Leading reading and education charities unite with World Book Day to tell the story of reading during lockdown.

BookTrust, CLPE, National Literacy Trust, The Reading Agency, and Egmont join World Book Day to provide first comprehensive picture of reading during the pandemic, and evidence the impact of reading for pleasure on children’s life chances.

A year since the UK’s first lockdown, and with schools about to re-open, research collated for World Book Day (Thursday, 4 March) shows that many children and parents embraced reading at the beginning of the pandemic, with huge benefits for their wellbeing and development. However, according to the latest research, one year into the pandemic reading has decreased slightly this year1 – meaning some children are not experiencing the life-chance improving benefits of reading for pleasure. In addition, access to books remains a serious issue, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the context of Covid-19 – with the educational gap widening2 – the evidence collated for World Book Day highlights the need for support at this critical point in time.

The World Book Day charity has brought together the UK’s leading reading and educational charities – BookTrust, CLPE, National Literacy Trust, and The Reading Agency – and the leading children’s publisher Egmont, as well as Nielsen Books, in a collaboration providing insights into the impact of the last year on children’s reading. For the first time, the combined data brings together the perspectives of families, teachers and young people. The research found:

  • Many children embraced reading at the beginning of the pandemic. This is supported by evidence from BookTrust, National Literacy Trust and The Reading Agency3. The majority looked online for reading inspiration, with YouTube (45%), social media (28%) and friends (31%) cited as a key source of ideas4.
  • Books have provided a valuable resource to support children’s wellbeing5. Young people reported that it helped them relax (40%) and made them feel happy (35%). As missing friends became a common concern for young people, 17% also said they used it as a way to stay connected6. 82% of teachers have found ways of reading aloud to their classes during the pandemic because it provided an emotional support as well as developing literacy skills7.
  • Parents read more with children and encouraged children to read more too. Whilst engaging children with their online lessons often became a battleground for families, parents who read aloud to their children every day noticed an improvement in wellbeing, behaviour, family bonds and attainment with schoolwork (even when home educating). This learning by stealth helped parents feel they could make a positive difference8.

But while the pandemic has seen such positives, it has also highlighted major concerns:

  • Access to books remains a serious issue9, particularly amongst disadvantaged children and families. The charities’ research showed that a quarter of primary schools raised concern that access to books had become a barrier to reading for pleasure and overall literacy levels. Despite many schools implementing quarantine schemes and delivery services, 40% of primary-level children were unable to take books home. Amongst schools offering borrowing schemes, some spoke about having ‘run out’ of stock by January 21.
  • One year into the pandemic reading has decreased slightly this year, according to the latest research from Nielsen Books10.

Reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success, more than family circumstance or their parents’ educational background or income11, and World Book Day as a charity has, for over twenty years, been offering all children and young people the chance to have a book of their own. Last year, 1.03 million World Book Day £1 books were gifted in the UK & Ireland in only five weeks. Latest data shows that 3 in 10 of children receiving free school meals said the book they ‘bought ‘ with their World Book Day token was the first book they had of their own – clear indication of World Book Day’s ability to reach disadvantaged children.

The latest research for the National Literacy Trust shows the positive impact World Book Day has had during the pandemic: When asked in early 2021 what they had done differently as a result of World Book Day 2020, 3 in 5 primary children (62%) said that they had read more books as a result. Over half (54%) had talked more about books with family and friends. A third (34%) had also read more books with family and friends12.

Cassie Chadderton, World Book Day CEO, said:

“It’s wonderful to see how many children and families have felt the benefit of shared reading during the lockdowns, but this evidence shows that too many children in the UK don’t have access to books. World Book Day aims to change lives through a love of books and shared reading. Our mission to ensure that all children can experience the life-changing power of books and reading has never been more critical.”

Diana Gerald, CEO of BookTrust, said:

“Whilst it’s encouraging that many families have embraced reading during lockdown, our insight from speaking to families and partners also suggests that there are many who are reading less and who have struggled to access books and stories during the Covid-19 pandemic. BookTrust has been working with our network of local authority partners as well as schools, family support teams, refuges and food banks to provide books and reading support to families in most need. We are committed to ensuring that children can experience the life-changing benefits that reading brings and we are delighted to be supporting World Book Day in that endeavour.”

Louise Johns-Shepherd, CLPE CEO, said:

“Books and stories are food for the soul, they change lives and nourish futures. It is vital that we come together to ensure that all our children have the access and the opportunity to benefit from the enormous power of reading.”

