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World Book Day 2024 – Costumes Ready?

You will of course be aware that World Book Day is taking place on Thursday 7th March 2024 and it’s about so much more than a frantic search for a suitable costume!

In previous years, the impact of World Book Day on me was generally limited to the frantic… The last-minute panic that would ensue within the household as we tried to think of an appropriate costume for one of the two children. Despite plenty of notice and being exposed to plenty of promotion about it, every single member of the family would claim ignorance whilst screaming “Where are the Harry Potter glasses?” or “No. You can’t just go in your underpants and claim to be Mowgli!”

The Origins of World Book Day

I must confess, no real consideration was ever given to the true origins of a day that celebrates books and reading, nor how widely reaching a day it actually is. Beyond realising that your son putting on a big pair of false ears and claiming to be the BFG doesn’t cut the mustard, it’s a day steeped in history and one that has had huge success in creating lifelong habits of reading for pleasure.

For example, I had no idea that World Book Day was originally created on April 23rd 1995, meaning it has been happening every year for nearly 30 years. This year, I decided to expand my knowledge and do some reading up on the day of reading. Here’s what I found:

Why the 23rd April?
The date was selected as it marked the death of three prominent literary figures; William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega – all of whom died on this day in 1616 (there or thereabouts as it turns out!).

I am familiar with Shakespeare but less so Cervantes and de la Vega. 

  • Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (El Inca) was a Spanish chronicler, born in Peru to a Spanish conquistador and an Inca Princess in 1539. His literary works on Inca history are deemed extremely important in representing the pride and identity or Peruvian and native American history. Garcilaso died on April 23rd 1616. 
  • Miguel de Cervantes was born in Madrid in 1547 and without the prestigious heritage of El Inca. He left Spain for Italy and began a military career, getting badly wounded in the Battle of Lepanto, which rendered his left hand useless. On his return to Spain in 1575 he was captured by pirates and was a slave in Algiers for five years. Despite these and several struggles, he continued with his passion for writing and his novel ‘Don Quixote’ was published in 1605. It has been translated into more than 60 languages and is hailed as one of the greatest literacy masterpieces. Miguel died on April 22nd 1616. (Hang on, that doesn’t fit!)

So what?
The origins of World Book Day are said to be traced back to Catalonia in 1923. A tradition of giving books to friends and family began to honour the aforementioned de Cervantes. A Valencian writer suggested the day should either be on de Cervantes’ birthday or the day he died, the latter was chosen as it coincided with the death of the other two greats (well, roughly!).

But it’s March, not April?
The day is celebrated on the first Thursday of March in the UK and Ireland so that it falls within the school term. Prime Minister of the day, Tony Blair, launched the UK’s first World Book Day in 1998.

So it’s a glorified fancy dress event?
Some would say the fun part of the day is dressing up as your favourite character from your favourite book; some parents will say it is up there with getting married and moving house as one of the most stressful days of their lives! It is more than just the costumes though and schools and school library teams pull out all the stops to fill the day with events and activities

Okay, but why?
The overriding mission to promote reading for pleasure is at the centre of World Book Day – considered the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success. The National Literacy Trust carried out research between 2019 and 2021 that concluded that WBD “forms a highly influential part of many children’s reading lives.”

It seems then that the evidence shows the day and all that it involves has a significant and positive impact on the reading habits of kids.

World Book Day Competition!

To celebrate this special day, we are currently running a competition over on our Twitter (X) and LinkedIn channels where you can enter a prize draw to win a £150 book hamper for your library. All you have to do is follow us (on either channel or both), like the competition post and share it with your network. We’ll give you a bonus entry if you tag a library or fellow librarian in the comments. And because we’re feeling generous, sign up to our mailing list and we’ll award you with yet another bonus entry!

Enjoy your World Book Day and congratulations to you if you are putting on activities and events to promote and share the love of reading.

P.S. I also discovered that William Wordsworth died on April 23rd but not in 1616. It was 1850, but nonetheless… Every day is a school day!