The UK/Ireland World Book Day Emphasizes Family Reading

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

While Nielsen says reading declined ‘slightly’ in the pandemic year, the UK’s World Book Day emphasis is on family reading with youngsters.

Two readers young readers become poster kids for the UK/Ireland edition of World Book Day in which “showing your shares” of reading with each other in photos is encouraged. Image: UK World Book Day

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Online Inspiration Cited as the Go-To for Reads
No, you have not lost seven weeks and today is not April 23. An annual confusion visits the world publishing industry today (March 4), as the United Kingdom and Ireland mark World Book Day. There’s actually a fairly practical explanation for this:

  • The larger UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day was established in 1995 and it occurs each year on April 23, the date on which UNESCO opens a new World Book Capital year, as well (this year, Tbilisi).
  • Two years after that event was established, the UK and Ireland in 1997 opted to create their World Book Day on the first Thursday in March so they could avoid date conflicts with Easter school holidays and the Feast of Saint George (also April 23), patron saint of England. As storytelling goes, you’ll recall, it didn’t go well for the dragon.

So it is that each year, we seem to do World Book Day and then do World Book Day. That’s okay. Every day is book day around here.

In the UK, the annual observance is tied to reading and literacy charities and it generates “National Book Tokens,” which are gift cards that can be redeemed in major bookstores and independent retailers in Ireland and the UK, both in person and online. That program, itself, is one of the sponsors of UK/Ireland World Book Day.

This year, a “Show Your Shares” competition began running on February 22 for four weeks, with young readers asked to send in photos of themselves sharing reading with family members, pets, and so on.

Lead charities participating this year include Book Aid International, Read for Good, National Literacy Trust, the Reading Agency, and BookTrust. And with support from publishers and booksellers, the program’s organizers say they distribute more than 15 million £1 and £1.50 tokens which young readers can exchange for books from a curated offer. There are specialized offers arranged for Wales and Ireland, these are this year’s English titles:

Image: World Book Day, UK

Pandemic-Era Research From the Charities

Last year’s UK edition of World Book Day 2020 came with warnings that National Literacy Trust survey work showed a “sharp decline” in reading in the year 2019.

This year, the emphasis is on families reading together, particularly during the UK’s very difficult and prolonged coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic spread-mitigation efforts.

The charities together chip in survey information, some of it having been done a year ago during the early stages of the outbreaks.

  • Many children asked said that they embraced reading at the beginning of the pandemic; the majority of those polled said they looked online for reading inspiration, with YouTube (45 percent), social media (28 percent) and friends (31 percent) cited as a key source of ideas
  • Books have provided a valuable resource to support children’s wellbeing. Young people reported that it helped them relax (40 percent) and made them feel happy (35 percent)
  • Some 82 percent of teachers reported reading aloud to their classes as an element of emotional support as well as literacy-skill development
  • One year into the pandemic reading has decreased slightly this year, according to the latest research from Nielsen Books
  • Despite some schools implementing quarantine schemes and delivery services, 40 percent of primary-level children were unable to take books home. Among schools offering borrowing schemes, some spoke of having run out of books to lend by January 21, 2020
Events and Activities

Many organizations and institutions are reliable supporters of the cause each year. Media messaging for this year’s event tells us that gestures this year include:

  • A community interest company called Goodstitch has created an official World Book Day T-shirt and Pawprint Family has designed a special World Book Day badge 
  • Fifty professional football club community organizations delivering free books to local schools through their Premier League Primary Stars sessions in partnership with the National Literacy Trust
  • An extended partnership with McDonald’s that will see the American fast food company include World Book Day’s £1 token in all its Happy Meal Boxes through April 13
  • A donation of more than 30,000 World Book Day £1 books by publishers arriving in National Literacy Trust hub areas to support communities with low levels of literacy
  • Activities with libraries and community partners in Blackpool, Doncaster, Nottingham, and Middlesbrough where Libraries Connected and the National Literacy Trust are leading World Book Day events
  • BookTrust distributing 90,000 tokens through its “BookStart Coordinators,” who work in libraries and community settings
  • A partnership with Read for Good to get 2,400 books directly to school children in deprived areas
  • A partnership with Scottish BookTrust to distribute 5,000 vouchers through Bookbug for the Home, a program to introduce the benefits of stories to families facing significant barriers such as poverty and social isolation
  • All UK prisons in the UK ensuring that 24,000 books “help families enjoy reading together”
  • The Royal Mail giving post boxes a World Book Day makeover, honoring authors who have been doing wonderful work in service of children’s literature including Cressida Cowell, Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola, Julia Donaldson, Lydia Monks, Eloise Williams, Sam McBratney
  • A World Book Day-themed edition of the children’s magazine Beano
  • KIDZ BOP, a children’s music brand hosting readings on its social media channels

Celebrity participants this year have included join Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, Dermot O’Leary, Adam Kay, Louise Pentland, and MC Grammar.

Image: UK World Book Day


More from Publishing Perspectives on the UK market is here, and more on book and literacy charities is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.