World Book Day, also known as World Book and Copyright Day, or International Day of the Book, is an annual event organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to promote reading, publishing, and copyright.
The first World Book Day was celebrated on 23 April in 1995, and continues to be recognized on that day.
The original idea was of the Valencian writer Vicente Clavel Andrés as a way to honour the author, Miguel de Cervantes, first on 7 October, his birth date, then on 23 April, his death date.
23 April is a symbolic date for world literature. It is on this date in 1616 that Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors, such as Maurice Druon, Haldor K.Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo – UNESCO says.
In a historical coincidence, Shakespeare and Cervantes died on the same date — 23 April 1616 — but not on the same day, as at the time, Spain used the Gregorian calendar and England used the Julian calendar; Shakespeare actually died 10 days after Cervantes died, on 3 May of the Gregorian calendar.
It was a natural choice for UNESCO’s General Conference, held in Paris in 1995, to pay a world-wide tribute to books and authors on this date, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those, who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity. With this in mind, UNESCO created the World Book and Copyright Day.
The Day is celebrated by a growing number of partners and since its launch has shown itself to be a great opportunity for reflection and information on a significant theme.
It is observed by millions of people in over 100 countries, in hundreds of voluntary organizations, schools, public bodies, professional groups and private businesses.
In this lengthy period, World Book and Copyright Day has won over a considerable number of people from every continent and all cultural backgrounds to the cause of books and copyright. It has enabled them to discover, make the most of and explore in greater depth a multitude of aspects of the publishing world: books as vectors of values and knowledge, and depositories of the intangible heritage; books as windows onto the diversity of cultures and as tools for dialogue; books as sources of material wealth and copyright-protected works of creative artists. All of these aspects have been the subject of numerous awareness-raising and promotional initiatives that have had a genuine impact. There must nevertheless be no let-up in these efforts.
Since 2000, World Book and Copyright Day has inspired another initiative of professional organizations which receives the assistance of UNESCO and backing from States: World Book Capital City. Each year a city is chosen which undertakes to maintain, through its own initiatives, the impetus of the Day’s celebrations until 23 April of the following year.
Almost all the regions of the world, in turn, have already been involved in this process, which thus transforms the celebration of books and copyright into a recurrent activity, extending still further the geographical and cultural influence of books.
This year, the city of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia was selected as World Book Capital for 2020 because of the strong focus on inclusive education, the development of a knowledge-based society and accessible reading for all parts of the city’s population.
Now more than ever, at a time when globally most schools are closed due to COVID 19 pandemic and people are having to limit time spent out of their homes, the power of books can be leveraged to combat isolation, to reinforce ties between people, and to expand our horizons, while stimulating our minds and creativity.
During the month of April and all year round, it is critical to take the time to read on your own or with your children. It is a time to celebrate the importance of reading, foster children’s growth as readers, and promote a lifelong love of literature and integration into the world of work.