Jonathan Douglas CBE, Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust, said:

“Our research shows that over 380,000 children in the most disadvantaged communities don’t own a book of their own. This World Book Day we want to highlight our commitment to enabling children’s access to books. Books unlock a lifetime of benefits, from increasing wellbeing and confidence, to allowing children to feel represented and understood. Throughout the pandemic the National Literacy Trust has distributed thousands of books to children who need them most, and will continue to do so as long as the fault lines of social inequality in the UK remain.”

Karen Napier, The Reading Agency CEO, said:

“Every year we at The Reading Agency work to engage children and families in reading for pleasure, and it is encouraging to see the value of reading for pleasure being recognised through this sector-wide research. However, this evidence also highlights the ways the Covid-19 pandemic has heightened the scale of digital disadvantage and inequality of access to books, and helping ensure that every child has access to books and reading is more important than ever. This makes our work to increase access to the benefits of reading vital to Covid recovery. We’re looking forward to working with World Book Day to help bring books in to the hands of children across the nation.”

Cally Poplak, Executive Publisher, Egmont Books, said:

“Children who read for pleasure simply do better in life. Readers have better well-being, stronger communication and language skills and achieve more in education. We all need to pull together to overcome the barriers to reading and make sure every child has the chance to reap the benefits.”

Read more about how World Book Day has adopted its 2021 plans to work around the current circumstances and bring its celebration to all, including an extensive suite of free digital events, online toolkits, and a digital book token.

Find out about the new Arts Council funding, partnerships with the BBC, McDonald’s, Twitter and Oak Academy, and World Book Day’s first ever official song, by MC Grammar.

World Book Day Ambassador MC Grammar, aka Jacob Mitchell, said:

“Teaming up with the World Book Day charity is an honour . As a teacher and as a father, we share the same mission: to promote the magic of books and reading. To know that my song might just be the reason a child picks up or
receives a book of their very own this World Book Day is just incredible!”

World Book Day author Joseph Coelho said:

“Stories and reading take us to other worlds, show us possibilities beyond our doorsteps, offering up characters: like us, different from us, familiar and never seen before. Reading rewrites our core code slotting in spaces where we can write our own narratives. However, when access to books becomes difficult the whole of society suffers; when our youngest miss out on those stories that shape the adults they could become. We must keep striving for a metaphorical return to the campfire, sharing all of our stories and putting those stories into the hands of all of our children.”

This year’s World Book Day authors and illustrators are Julia Donaldson, Lydia Monks, Tom Fletcher, Greg Abbott, Joseph Coelho, Fiona Lumbers, Jonny Duddle, Zanib Mian, Nasaya Mafaridik, Jess French, Aleesha Nandhra, Sita Brahmachari, Katherine Rundell, Humza Arshad, Henry White, Aleksei Bitskoff, Alexander Bellos, Ben Lyttleton, Derek Landy, Holly Jackson, Judi Curtin, Huw Aaron.
Read more about the books here.

For the latest on this week’s World Book Day activities, including the Show Your Story Shares mass participation campaign, please visit: worldbookday.com/show-your-shares

World Book Day is funded by publishers and booksellers, and generously sponsored by National Book Tokens.

Find more information, and join the conversation via:
worldbookday.com | @WorldBookDayUK | #WorldBookDay | #ShareAStory


1. Nielsen (2021), Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer Survey 2020
2. NFER (2020), The challenges facing schools and pupils in September 2020
3. BookTrust (2020), Research into reading behaviours during the first lockdown; National Literacy Trust (2020), Children and young people’s reading in 2020 before and during the COVID-19 lockdown; The Reading Agency (2020), The Summer Reading Challenge 2020 Survey
4. The Reading Agency (2020), The Summer Reading Challenge 2020 Survey
5. National Literacy Trust (2020), Children and young people’s reading in 2020 before and during the COVID-19 lockdown; The Reading Agency (2020) The Summer Reading Challenge 2020 Survey; Egmont, The Egmont Reading Club, 2020 Lockdown Study
6. The Reading Agency (2020), The Summer Reading Challenge 2020 Survey; Egmont, The Egmont Reading Club, 2020 Lockdown Study
7. CLPE (2021), Reading for Pleasure in 2021
8. Egmont, The Egmont Reading Club, 2020 Lockdown Study
9. CLPE, Reading for Pleasure in 2020
10. Nielsen (2021), Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer Survey 2020
11. OECS (2002)
12. National Literacy Trust (2021), Annual Literacy Survey

The Reading Agency

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