proved a key talking point with our four-year-old tester.
Buy now £14.00, Matalan.co.uk
Pure cotton Roald Dahl & NHM dress
OK, so this isn’t a costume per say, but we think that this cotton dress with text and illustrations from Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile is a great shout for any understated child who would prefer to literally wear their literature.
The dress features the enormous crocodile in a tussle with Trunky the elephant alongside interesting facts like “Elephants use their ears for hearing, communication and cooling…” Parents will love that this can be worn long after World Book Day too.
Buy now £7.00, Marksandspencer.com
The verdict: World Book Day costumes
The Smiffy’s dalmatian costume wins for us because it appeals to all age groups, genders and is so easily recognisable. We also felt it was unusual and would especially stand out.
If you want to splash out, the Meri Meri mermaid costume is pretty fabulous and eye catching, if a tiny bit impractical!
Keep the kids entertained with our pick of the best subscription boxes, from outdoor activities to arts and crafts