I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a book at my bedside, even if it was The Teddy Bear Annual, The Famous Five or the even more numerous Secret Seven. Many is the time when, as a teenager, the nearby church clock chimed two in the morning and I was still to be found book in hand, much to the despair of my parents who then had to try and rouse me from a deep sleep, to get me to school.
My love of reading has only increased has I have got older, and the written word still has the power to transport me through distance and time. Books are perhaps one of the most powerful tools the world has known, and writing allows us to share stories, dreams, memories and events. With my passion for history, books and documents have played a large part in my life over the last 20 years; where would I have been without them? Yes, the written word can also be extremely harmful, malicious, cruel and downright dangerous, but I will always believe that is one of the greatest and most pleasurable gifts we have.
World Book Day
For all these reasons, I believe that World Book Day, which is celebrated in the United Kingdom and Ireland on the first Thursday in March, is so important. Designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, the day is marked in over 100 countries around the globe. The organisation itself states that:
“World Book Day changes lives through a love of books and shared reading. Our mission is to promote reading for pleasure, offering every child and young person the opportunity to have a book of their own. 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. We want to see more children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, with a life-long habit of reading for pleasure and the improved life chances this brings them.”
I was always encouraged and supported in my reading as a child and books were always in the house. My Dad, who worked for the Post Office, bought a beautiful set of encyclopaedias when he knew I was to be born. Nothing like getting an early start! Reading is something to be shared in the family though and I remember that I would love to tell my parents about what I was reading both at home and at school. I remember my very early Janet and John school books even now.
Nurturing a love of reading
I was told by someone who had cause to visit vulnerable families during the pandemic that they had come across households where there wasn’t a single book for the children to read. Something I found very sad. This confirmed the findings of 2019 survey by the National Literacy Trust, which found that almost 400,000 children in Britain did not have a book of their own. The trust’s research looked at 57,000 children between the ages of nine and 18. It found that 22 percent of children with books at home had reading levels better than expected for their age, but this fell to just 3.6 percent of children without any books at home.
In 2020, the same organisation found that only one in two children and young people said they enjoyed reading, the lowest level of reading enjoyment recorded since 2005. My own experience, however, is that there is still a desire and demand amongst young people to read books.
During the pandemic, I was part of a community library that took donated quarantined books out to local homes on a weekly basis. It proved extremely popular, especially amongst children from more disadvantaged backgrounds. The community library has closed in its original form, but several local venues still keep stocks of books that which are free to borrow. Sadly, the closure of local authority libraries throughout the country has not helped the situation.
I will be celebrating World Book Day this year of course. To be honest, I always feel slightly envious of all those children on their way to school dressed as Harry Potters, Gangsta Grannies, and countless other characters from literature. Now…. who shall I dress up as?
For more details on the charity and the day itself visit World Book Day.