Spread the word;Children's Books

27th February 1998 at 00:00
Michael Thorn hopes that readers and writers are in for a global boost

The big news about World Book Day on April 23 - also Shakespeare's birthday and St George's Day - is that every pupil in the land will receive a pound;1 book voucher. St George is the patron saint of Catalonia as well as England, and the Catalonians celebrate St George's Day by giving a book and a rose to loved ones. Given this coincidence, the event seems well-timed, especially as you can buy a surprising number of books for pound;1, including the event's special compendium, The Children's Book of Books, published by Puffin. This features extracts from popular children's books chosen by famous people, who give reasons for the choices.

The timing also makes the day a mini-overture for the Government's Year of Reading and the launch of the literacy hour. Teachers testing the literacy project's framework have discovered the emphasis on a daily ritual sharing of a text with the whole class can lead to an over-reliance on text extracts. This could mean that - especially in the older primary years - children will experience bits and pieces of books and get a whole novel too rarely.

With the exception of the Puffin compendium, the pound;1 titles are heavily subsidised by booksellers, with small independent bookshops and the organisers of book fairs (which have a large proportion of child customers) bearing the biggest potential losses. Some may decide they cannot afford to participate. However, the aim, to give every child the opportunity to acquire and savour a brand-new book, has everyone's approval in principle.

World Book Day is the idea of UNESCO, the United Nation's cultural organisation, and the UK marked it in a low-key way last year. But this year, everyone is involved: publishers, booksellers, the Department for Education and Employment, the BBC and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Some schools will wish to incorporate World Book Day (which provides opportunities for re-focusing attention on whole books) into a scheduled book week. However, one of its organisational attractions is that it can be telescoped into a one-off day. Children could present their own eight-page mini-books to one another, made from a specially-folded single sheet - and there should definitely be a win-a-book competition running on the day. The school library can turn festive so that children exchanging books are put in a party mood.

One of the questions I like to put to authors is which of their books they would give to a well-known personality and why. Celebrity recommendations could form an interactive display. Pictures of world leaders, entertainers and sports stars could be positioned to allow children to nominate a book for that person to read, with the reasons for their choice. With a view to expanding horizons, a selection of books could be "mapped" to show authors' nationalities (something we do for food and other items). In addition to sponsored read-a-thons, schools might make a Book of Books, with selections from staff as well as children. Year 6 pupils can organise their own bring-and-buy book sale.

If new books are considered to be the main priority, remember that book fairs will probably be oversubscribed by now. One alternative is to order a selection of books direct from a warehouse, after first negotiating a discount.

The Publishers' Association will be running features about the day on the website www.publishers.org.uk and the BBC will provide Internet and television coverage. There will, of course, be something about it on Blue Peter, and also on Teletubbies.

The 22 participating countries are mainly European. So far, World Book Day has a low profile in America. However, UK schools could bombard their transatlantic e-mail contacts with news of the day. Libraries will also be running events, so check out what is happening at your local branch.

Fiction and poetry tend to dominate on these occasions. Try and allow non-fiction to let down its hair as well. Above all, seize the chance to put away all text-ish things, and go the whole way with a book.

* All schools should have received a World Book Day pack with posters, stickers and information sheets. There is a World Book Day helpline on 0171-565 7496 or you can visit the website on www.publishers.org.uk. Call the helpline for advice on how to apply to regional arts boards for help with funding book events.

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