Some people like to read the biographies of the most influential people in history, like Martin Luther King or Mahatma Ghandi. Some people like novels that send chills down their spines, from goth horror novels like Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” to Stephen King’s epistolary novel, “Carrie”. Some prefer the classics, like “Pride and Prejudice” or the “Old Man and the Sea”.
But regardless of the kind of books you like the most, the indisputable truth is that the world would not be the same without books. Books have been educating and inspiring us for thousands of years, so it should go without saying that World Book Day is a more than a well-deserved holiday.
Books are more than simple pieces of paper with words on them (or, in the case of digital books, a bunch of pixels on a screen). They’re a door into another world, whether that’s one full of fiction and imagination or a factual world that teaches you incredible new things. World Book Day is all about celebrating the wonderful power of books and the joy of reading. It’s especially meant to help encourage a love of reading in children, but people of all ages can recognize and celebrate the day.
World Book Day has a strong connection with schools, and it’s used worldwide to allow school children to engage with reading and their favorite books. It’s not just a day to indulge a love of books, but also a day where children and young people can gain access to books.
History of World Book Day
Books did not always look the way they do today, with their glossy covers and creamy pages. When writing systems were invented in ancient civilizations thousands of years ago, clay tablets were used. Later, humanity moved on to using papyrus. In the 3rd century, the Chinese were the first to make something that resembled today’s books in that they consisted of numerous thick, bamboo pages sewn together. Then, in the mid-15th century, Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press brought books into the industrial age, making them readily available to anyone who wanted to read them. It is thanks to than ingenious invention that we are all able to enjoy the works of Shakespeare, Tolstoy and many others in the comfort of our own homes today.
World Book Day was created on April 23rd, 1995, by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The connection between that date and books, however, was made in Spain in 1923, as it is the anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, prominent Spanish Chronicler.
There were a few ideas for the day of the year that World Book Day should be held. Originally, Vicente Clavel Andrés, a Valencian writer, suggested that the day should be on a day that honored the author Miguel de Cervantes. This would be either his birthday, October 7, or his death date, April 23. The latter date is the one that was chosen because it was also the date that William Shakespeare died and when Inca Garcilaso de la Vega died too. In fact, several other prominent authors have also died on April 23 – perhaps authors should be wary of this date!
In some countries, World Book Day actually takes place on other days of the year, despite the fact that the international event was created by UNESCO. For example, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Ireland all celebrate their own World Book Day events on a different day. However, the international day has been held on the same day each year since it began in 1995.
World Book Day Timeline
While history is unclear about the exact timing, scrolls are used by well-educated people and act as the predecessors to books.
1st Century AD
More compact and durable than scrolls, codices are developed to make papers easier to handle and travel with, especially when assembled of parchment paper with covers created from wood.
Printing Press is Invented
The earliest mention of a printing press in historical records in Strasbourg, Germany in relation to Johannes Gutenburg.
First Dictionary is Printed
The first English Dictionary is created by Richard Mulcaster.
Booksellers in Spain Celebrate Cervantes
In a nod to Miguel de Cervantes, booksellers in Catalonia instigate a book exchange on April 23, in honor of the famous author’s death.
Books are First Digitized
The first supplier of electronic books, Project Gutenberg begins at the University of Illinois when Michael Hart transcribes a copy of the Declaration of Independence at the University of Illinois in the US. The project continues as a free online library of more than 60,000 eBooks.
World Book Day Inaugural Celebration
The United Nations makes a push toward literacy with World Book Day (also called World Book and Copyright Day). Since Catalonia traditionally celebrates on April 23, the United Nations keeps this date. Incidentally, the day coincides with what is celebrated as the anniversary of the birth and death of William Shakespeare.
World Book Capital City Initiative Starts
This initiative seeks to motivate countries throughout the world to take part. Each year a capital city is chosen to maintain the drive of World Book Day all throughout the year, creating a deeper connection with literacy and publishing. World Book Capital for 2021 is Tbilisi, Georgia.
World Book Night Begins
In an effort to move celebrations of reading into the evening and focus more on adults instead of children, World Book Night starts in the UK.
How to celebrate World Book Day
Passionate book lovers can celebrate World Book Day in a number of ways, and spread the positive ways reading can affect your life. It’s the day when you can put some thought into how to encourage others to read more too, especially if you’re a parent or you work with students. You can read a favorite book and even read it out loud to children, young people, or perhaps some older people who would appreciate someone reading to them.
The absolute best way to celebrate this day would be to find the time to do some reading. Do you have a book you just can’t get around to finishing? Today’s the time to curl up on the couch or a blanket outside with a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy every last page.
If you have children, this could be the perfect day to teach them about the joys of reading. In today’s world, we are so flooded with images and videos that we run a very real risk of abandoning reading entirely–why bother if we can just watch a movie? Imagination is a child’s best friend, so make sure you contribute to keeping that little imagination as active as possible. Pick a topic your child is interested in, and spend part of this day exploring the magical world of literature together!
Yet another way to go about celebrating this day would be to get together with some friends for a reading of a book you all love. Hearing someone read aloud sentences you have only ever murmured to yourself could cause you to see them in a whole new way by adding feeling or emphasis of some certain elements. Furthermore, varied interpretations of a book could make for animated discussions about who did what and why they did it.
Whichever way you choose to celebrate World Book Day, make sure it’s an educational experience for you and those you care about. As acclaimed author Alan Bennett once said: “A book is a device to ignite the imagination.” World Book Day is a registered UK charity on a mission to give every child and young person a book of their own. It’s also a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading. In fact, it’s the biggest celebration of its kind, designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over 100 countries all over the world.
Unlike some other days started by the UN, there are no themes for World Book Day, so you’re free to think up anything you like to celebrate. You can find various materials and inspiration from UNESCO each year, which will help to inspire you and encourage you to think of some creative ways to celebrate the day. You don’t need to be a teacher or someone who works with children to make this day a fun one, although it is a fantastic way to encourage children to read.