‘Tis the season to celebrate books! Because reading and literacy are so important there are a number of book-oriented events on the annual calendar. Some are regional, some global. And they all emphasize the importance of reading for kids.
As writers (and illustrators!) for children we should be deeply invested in spreading literacy and a love of books to kids all over the world. Kids who read have better outcomes in school, which leads to greater earning potential as adults, and a literate society benefits everyone.
Here’s an overview of the calendar, followed by ways you can get involved.
When: On or around April 2
Held by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), this day also commemorates the birthday of Hans Christian Andersen, writer of The Little Mermaid and other beloved stories. Is a non-profit that connects some 75 national “sections” from all over the world, helping countries with robust publishing industries support those that are still building their own. Each year a different national section ‘hosts’ the event, creating a poster and message to be distributed. In 2020 the host is Slovenia.
World Book and Copyright Day (International)
When: April 23
An initiative of UNESCO (which stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), this is a day dedicated not only to reading and publishing, but also to copyright protections and awareness. It is celebrated around the world, with Wikipedia noting special traditions in Catalonia, where they give books and roses to loved ones.
The date was chosen because it is the birth or death date of many famous writers, including Shakespeare and Cervantes.
World Book Day (UK and Ireland)
When: First Thursday in March
An extension of UNESCO’s day, the UK and Ireland have moved their celebrations so as not to intersect with spring school holidays. Organized by a nonprofit of the same name, since 2007 they’ve partnered with sponsors to provide as many children as possible a book token to buy one of a selection of books for just £1, or get a hefty discount on other select titles. For one in four kids in the UK this is the first book of their very own that they ever own.
Participating schools encourage kids to make a costume and ‘become’ a fictional character for the day. The emphasis is on kid-friendly DIY costumes (lots of construction paper and cardboard!), rather than getting Mom or Dad to buy or sew something. Teachers read to kids, and kids read in groups to themselves. Older students can read excerpts from a multitude of MG and YA titles, including popular tie-ins like Star Wars, and authors including Angie Thomas, Patrick Ness, and Sarah J Maas.
When: First Saturday in May
On this day participating comic shops in North America and around the world give out free copies of special edition comics printed specially for the occasion. Kids love graphic novels and they’re a great gateway to reading other books, so this is not an event to be missed!
How Authors & Illustrators Can Get Involved
You don’t have to be featured by one of these organizations to take part in the celebrations! Lots of events and locations are always on the lookout for local writers and illustrators to make connections with kids. You can promote literacy while also getting your work in front of your ideal readers.
Join Existing Events
Reach out to local schools, libraries, and book stores. Ask if they have festivities already in place, and if you can join–or start something!
Visit Young Readers
You could offer to read from your book, and speak to kids about your book and your job as a writer or illustrator. For older students you may be able to hold workshops where kids learn and practice new literacy skills. Regardless of age, all kids benefit from seeing that “author” is a real job that real people just like them can have.
If you’ve got ARCs on hand, donate them to a classroom library! These are often stocked by teachers out of their own pockets, and they welcome the chance to broaden their students’ access to a wide range of books.
If your local spot is hosting a costume party, see how you can help out. You could help young kids cut out shapes for their costumes, or do simple face-painting. The goal is to make sure kids associate reading with having a good time. Teachers, librarians, and booksellers are often pressed for time and an extra pair of hands can make all the difference.
Donate directly to the organizations listed above, or help them to fundraise with local events. Book Aid International and World Book Day in the UK & Ireland have partnered for a fundraiser called “Big Booky Breaktime”, where proceeds go to buy books for kids “affected by conflict, poverty and violence.” You might donate a signed copy of your book for auction, or use your platform to raise awareness of a bake sale or other activities.
Regardless of how you participate, remember your priorities: these days are about celebrating all books, reading, publishing, copyright protection, and literacy. Encouraging young people to become lifelong readers is the goal.
And don’t forget to share your love of stories with the kids in your life, too. Even if you don’t leave the house, a day dedicated to books is a great excuse to curl up together for a favorite read.
Bronwen Fleetwood writes fiction for young adults, and nonfiction for writers. Bronwen studied creative writing at Eugene Lang,The New School for Liberal Arts, has acted as leader of the Princeton Writing Group, and as a Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month. Bronwen currently lives on the Whale Coast of South Africa, between the mountains, the sea, and a lake. You can connect with her at bronwenfleetwood.com.