2nd March 2022

You are a reader: 25 years of World Book Day

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In 1995, UNESCO founded World Book Day: a global celebration of books and the power of reading.  On 3rd March, writes Stephanie Bramwell-Lawes, it will celebrate its 25th anniversary – testament to its enduring mission to provide every child and young person with a book of their own.

Up and down the country, children will be encouraged to share their favourite reads and participate in a variety of digital and in-person events designed to encourage reading as a life-long pursuit.  Schools, libraries, and bookshops will play host to quizzes, writing workshops, and live storytelling from authors and illustrators such as Konnie Huq, Duncan Beedie, Alex Milway, Gianna Pollero, Andy Shepherd (whose virtual events will be beamed into dozens of schools), and Maisie Chan.

“World Book Day means that reading and books are front and centre,” said Chan, author of the Blue Peter Book Awards shortlisted Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths.  “It’s a day when children from all backgrounds can celebrate the books and stories they love, which mean something to them.”

As the country slowly emerges from the pandemic era, this year’s World Book Day is perhaps timelier than ever. In 2021, the organisation raised concerns that “access to books remains a serious issue, particularly among disadvantaged children and families.”  This was especially evident during the COVID-19 crisis, in which libraries and bookshops were forced to close their doors.  Consequently, for many children, the gateway to literature, escapism, and further education was also closed.  In October, the National Literacy Trust reported that the gap in reading enjoyment between lower-income households and those from wealthier socio-economic backgrounds had doubled between 2020 and early 2021.  In 2020, statistics showed that 1 in 11 children eligible for free school meals did not own a single book.  It’s these stark facts that truly underline the day’s importance on the literary calendar.

Among its many initiatives – including competitions, book clubs, and bake sales (Bruce Bogtrotter’s chocolate cake, anyone?) – over 15 million £1 World Book Day tokens are delivered to young people each year.  In exchange, children can purchase an exclusive £1 book from a fantastic selection of titles, ranging from early learners to independent readers.  For those who would rather listen to their rip-roaring detective caper or swashbuckling mythical adventure, World Book Day offers a variety of free audiobooks, including – this year – Mark Anchovy: Pizza Detective (Piccadilly Press) and Robert Muchamore’s Robin Hood (Hot Key Books), among many others.

The organisation has traditionally gone to great efforts to catch the eye of both the regular reader and the reluctant first-time browser alike, nudging people of all ages through the doors of their local store with a riot of colour. This year’s official World Book Day illustrator is the award-winning Allen Fatimaharan, whose titles include the Kate Greenaway Medal nominated My Hair (Faber & Faber) and A Dinosaur Ate My Sister (Macmillan Children’s), the inaugural Marcus Rashford Bookclub pick.  For him, accepting the appointment was an easy decision:

“It’s a huge honour to be the official World Book Day illustrator.  I love the valuable work it does in helping to get books into the hands of children who otherwise would never have the opportunity to own a book and discover the joy of reading for pleasure.”

Between his numerous commitments, Allen also found time to travel the country and add a dash of World Book Day magic to bookshop windows:

“The bookshop window painting tour has been great fun!  What I loved most about the experience was seeing families stop to see what I was painting. The aim of the tour was to promote World Book Day and draw prospective first-time readers into the bookstores to spend their token, and I hope the windows succeed in achieving that goal.”

In an ever-advancing technological world, there are those who will continue to ask: why read?  What role do books still have to play in a market filled with video games and electronic devices? Why reach for the shelf rather than the remote control?  The answer – as ever – is that reading offers an experience unlike any other and one that continues to deliver a measurable boost to our health and happiness.  In addition to its educational benefits, reading for pleasure is statistically proven to enhance children’s mental wellbeing.  A further study conducted by the National Literacy Trust revealed that 3 in 5 children (59%) said that reading made them “feel better” and, likewise, 2 in 5 (41%) found writing beneficial to their welfare and overall happiness.  Reading promotes empathy, stimulates the imagination, and enables greater understanding between different people, countries, and cultures: messages that booksellers are keen to emphasise.

“We really love the opportunity World Book Day gives us to talk about books with our young customers,” Mog and Pauline – owners of Warwick Books – explained.  “We as booksellers look forward to this and treasure the moments we have to share our love of books and reading.  We hope it gives readers the opportunity to experience the joy of books and the universe of possibilities which are waiting to be released from between the pages.”

World Book Day founder, Baroness Gail Rebuck, believes its message is just as important today as it was in 1995: that reading is “fun, relevant, accessible, exciting, and has the power to transform lives.”  In 2021, the World Book Day website reports that 1 in 5 children receiving free school meals said the first book they owned was purchased with a World Book Day token.  An incredible 96.9% of children polled said they had heard of World Book Day, and those who engage with its activities are more likely to engage with books than those who don’t.  It is a legacy that the charity only intends to strengthen in years to come.

In 2022, the campaign message is simple: “you are a reader!”, and access to literature is the bedrock on which a child’s future may depend.  Together with its partners – authors, illustrators, charities, publishers, bookshops, libraries, and schools – World Book Day aims to provide all young people with the resources they need to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.

You are a reader.  So, join in and celebrate your favourite stories, colourful characters, and wildest adventures with your friends and family today!

If you would like to raise money for World Book Day, then fundraising packs can still be downloaded from the official World Book Day website: https://www.worldbookday.com/fundraising/