FROM YOUR EDITORS World Book Day at 20

World Book Day is 20 years old this year. Words & Pictures Co-editor Claire Watts takes a look at the event’s origins and aims.

I have a confession to make. As a parent, the thought of World Book Day filled me with dread. Costumes! And costumes that were robust enough to survive the school bus! If only my daughters had all been happy to be the Worst Witch every year! Don’t get me wrong I love the idea of a school full of children’s book characters. I love the idea that schools are happy to throw the curriculum out of the window and give a day over to the celebration of reading. Just as long as the focus remains on the books and no child ends up feeling excluded because they don’t have a fabulous costume.

A M Dassu's kids as Paddington Bear and a Night Fury from
 How to Train your Dragon for this year's World Book Day.

World Book Day celebrated its 20th anniversary on March 2nd. The event’s founder, Baroness Gail Rebuck, chair of Penguin Random House UK, explained that the message of World Book Day is “that reading is fun, relevant, accessible, exciting, and has the power to transform lives.” The event was launched in 1997 as a result of a huge drop in reading standards amongst young people entering secondary schools. The main aim of the event is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to own a book. Children receive World Book Day tokens through their schools. The token can be used to buy specially created books by popular authors or are worth £1 towards the cost of any other children’s book at a bookshop. According to a survey by the National Literary Trust, one in four children said that the first book they had ever bought was with the WBD token.

2017's special World Book Day titles

Schools have taken World Book Day to their hearts. This is the chance to revel in the glorious world of children’s literature which is so hard to find time for in their busy timetables. Dressing up, quizzes, story-sharing, craft competitions, plays, special assemblies... everything you can think of and more! My personal favourite, when I was a volunteer librarian at my children’s primary school, was bedtime reading day, when everyone came in wearing pyjamas and we spent all day reading stories (note - this was organised by ME, therefore only easy-peasy dressing up was involved!)

And for SCBWI members, this is also the time of year when schools are most likely to seek out a real live writer or illustrator to wow the kids. January’s the time to polish up your website and make sure your local schools know who you are and what you have to offer, so that as World Book Day approaches on the first Thursday in March, they think, “A local author’s what we need - and I know just who to call!”

Clare Welsh combines her love of biscuits and books to kick start a day of workshops at Elburton Primary School, Plymouth.
(Photo: Emma Marriott,  Literacy Team Leader)
Barbara Henderson gets in on the act(ing) as pupils recreate a scene from Fir for Luck at Farr Primary (Photo: Farr Primary)

Kirsten Grant, World Book Day director, said, “Evidence suggests that there is a lost generation of readers amongst today’s adults, but we truly hope and firmly believe that, through giving children and young people greater access to books, World Book Day is ensuring that the next generation carry a love of reading with them on into adulthood. Reading isn’t just about literacy skills and attainment levels either – it’s about creativity, imagination and empathy, it opens up whole new universes and changes the way we see and think about the world.”

Gary Sheppard read his book, As Nice as Pie, to a group of children at Olney library before answering questions and a book signing.  It was a great day!
 (Photo: Amanda Molcher from The Cowper & Newton Museum)

Everyone remembers the books they read as a child. Ask around. Even those people who aren’t readers today – I know, it’s strange, but such people do exist can probably name a childhood favourite or two. World Book Day is there to ensure that today’s children discover the marvellous world of books for themselves.


Claire Watts is Co-editor of Words & Pictures. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and her blog.


  1. My world book day costumes circa 1997 - Lizzy Bennet and The Cat in the Hat

    1. Excellent choices. Tried to persuade my daughters to go as Thing 1 and Thing 2 in their onesies one year, but they weren't having any of it!


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