Give the people books: Why World Book Day tokens should be available to all

Caitlin MacDonald

World Book Day: a classic and memorable primary school tradition. A day when book lovers and loathers are joined hand in hand by dressing as their favourite book character. For child bookworms, like myself, it was the day to go hard or to go home on costumes.  But the best part of World Book Day was that you got a FREE £1 book voucher in school that you could spend in a bookshop and get a free World Book Day book or put it towards any other book.

However, the day, and the hours spent planning the perfect Arrietty Clock costume and choosing your free book, sadly died a sudden colossal death once you entered adulthood. World Book Day becomes a faded memory that is etched into the good old school days, but it shouldn’t! The free £1 vouchers handed out during tutorial shouldn’t be capped to only school children, it should be available for everyone of all ages.

World Book Day is a registered charity whose mission is to give every child and young person a book of their own to celebrate books. No one can dispute the positive impact it has on children, especially reluctant book lovers: it encourages youngsters to go into a bookshop, which may be the only time of the year they do, select a book of their choice, handing over their voucher and then proudly taking their book home to read. It has helped boost literacy across the ages and starts that relationship between the bookseller and the child, but why does it stop when they become an adult? 

According to the National Literacy Trust, 7.1 million adults can be described as having ‘very poor literacy skills.’ That means 1 in 6 adults do not have the ability to properly read or write. The trust describes how many adults are ‘reluctant to admit to their literacy difficulties and ask for help, and one of the most important aspects of supporting these adults is increasing their self-esteem by showing them the benefits of reading and writing.’ But how can adults who have no access or support to reading materials see the benefits of reading? How can they get excited about a stereotypical elitist hobby when it feels so far removed from their everyday life?

Bookshops for many are a safe haven, where you can lose yourself in hundreds of titles with the lust to buy every book in there, but for others it is a daunting and isolating experience. Whilst many swim in the sea of books, other’s drown. As World Book Day tokens are only valid in a bookshop it tackles this issue, it brings the reader, book and bookseller together and begins a relationship breaking down the stigma of a bookshop being a maze of words that is impossible for new readers to navigate through. If these tokens were available for adults it would encourage non-readers to begin their reading journey, allowing them access to a selection of books that they would never normally have. 

The heart of World Book Day is encouraging book haters to become book lovers, to tackle the elitist stereotypes around reading, to give a child a form of escapism. How can we not justify this scheme being useful for adults? How can we expect a societal change on the way we want children to see books when their parents and older siblings feel so disconnected from books?