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Exploring the impact of World Book Day on the reading lives of children in the UK 2019-2021

Added 27 Aug 2021 | Updated 01 Feb 22

The National Literacy Trust was commissioned by World Book Day to evaluate the impact of the initiative on the reading lives of children aged 8 to 11 in the UK.

This report covers research conducted between 2019 and 2021, which aimed to capture children’s perceptions of how the event supports their reading opportunities and influences their developing reading identities. It shows how World Book Day welcomes children into the world of books and reading in two ways: by helping all children become book owners, many for the first time, and by supporting a variety of activities and experiences essential for building life-long readers.

About World Book Day

World Book Day was created in 1995 to celebrate books and encourage young people to read, with the first World Book Day taking place in the UK and Ireland two years later. Celebrated annually on the first Thursday in March, it is known for fun, book-themed events in schools, libraries and other community settings that often include children dressing up as favourite book characters and other reading-related activities.

A fundamental part of World Book Day is that it offers children the opportunity to exchange a token for a free book or a discount on a full-price book or audiobook. For nearly 3 in 10 (28%) primary school-aged children eligible for free school meals, the book they chose with this token in 2020 was the first book of their own.

About the research

This report is based on findings from six baseline focus groups (n=50) and quantitative and qualitative data drawn from three large-scale online surveys: one in early 2020 (n= 8,457) and two over periods of national lockdown in late spring 2020 (n=3,451) and early 2021 (2,389).

Key findings

  • Children's comments suggested that World Book Day tokens supported or widened their reading experiences by making books financially accessible, allowing them to choose a book that matched their interests or to discover a new favourite author or series. This also opened up other benefits of being part of the world of book ownership for children, such as keeping, rereading or swapping their new books, extending these benefits beyond the event itself.
  • World Book Day tokens also increased children's sense of books being 'special' and their subsequent pride in being a book owner. As one child said, "I just want to treasure it because I never get things that are new."
  • World Book Day was also a much-anticipated date in the calendar for children who described waiting for World Book Day to get a long-awaited book by a favourite author. However, it was also associated with venturing beyond usual reading choices for many children, supporting them in developing their reading identities. As one child said, "World Book Day made me want to move out of my comfort zone."
  • The research also found that World Book Day stimulated rich and varied discussions around favourite books and book characters, particularly among classmates and friends. These discussions deepened children's engagement with reading by encouraging them to reflect on their reading and giving them insights into peers' reading discoveries and preferences.
  • Children's comments also afforded insights into how World Book Day activities work alongside book ownership, book choice, and book talk to enhance children's engagement with reading. Activities such as dressing up encouraged children to reflect on their reading by considering book characters that inspired them. For example, many said they found reading inspiration from friends' costumes. Others enjoyed imagining themselves "in the shoes" of the character they had chosen.
  • World Book Day activities that made links with culturally relevant themes helped children to see books and reading as a fun and relevant part of the broader media ecosystem, allowing them to feel part of the world of reading and that reading is part of their world.

Findings from this research show how World Book Day forms a highly influential part of many children's reading lives,. It plays a unique role in supporting children's developing identities as readers by supporting essential experiences such as choosing and owning books, and talking about books with friends.

The long-term value of these experiences for building a child's identity as a reader should not be underestimated.

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