Organisers are predicting that Thursday’s World Book Day will be the biggest ever after a pre-event on Wednesday saw a record 20,000 children taking part online – more than 20 times more young people than attended a single event in previous years.
Books That Make You LOL – which is still available to watch on demand and was hosted by the south London rapper and lyricist Kenny Baraka – was “liked” by 112,690 young people who were unable to engage in World Book Day’s traditional, annual attempt to spark children’s interest in reading by encouraging them to dress up in the costumes of their favourite book characters at school.
“We’ve been so delighted by the number of children tuning in to enjoy our Share a Story Live events online,” said Cassie Chadderton, CEO of World Book Day. “It’s been a difficult year for so many families and, with the educational and economic issues brought by the pandemic and the restrictions of lockdown making it harder for many children to access books, we knew this year’s World Book Day would be an even more important moment of fun and hope and celebration.”
The first World Book Day to be held online will also be marked by the appearance of digitally activated, literary themed postboxes across the country after the Royal Mail decided to celebrate children’s authors who have worked to reach children during the pandemic.
The five post boxes celebrate authors including Waterstones’ children’s laureate Cressida Cowell, Children’s Laureate Wales Eloise Williams and author-illustrator duo Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks. Each post box shows a QR code linking through to the free services offered by the author it celebrates, including YouTube channels offering free book readings.
“The pandemic has taken its toll on us all but it is particularly challenging for children, who have now been home schooling for almost a year,” said Mark Street, the head of campaigns at Royal Mail.
“We are hoping that this initiative will raise awareness of some of the great work children’s authors are doing to keep literature relevant in these challenging times. Its power to inspire and offer a wonderful form of escapism has never been greater.”
Research carried out by the World Book Day charity – which brings together the UK’s leading reading and educational charities including BookTrust, CLPE, National Literacy Trust and The Reading Agency – has found that the number of children reading has fallen since the start of the pandemic.
“Many children and parents embraced reading at the beginning of the pandemic, with huge benefits for their wellbeing and development but numbers have since decreased, meaning some children are not experiencing the life-chance improving benefits of reading for pleasure,” said Chadderton.
The research, which brings together the perspectives of families, teachers and young people, also found that a quarter of primary schools raised concern that access to books had become a barrier to reading for pleasure and overall literacy levels.
Despite many schools implementing quarantine schemes and delivery services, 40% of primary-level children were unable to take books home. Among schools offering borrowing schemes, some spoke about having “run out” of stock by 21 January.
“Access to books remains a serious issue, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the context of Covid-19 – with the educational gap widening – the evidence collated for World Book Day highlights the need for support at this critical point in time,” said Chadderton.
More positively, however, the research also showed that young people said reading helped them relax and made them feel happy, with almost one in five saying they used reading as a way to stay connected during lockdown. More than 80% of teachers said they found ways of reading aloud to their classes during the pandemic because it provided an emotional support as well as developing literacy skills.
The data showed that parents read more with children during lockdown and encouraged children to read more too. “Whilst engaging children with their online lessons often became a battleground for families, parents who read aloud to their children every day noticed an improvement in wellbeing, behaviour, family bonds and attainment with schoolwork (even when home educating),” said Chadderton.
“This learning by stealth helped parents feel they could make a positive difference.”