World Book Day (WBD) in the UK marks its 19th year this March, staying true to the underlying principles of UNESCO’s annual celebration of reading and Books, which provides encouragement to millions of children and young people across the globe.

Annual event to boost reading

Held each year on the first Thursday in March in the UK and Ireland, WBD represents a charity event and the local manifestation of the wider World Book and Copyright Day (also known as International Day of the Book), which allows UNESCO to encourage reading, publishing and copyright around the world.

To celebrate WBD, schools in the UK are encouraged to hold special fundraising events for Children less fortunate than themselves.

UK moved the date

The official UNESCO celebration was originally held on 23rd April, a development on a Catalonian tradition whereby roses and books are traditionally given as presents on that date. But it was sensibly moved to its current place in the UK calendar to avoid clashing with Easter and St George’s Day, hence ensuring that it falls in term time. The UK’s localised version began in 1998, with the then Prime Minister Tony Blair launching the event at London’s Globe Theatre.

Voucher given to children

In the UK, the event is actively promoted with the aim of giving a voucher to every child in full-time education that they can spend on books.

From its basic premise, World Book Day UK has expanded to incorporate additional initiatives that encourage adults to participate as well:

  • Spread The Word encourages readers to recommend books to each other.
  • Quick Reads Initiative was introduced in 2006, the idea being to inspire adults who do not read very often and those who struggle to read to find joy through the pastime. To facilitate that ambition, a series of short books (128 pages or shorter) have been penned over the years by bestselling authors and celebrities such as Gordon Ramsay, Ricky Tomlinson and Andy McNab.

Patterns of reading

There is certainly a growing market for children’s literature, with an estimated £349 million worth of sales across all formats during 2014.

The heartening figures provided by the Publishers Association suggest an 11% increase on those for the previous year, with best-selling titles such as “The Gruffalo” (Julia Donaldson) and “Gangsta Granny” (David Walliams) proving particularly popular in their respective target age groups.

UNESCO’s overall goals

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is a specialised agency within the United Nations. World Book Day fits neatly within its overall aims to promote international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms.