World Book Day is a staple part of the primary school experience in the UK. Every March, teachers and pupils alike dress up extravagantly as characters from the greatest literary reads. It certainly offered something different: both an alternative school uniform and the atmosphere of excitement and anticipation.
Nationwide authors like David Walliams, Matt Haig and Jacqueline Wilson publish short stories in aid of World Book Day. Companies like McDonalds include a token for a free book within their Happy Meals, suggesting that the day should be the perfect occasion for booksellers and readers alike.
However, the occasion follows an almost formulaic nature. It is like Christmas – something that happens annually and is forgotten about for the other 11 months of the year. I fear the level of attention given to this specific day means that during the rest of each year reading is almost ignored. The statistics suggest this is the case. According to the website ‘Made for Mums’, 10% of parents spend less than nine minutes per day reading with their child, with the percentage increasing as the number of siblings increases.
It is vital that a love for reading fiction is instilled at a young age
This doesn’t inspire confidence. It is vital that a love for reading fiction is instilled at a young age. World Book Day can help with this, but it only makes up a tiny part of the year. Something that encourages literary enjoyment throughout the year is instead required.
That is where libraries come in. They encompass the notion of community by allowing anyone to borrow a book for free. However, their presence in the UK is under threat. According to The Guardian, between 2010 and 2020, 773 libraries shut their doors, which represents almost a fifth of UK libraries. At the same time, the amount of paid library staff has dramatically decreased from 24,000 to 15,300 with over 50,000 volunteers being relied on. It is no wonder, then, that total library visits have declined from 315 million to 226 million over the decade.
Whose role is it to ensure that children read? Schools certainly have a huge part to play right from reception, both through teaching English and providing books of an appropriate level to meet the children’s needs. Teachers have a role to recommend books, read with children and celebrate the power of words and ideas. The more a love for reading and learning is delayed, the harder it becomes to help children later on. World Book Day can only partially assist with this.
A nationwide strategy is necessary to ensure reading from the earliest of ages takes place across every year
Parents also have a part to play. Children are only in school for six hours of the day and so teachers can only do so much to ensure their pupils receive a good intake of knowledge. There are some reasons for optimism: according to the ‘Made for Mums’ website, 20% of parents spent 42 minutes reading with their children per day while 63% with toddlers spend over 25 minutes a day reading. These figures should be celebrated, for it shows parents do want to engage with their children and enhance their literary understanding.
While World Book Day should be commended for encouraging reading around this time of year, a nationwide strategy is necessary to ensure reading from the earliest of ages takes place across every year. I’m afraid fancy dress costumes and specially released books are no alternative to a lifelong love for what the fictional world can offer us all.