Duchess of Cornwall, Kay and O'Leary help celebrate World Book Day

Duchess of Cornwall, Kay and O'Leary help celebrate World Book Day

The organisers of World Book Day have launched an all-day programme of free digital events to celebrate today (4th March), including guest appearances from the the Duchess of Cornwall, author Adam Kay, Louise Pentland and Dermot O'Leary.

The Duchess will join the £1 book authors Tom Fletcher, Zanib Mian and Katherine Rundell, this morning as they kick off the day with the children of Acklam Whin School, Middlesbrough, in celebration in partnership with Oak National Academy and the National Literacy Trust. The first World Book Day official song will be released by MC Grammar, the teacher-turned-rapper who became an internet sensation in 2019 after videos of him rapping classic children’s books went viral.

The Duchess of Cornwall said: “To actually own your first book is something that you’re never going to forget. That first book will be there forever. And it’s hopefully going to lead children to reading more and more, discovering different authors and different subjects. I think for a lot of children out there, World Book Day actually means the birth of reading.”

The flagship show, Headlined Words and Pictures, will star Joseph Coelho, Fiona Lumbers, Tom Fletcher, Lydia Monks and Rob Biddulph, hosted by Nigel Clarke. A social media campaign, Show Your Shares, will encourage readers to post pictures of themselves reading across channels, using the #WorldBookDay.

The programme will also feature a BBC Live Lessons event, starring Sita Brahmachari, Jess French and Football Schools, alongside Clare Balding, Ben Bailey Smith, Liz Pichon, Greg James and Chris Smith, with a live Q&A with Humza Arshad.

As part of the celebrations, Royal Mail has given postboxes a makeover, recognising authors who have been working in service of children’s literature and wellbeing during the lockdowns. Those featured are Cressida Cowell (Oban), Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola (Shepherd’s Bush, London), Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks (Sheffied), Eloise Williams (Cardiff), Sam McBratney (Belfast).

Further initiatives include activities with libraries and community partners in Blackpool, Doncaster, Nottingham and Middlesbrough, BookTrust distributing 90,000 tokens via their BookStart Coordinators working in libraries and a partnership with the Read for Good charity, to get 2,400 books directly to school children in deprived areas.

A partnership with Scottish BookTrust to distribute 5,000 vouchers through Bookbug for the Home, a programme to introduce the benefits of stories to families with very young children who are facing significant barriers such as poverty and social isolation, will also feature. UK prisons will ensure 24,000 books are delivered to help families enjoy reading together. 

Ten-minute reads, delivered by Tom Fletcher, Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers, Lydia Monks, Jonny Duddle, Jess French, Humza Arshad, Katherine Rundell, Football School, Dermot O’Leary, Adam Kay, Jacqueline Wilson, Sophie Dahl, and others will be rolled out across the day. A book scavenger hunt and a young adult research project exploring how people relate to reading through the lens of future plans and success, stress, anxiety and mental health, will also feature. The project, in partnership with the National Literacy Trust, is supported by authors including Holly Bourne, Derek Landy, Mel and Nat of Black Girls Book Club, and Cecilia Knapp, the Young People’s Laureate for London.

Commenting on the event overall, Cassie Chadderton, WBD c.e.o., said: “As a charity, World Book Day has, for over 20 years, been offering all children and young people the chance to have a book of their own. In the last week of home-schooling, we want to bring the joy and magic of reading to children everywhere. The phenomenal support World Book Day has received this year shows just how much we can all rally behind the vision for all children to enjoy the life-changing benefits of reading.”

Meanwhile over one thousand children from schools across London and the south will feature in a short film to be released today by book-gifting charity The Children’s Book Project. It includes 1,014 photos of children and young people holding a book they have chosen themselves that holds a particular personal resonance. The London-based charity has given 155,000 books to families struggling at home since the first lockdown in March 2020.

The film can be viewed here.

In addition, author and TV presenter Trish Cooke has chosen World Book Day to unveil a series of animated video fairytales centred on Black characters in partnership with book subscription company and publisher Woke Babies. 

Cooke's HairyTales animated series was commissioned by hair product company Tangle Teezer and Woke Babies, after Tangle Teezer’s research revealed almost half (46%) of the Black children in the UK reported not seeing anyone who looks like them in the books they read.

Further findings showed 75% of Black parents in the UK are reading more often to their children since the pandemic started, with the majority saying where Black characters are included in books, TV and films, the representations are often negative and rife with stereotypes. Despite 33.5% of the UK’s school population being from ethnic minority backgrounds, just 5% of the children’s books published in 2019 featured ethnic minority protagonists, and only 2% feature Black heroes.

The books — Zel, Let Out Your Hair, The Puppet Who Wanted Hair and Jackson and the Hair Stalk — illustrated by Angela Corbin, were published by Woke Babies last month. The research, commissioned by Tangle Teezer was carried out with research partner Sapio in December 2020 and surveyed 485 self-identified Black parents in the UK and 462 Black children aged six to 17.

Cooke said: “There is a massive lack of diversity in children’s books. When I started writing children’s books in the 80s I was told that there was not a market for children’s books with Black characters as the main protagonists and I was appalled. I have had several books published since then and although things are changing, they are not changing fast enough. I was excited to work with Tangle Teezer and Woke Babies to write these three books, based on fairytales and focused on Black protagonists and their natural hair. 
“It is crucial that we continue to address the balance and publish more quality children's books, with these characters, so that more children can see a reflection of themselves in the literature they read. This has to start from the youngest of readers, to make a significant impact.”

The animated version of Zel, Let Out Your Hair, based on Rapunzel and featuring actor Lexi Underwood, can be found on Youtube and across social media channels. Kelly-Jade Nicholls, founder of Woke Babies, commented: “Woke Babies was founded to tackle the lack of Black protagonists in children’s books. As the leading Black children's subscription box provider and publisher, we want Black children to see themselves in the stories that are available to them and partnering with Tangle Teezer to reimagine classic fairytales and celebrate afro hair is a great step. Woke Babies is committed to increasing the availability of Black children’s books and the HairyTales collection proves how powerful having the right partners can be to telling great stories.”