World Book Day – celebrating reading around the world

Today, 23rd April, is UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day. It is an opportunity to celebrate reading and children’s books around the world. Not all countries celebrate World Book Day in April, indeed many hold book weeks or festivals at other times of the year. To mark World Book Day, we’re taking a look at some of the events and initiatives that take place around the world to celebrate the joy of books….

United Arab Emirates

The Emirates Literary Festival is big in the UAE. It isn’t just for kids but has a strong kid lit presence. Taking place in Dubai, it is the “Arab World’s largest celebration of the written and spoken word”. According to the website, “The 2021 edition of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is spread across three weekends, starting from 29th January and ending on 13th February”.


The Sheikh Zayed Book Award has a children’s literature section; shortlists are announced in March and winners usually in April. Take a look at this year’s shortlist


In May, the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival takes place, describing itself as “more than a festival – it’s an ecstatic celebration that goes beyond one age group, enriching the whole family whilst instilling a love of reading in the youngest of children.” It sounds like a lot of fun!

The Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature is for kid lit from any country that is published in Arabic. Shortlists appear in October and winners are announced on the first day of the Sharjah International Book Fair, which this year runs 3-13 November.


The 19th Bangkok International Book Fair is on now until 25 April 2021 at Bangkok International Trade & Exhibition Center. Over 200 publishing houses and related companies are taking part, including entities that publish for children. Details in English and Thai


The Japanese Board on Books for Young People observed International Children’s Book Day (子どもの本の日), April 2, with several online events in late March including:

  • a workshop and panel discussion on translation of picture books, for middle and high school students, by veteran translators
  • a “relay talk” by several children’s authors and illustrators, including 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing (“little Nobel”) winner Eiko Kadono
  • a workshop for upper elementary school students on creating a book based on a theme: “transformation”
  • a lecture by children’s author Shoko Iwase, Japan’s nominee for the 2022 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing
  • a workshop for preschool and lower elementary school students on making paper-cup marionettes
  • a “science play” workshop for elementary school students on making a bridge with paper, boxes and one-yen coins

Details in Japanese.


The Sakura Medal “brings together students from international schools across Japan each year to vote for their favourite books.” Included in their aims for the initiative is the desire to “Highlight Japanese authors, setting, themes and culture” and spotlight “new and lesser known authors.”


Funky Rainbow is a a travelling book library in India which has been holding author and book sessions for both children and adults who shape reading practices. Their collection of “7500+ books are handpicked and curated for children in the age-group of 1-18 years and represent the best of Indian children’s writing.” More details in English.


Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival is a “children’s literature festival set up by Bookaroo Trust, a public charitable trust, and endeavours to make books come alive through interactions between children and creators of books and storytellers. The festival that began in 2008 has since travelled to 16 cities (15 in India and one in Malaysia) and has completed 37 editions in 11 years, focuses on ‘Reading for Pleasure’.” More details in English.


Authors like Varsha Seshan also run reading and writing workshops for children. Normally these would take place face-to-face but due to the pandemic, these sessions are now available online.


Neev Literature Festival has evolved into an online festival throughout the year, with a packed schedule of author events for children. See the website for the upcoming events and see the YouTube channel for past book chats with children’s authors from around the world.


The China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair (CCBF) is the only book fair in Asia Pacific fully dedicated to books and other content for children. This year’s fair will take place from 19-21 November.


Author and publisher Ayò Oyeku sharing stories with schoolchildren at Mandibles Children’s Place

World Read Aloud Day is celebrated annually on the first Wednesday of every February. Created in 2010 by LitWorld, a nonprofit believing in the power of reading, WRAD calls “global attention to the importance of reading aloud, sharing stories, and the idea of literacy as a human right by bringing communities together across the world to read aloud and change the world.”  In Nigeria, writer and publisher Ayò Oyeku visited the Mandibles Children’s Place saying, “Reading to children is not just fun but a path into the way their minds work.”


