World Book Day (WBD) is introducing a raft of new projects to mark its 20th anniversary on Thursday 2nd March. Booksellers are also gearing up to celebrate the anniversary with a flurry of activity.
WBD’s 20th anniversary tagline is “do something booky today”, with artwork created by Scholastic author/illustrator Liz Pichon. It is launching a series of podcasts for children of all ages, which will include audio extracts of books (and full picture-book texts), read by actors such as Isla Fisher and David Tennant.
A new initiative to visually represent WBD, World Book Day’s Oodles of Doodles, will combine original artwork from illustrators, an illustration competition for children (run with National Book Tokens), an exhibition at Seven Stories in Newcastle and an artwork auction. Other new initiatives include working with network provider O2 to deliver digital extracts of books by the WBD 2017 authors, and working with London prisons, supplying books to inmates’ children.
WBD will again run its Biggest Book Show on Earth Tour, as well as an updated version of its World Book Day Award, which this year is sponsored by Walker Books and inspired by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston’s A Child of Books.
Waterstones stores will be decked out with WBD display units and point-of-sale material, and its booksellers will create shop displays and organise in-store events. Tereze Brikmane, manager of Tales on Moon Lane in Herne Hill, in south London, said the shop’s WBD celebrations will last a month, with more than 30 author events planned over four weeks. As well as running author events in local schools, Chicken & Frog Bookshop in Brentwood, Essex, plans to incorporate the celebration into its regular events programme: staff will dress up for its pre-school session and children will be asked to review a WBD title at the shop’s weekly Creative Writing Club.
Nicola Lee of Children’s Bookshop, based in Huddersfield, said WBD was “more like world book week”. Her plans include visits to local primary schools dressed as Pippi Longstocking, and staffing a stand at Huddersfield Literature Festival’s family day. The Book Nook in Hove, East Sussex, has several weeks of events lined up, including a day of school visits with author Andy Griffiths, a book launch and trips to book fairs.
For this year’s £1 titles, WBD director Kirsten Grant said the charity “wanted to create a list of stellar titles from authors, illustrators and brands, both classic and contemporary”. The list includes: pre-school titles Peppa Loves World Book Day (Ladybird), and Everyone Loves Underpants by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort (S&S Children’s); Horrid Henry Funny Fact Files by Francesca Simon and Tony Ross (Hachette Children’s) and Blob by David Walliams (HarperCollins Children’s) for Middle Grade readers; and David Almond’s Island (Hodder Children’s) and Michael Grant’s Dead of Night (Electric Monkey) for the YA market.
Though the selection was criticised for omitting black, Asian and minority ethnic writers when it was announced, retailers have generally praised the list. Waterstones publisher liaison manager Eva von Reuss said there were “real treasures to be found for every age group”. Many booksellers predicted that Walliams’ Blob would be a particular highlight. Brikmane said: “I have a feeling that Peppa Pig will do very well for younger readers”, while Natasha Radford, co-owner of Chicken & Frog, said Everyone Loves Underpants was “sure to be a popular choice”.
She added that the YA titles “are great this year”, but said that in terms of sales, the WBD titles aimed at older readers “tend to trickle out, rather than rush”. Ruth Swindon, owner of The Bookworm in Golders Green in north London echoed this, saying: “The YA titles don’t generally sell for us; I don’t think older children want a £1 book.” Lee agreed that the YA titles were “always more difficult”, adding: “Teenagers can be really picky about what they want to read, so having two titles is limiting. However, those who enjoy reading will use their voucher to have £1 off a book of their choice, which is better for us in many ways.”
Grant said teenagers were “still a key element” of WBD’s campaign, but this year its focus will switch to schools events for teens, following two years of it running online event WBD Teenfest. It has produced a video for secondary schools featuring authors Gemma Cairney, Juno Dawson, Laura Dockrill and Alex Wheatle, as well as a document outlining ways in which secondary schools can encourage reading for pleasure, as “we often receive feedback that [children] struggle to find ways to do this”, Grant said. YA podcasts—including extracts from books by Patrick Ness, Meg Rosoff, Malorie Blackman and Francis Hardinge—will also be available.
There were mixed views about this year’s WBD titles coming wholly from established authors and brands. Brikmane said she “would love to see début authors/illustrators on the list as well”, but Julie Ward, owner of The Book Nook, said the selection “gives every child the opportunity to choose a book they would love to have—even the most reluctant of readers.” Grant said WBD was “very keen to champion new authors”, and that it does so by including extracts by emerging authors at the back of its £1 books and on reading lists it distributes, as “we have learned that the campaign is not a launchpad for new authors, but that success is driven by spearheading the campaign with big authors/illustrators/brands, which then drives the conversation about books and footfall into stores, where new authors can be discovered.”
Retailers are expecting to benefit from increased footfall around WBD, with Brikmane saying the celebrations “always bring new customers to the shop”. Radford said that while sales are only improved “slightly” by WBD, footfall “goes up considerably” and “new visitors then come back, which has a positive impact on sales following WBD.”
Lee said WBD sales were “always good” but “can have the effect of skewing sales”, as it is usually followed by a sales slump until Easter. Ward added: “The WBD initiative creates an amazing buzz throughout the month. It has become a key event in the school calendar and certainly helps promote books and reading nationally.”
When considering why WBD is still important 20 years after the campaign launched, Grant cited new research conducted with the National Literacy Trust for the anniversary, the results of which will be released on 2nd March.
She said: “Literacy standards are in jeopardy and for so many children today, books are not present in their lives. WBD gives them the opportunity to select and own a book of their own—often for the first time. It’s also a moment to celebrate the wildly imaginative landscape of books for children and young people, and the fun and pleasure that can be derived from a good book.”