The author Philip Pullman’s contribution to the recent fuss about rewriting Roald Dahl was to encourage young readers to try some of the many wonderful authors who are writing today, “who don’t get as much of a look-in because of the massive commercial gravity of people like … Dahl”. What better occasion than World Book Day to blog about the importance of reading widely for pleasure? But let’s remember that promoting reading needs to happen all year round. And let’s also not forget that every time a library closes it becomes harder to have access to and enjoy books. Ending book poverty is therefore a question of social justice as well as of educational common sense: every child, regardless of their background, should have access to a rich supply of high-quality books and to spaces that make it easy and pleasurable to read.
Themed days or weeks raise awareness by briefly pushing an issue of importance or concern into the spotlight. World Book Day began as a UNESCO initiative in 1995. The UK and Ireland hold World Book Day on the first Thursday in March. Every child in full-time education is given a voucher to be spent on a book, “an important part of our mission,” – to quote the World Book Day website, “to promote reading for pleasure by offering every child and young person the opportunity to choose and own a book.”
The World Book Day website is packed with fantastic resources for families and educators to promote and celebrate World Book Day, as well as reading for pleasure more generally – everything from fun reading-related activities and competitions to age-appropriate reading recommendations and support with setting up a book club.
Reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success – more than their family circumstances, their parents’ educational background or their income.from the World Book Day website
The website lists six elements that support a child reading for pleasure:
Life-Based Learning supports making reading for pleasure a priority, building on children’s natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge. As a nation, we simply don’t read enough, despite the many undisputed benefits that reading brings. Nor do we do enough to make it easy and fun for our children to read. We need to give them every encouragement to develop the habit of reading for pleasure so that they carry a love of reading with them into adulthood.
That’s why initiatives such as World Book Day matter. And it is also why the survival of our public libraries matters. We have written previously that well-stocked libraries are an investment in our future. What a bitter irony it is that, in times of economic difficulties and retrenchment, investment in the public services that produce the best long-term returns is often the first to be slashed.
The Guardian newspaper reported in 2019 that almost 800 libraries in Britain had closed since 2010. Make no mistake: the situation will not have improved since then. It is probably not much of an exaggeration to say that many people now think of libraries primarily as emergency shelters – as places of warmth and safety – rather than as vehicles for enrichment and learning.
And, as we have also written previously, school library provision is extremely uneven across the country, with schools in areas of highest deprivation having the worst provision.
To repeat what we said in the opening paragraph, ending book poverty is a question of social justice as well as of educational common sense: every child, regardless of their background, should have access to a rich supply of high-quality books and to spaces that make it easy and pleasurable to read. We need to give every encouragement to children to develop the habit of reading for pleasure so that they carry a love of reading with them into adulthood.