The first Akada Children’s Book Festival took place in 2019 and to the best of the organisers’ knowledge, “ACBF is the first Nigerian book festival specifically for children.” The ABCF is a fun event to showcase children’s books written by African authors, or books written for a diverse audience of children. This year’s event is taking place from 1 to 3 July. You can catch up on events from the 2020 event on the ACBF YouTube channel .

UN SDG Book Club – African Chapter Launches

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Book Club was launched at Bologna International Children’s Book Fair in 2019 and aims to use books as a tool to encourage children ages 6-12 to interact with the principles of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through a curated reading list of books from around the world related to each of the 17 SDGs in all six official UN languages—Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.

Today sees the launch of the African chapter which sees book sector organisations from across the African continent come together and commit to augmenting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Book Club with a collection of English, French, Arabic and Kiswahili books about the different goals for children. On each list, there will also be an honorary book in an indigenous African language. Join in the celebrations on Twitter using the hashtags #unsdgbookclubafricanchapter #SDGBookClub #GlobalGoals #SDGs #AfricanChildren #AfricanBooks

For general information see the UN SDG Book Club website and for more details specifically about the African chapter, visit the Borders Literature Online website. You can also check out the UN SDG Book Club African Chapter YouTube Channel.

Trofa Lusophone Competition – Matilde Rosa Araújo Prize

This prize is part of an initiative promoted by the Municipality of Trofa in partnership with Camões – Cooperation and Language Institute, designed to promote children’s literature from Portuguese-speaking countries. Entries are open to writers from Portugal, Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe. Entries for the 2021 edition are currently open. Details in English and Portuguese

Cape Verde – Brazil – Portugal

The Centro Cultural Brasil – Cabo Verde held an International Conference yesterday 22 April to celebrate World Book Day. Held as a hybrid event with some audience members watching live in Cape Verde and some joining virtually via Facebook, speakers Dai Varela (Cape Verde), Danuta Wojciechowska (Portugal) and Ana Crélia Dias (Brazil) came together in a session aimed at teachers, students of literature, writers and artists.


In Mexico, the majority of book fairs that take place in large cities and are open to the general public have an area dedicated to children’s literature. A few to look out for are:

  • FUL Niños (University Book Fair) from the Autonomous University of the State of Hidalgo. 
  • FILEY Niños (Yucatán International Reading Fair)
  • FENAL (Leon National Book Fair)

The most important Mexican book fairs are:

  • FILIJ (International Children’s and Young Adult Book Fair, Mexico City)
    • As well as the publisher exhibition, book presentations, workshops, shows and activities with authors, there is also a programme for professionals working to promote reading, sessions with illustrators and translators and round-table discussions. The fair takes place in November and was held virtually in 2020. We are awaiting confirmation about this year’s event.
  • FIL Niños (International Book Fair)
    • FIL Niños (FIL Kids) is the area of the Guadalajara International Book Fair directed at younger members of the general public and dedicated to raising readers. In addition to the workshops, meet-and-greet author and illustrator sessions and round table disucssions, there is also an area for buying and selling rights. The fair takes place during the last week in November and the 2020 edition was held virtually. It has not yet been confirmed whether 2021 will be face-to-face or online.


Argentina’s Children’s and Young Adult Book Fair will be taking place from 20 to 31 July 2021 and, as many fairs and festivals, this year it will be taking place online. Organised by Fundación El Libro, they offer sessions for children, young adults and reading facilitators (adults), combing literature, art, music and cinema, so that children can “enjoy the pleasure of words”. Details in Spanish.

SM Book Awards

In 1978, Fundación SM launched two prizes for new writing in Spain: El Barco de Vapor for children’s books, and Gran Angular for Young Adult books. Since then, these two prizes have been awarded annually, and since 2006, teaching resources have been made available to accompany the winning titles. Some of the winning authors are established writers, while some award-winners have previously been undiscovered.

