World Book Day 2021: are literary awareness days useful for young people?

"The impact of World Book Day cannot be denied." Rachael McCreanor argues that having literary awareness days, like World Book Day, are important for young people.

Rachael McCreanor
4th March 2021
Credit: Archives New Zealand

World Book Day is an initiative started in 1995 by UNESCO with the mission to 'promote reading for pleasure’ for children and young people. World Book Day has grown into one of the biggest events in the literary calendar, a global celebration of literature and the joys of reading, marked in over 100 countries around the world. However, the question remains as to whether this force-fun approach to promoting literature is useful for young people, or if it distracts from the idea that we should be reading for pleasure all year round.

Possibly the most common association with World Book Day, or at least the one that sticks out most for me, is the fateful primary school ‘dressing-up day’. Whether it was as your favourite character, author or maybe even a book itself if you were feeling rebellious, it remains a marked event in the minds of many a primary school graduate. I can still remember the feeling of pulling up to school in the incredible Pippi Longstocking outfit my mum had spent hours making and joining my friend group which now consisted of Hermione Grangers, Worst Witches, Horrid Henrys and even Raven from the iconic CBBC show (not technically a book but we’ll let it pass).

Perhaps for less ‘bookish’ children days like these might have seemed a little pointless - but in my mind, nothing celebrates the boundless imagination of children like allowing them to become immersed in their favourite stories for a whole day.

World Book Day is not just about dressing up in Primary School however, the fundraising that takes place goes towards providing children and young people from all backgrounds the chance to get into reading. According to the WBD website, in 2020, 1.03 million children were gifted £1 books in the UK and Ireland in only five weeks. Furthermore, three in ten children receiving free school meals said the book they ‘bought’ with their token was the first book they had of their own. Regardless of whether you believe that initiatives like WBD distract from the importance of reading for pleasure all year round, it cannot be denied that schemes like this have a massive impact on young people who perhaps otherwise could not afford a book of their own. The importance of access to literature that WBD provides cannot be underestimated.

The impact of World Book Day cannot be denied. According to the WBD website, 64% of early years settings and 66% of primary schools said World Book Day had changed reading habits. WBD and literary initiatives like it give children and young people the opportunity to discover the joys of literature. Children cannot develop a love of literature and understand the importance of reading ‘all year round’ if they are not first given the chance to get involved. After all, it only takes one day to develop a love for reading that lasts a lifetime.

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