World Book Day
World Book Day is a celebration of authors, illustrators, books, and most essentially, of reading. Organised by UNESCO, it is the biggest celebration of its kind, marked by more than a hundred countries around the world. It is a yearly event, recognised by most countries on April 23rd. However, in Britain the day is celebrated on the first Thursday of March.
Each year, UNESCO and the international organisations representing the three major sectors of the book industry; publishers, booksellers and libraries; select the World Book Capital for one year, starting on World Book Day (23 April) each year. In 2018, for example, the city of Athens was chosen for the quality of its activities, supported by the entire book industry. The aim is to make books accessible to the city’s entire population, including migrants and refugees.
To support schools and encourage young people to get involved in World Book Day, vouchers of a value of £1 are distributed. With these, special designated titles can be purchased, this year including Harry Potter and the Hunger Games. IN the UK around 15 million of these are distributed each year.
Although World Book Day as we now know it was initiated on 23 April 1995, the connection between the 23 of April and books was first made in 1923 by booksellers in Catalonia, Spain. April 23rd was traditionally celebrated as “The Rose Day” in Spain. On this day, people exchanged roses for showing their love and support, similar to Valentine’s Day. However, in 1926, when Miguel de Cervantes died, people exchanged books instead of roses in order to commemorate him. The tradition continues to this day and that’s from where the idea of the World Book Day came about.
Coincidentally, Cervantes and the British playwright William Shakespeare died on the same date, 23 of April 1616. However, strangely this was not on the same day, as at the time, Spain and England used different calendars. (Cervantes actually died 10 days before Shakespeare).
In 1995 UNESCO committed World Book to the 23 of April, as this date is the anniversary of the death of Cervantes, Shakespeare and several other prominent authors. For UNESCO’s 1995 General Conference, held in Paris, it was a natural choice to make this date the day for a world-wide tribute to books and authors. The idea is to encourage everyone, but in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading.
With the help of the event, UNESCO also aims to highlight the various issues surrounding authors, publishers and other related parties. As Copyright is a big issue in the world of books and writing, this is always a focus for World Book Day, and why the day is also sometimes known as the World Book and Copyright Day.
In Britain, World Book Day is held on the first Thursday in March each year. This is because the 23 of April sometimes clashes with Easter school holidays; 23 April is also St George’s Day, the National Saint’s Day of England. A separate event, World Book Night, organised by an independent charity called The Reading Agency is still held on 23 April.