El Barco de Vapor and Gran Angular are also awarded in some Latin American countries, celebrating the literature from their own countries. For more details, click on the relevant link: Brazil, Chile, Colombia, México, Perú, Puerto Rico, República Dominicana


La Diada de Sant Jordi (Saint George’s Day) and World Book Day are both celebrated on April 23. Sant Jordi has been celebrated with roses since the Middle Ages, but books came into the picture much later. In the 1920s, a Catalan bookseller began to promote the holiday to commemorate the deaths of Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare who both died on April 23, 1616 (but as both countries were using different calendar systems, they actually died about 10 days apart). Traditionally, men gave women roses, and women gave men books, but today people exchange roses and books with all of their friends and loved ones. Finland began celebrating its own Book and Rose Day in 2012, and it has become a celebratory event and a time to bring home the latest spring titles and a splash of color with roses. Wouldn’t this be a wonderful way to start a spring festival celebrating books and roses in your own community?


The Night of the Arts and Book Night
The Night of the Arts is a celebration popular across the Nordic countries. It typically takes place in August, and museums, theatres, and other cultural institutions are open until late in the night, with performances taking place in a variety of venues both indoors and outdoors. In Finland, bookstores are also very much part of the celebration, and people pack their favorite bookshops to browse titles and catch readings by their favorite authors. There’s something magical about enjoying books and the arts on a warm, late summer’s night.

Vekara-Varkaus Children’s Summer Festival and the LukuVarkaus Children’s Book Prize
This festival focused on children and families has been an annual summer event for the past twenty-five years, and is celebrated in the small town of Varkaus in eastern Finland. The LukuVarkaus Children’s Book Prize for middle-grade fiction was established in 2001 by Stora Enso and the City of Varkaus, and the winner is announced at the festival. What makes this prize unique is that a panel of middle-school aged children picks the winner from the list of finalists. You can read about this year’s finalists and the
judges here (in Finnish). More details about the festival here in English and Finnish.


Jólabókaflóð, or Christmas Book Flood, is an Icelandic tradition that started during WWII, and is now growing in popularity among book lovers around the world. Celebrated on Christmas Eve, Icelanders give each other books as gifts and often spend the evening reading! You can read about how one woman revolutionized her holiday gift giving here.


The Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival opens tomorrow 24 April and runs across the weekend. With sessions for both Welsh and English speakers, it’s all online and free to access. More details here in English and Welsh.


Cork World Book Fest runs this week, from 20 – 25 April, and today at 3pm you can hear readings from four children’s books in translation at Children’s Books from Around the World. Featuring stories from Germany, Indonesia, Japan and China, this session takes younger readers on a journey around the globe, with readings by author Reda Guadiamo, and translators Helen Wang, Ruth Ahmedzai-Kemp and Emily Balistrieri. Hear the tale of a young trainee witch in Kiki’s Delivery service by Eiko Kadono, a lively little frog in Bibbit Jumps by Bei Lynn, a curious young girl in The Adventures of Na Willa by Reda Gaudiamo, and a magical world of books in The Magical Bookshop by Katja Frixe. See the YouTube channel for past events including yesterday’s Translating Children’s Literature: a conversation with Spanish<>English literary translator Lawrence Schimel and Latvian picture book author and illustrator Elīna Brasliņa.


Russia has a wealth of children’s book festivals and fairs, including:

International Children’s Book Day – April 2 – IBBY

“Since 1967, on or around Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, 2 April, International Children’s Book Day (ICBD) is celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books.” Each year is sponsored by a different national IBBY section and 2021 is hosted by the USA. There has been a whole series of events being celebrated around the world, from Sri Lanka to Argentina, Cameroon to Ukraine. Find out more on the IBBY website.


Many thanks to everyone who has helped to compile this list: Ayò Oyeku, Helen Wang, Avery Fischer Udagawa, Titas Bose, Ritwika Roy, Marcia Lynx Qualey, Kathryn Trowbridge, Johanna McCalmont, Dan Sam, Mia Spangenberg, Dai Varela and Ekaterina Shatalova.