History of World Book Day

World Book Day was founded by UNESCO in 1995 as ‘World Book and Copyright Day’ and is celebrated internationally on 23 April every year. This day was chosen due to its historical literary significance, being the date on which several well-known authors died, including William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes.

Since the year 2000, the UK’s version of World Book Day has taken place on the first Thursday in March, to avoid clashes with St George’s Day and Easter.

Due to the unique challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, UNESCO says that now, more than ever, “the power of books should be leveraged to combat isolation, reinforce ties between people [and] expand our horizons, while stimulating our minds and creativity.”

World Book Day in the United Kingdom

World Book Day was first celebrated in the UK and Ireland in 1997. It is a registered charity that works with other national and international bodies to promote ongoing access to books and reading for pleasure. It is funded by publishers and booksellers in the UK and Ireland. Founder of the charity Baroness Rebuck said, “We wanted to do something to reposition reading and our message is […] that reading is fun, relevant, accessible, exciting, and has the power to transform lives.”

The purpose of World Book Day is to encourage children and young people to read for pleasure by providing them with “a book of their own”. Each year, 15 million book tokens are sent to children to buy one of the specially published World Book Day titles or get £1 off another book. World Book Day Wales, supported by the Welsh Government, includes additional Welsh-language books.

Despite lockdown restrictions, World Book Day will take place as usual this year, with both the usual printed token and a new single-use digital book token. Participating bookshops will also honour tokens beyond the usual cut-off date.

Fundraising and impact

Funds raised for World Book Day go towards:

The impact of World Book Day in 2020:

  • 1.03 million £1 books were gifted in the UK and Ireland in five weeks.
  • Of children receiving free school meals, 3 in 10 said that the book they ‘bought’ with their World Book Day tokens was the first book they had of their own.
  • 66% of primary schools said World Book Day had changed reading habits.

Importance of reading for pleasure

World Book Day says that reading for pleasure results in “improved life chances” for children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. There is research that indicates that reading has an impact on children’s lives and outcomes.

Research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Programme for International Student Assessment (2000) found that “changing and improving students’ reading proficiency could have a strong impact on their opportunities in later life”.

In a 2006 paper examining research on reading for pleasure, the National Literacy Trust cited work suggesting that reading for pleasure improves children’s comprehension of texts and grammar, increases general knowledge and contributes to the pleasure of reading in later life. In 2015, a study conducted for the Reading Agency found many benefits in reading for pleasure: increased empathy, the improvement of longer-term education outcomes in young children, and improved knowledge of the self and other people.

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Cover image by randomhh from Pixabay.