International Book Day is on April 23 The other day in a Spanish class I teach, my middle school students were researching countries. They had each chosen a different Latin American country and had to write a two-page report on it. I gave them a class period to work on research. One of my students told me he could not do research during class because he did not bring his laptop. I walked to the Media Center (what until recently was called a library) and picked out the encyclopedia volume for the letter D, since he was researching the Dominican Republic.
When I handed him the book, he said, “What’s this?”
I said, “A book.”
Of course he knew what a book was, but he had never used an encyclopedia.
I am not a Luddite. I believe the Internet is a great resource, but it should not come at the cost of books. My student, for example, did some research in the encyclopedia, but then something miraculous happened. He began turning the pages of the book and reading about other subjects that began with the letter D. He was absorbing random information from a book! This simple act is almost impossible to do on the Internet where you must search for specific subject matter.
Read Related: In Defense of Print Books!
April 23 is UNESCO’s World Book Day. The holiday was created in 1995 to celebrate Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, both writers who died on April 23. The event is marked to celebrate authors and promote literacy, but it also urges and educates about copyright, something that is infringed upon and violated every day on the Internet.
Different countries and cities in the U.S. mark the day differently. In England it is customary for children to dress up as their favorite literary characters. I can see all the Dickens’ characters and Harry Potters walking around the streets of London!
In the U.S., many schools and libraries across the country mark the day with storytimes and book fairs, but if you are not sure how the day is being observed in your area, check your local paper or…sigh, the Internet. If you can’t find anything, then have your own event. Invite friends, go to a bookstore, share books and stories about books.
Why bother, when books are dying a slow death anyway?
Well, nearly everything that entertains us these days comes from a story. Every movie and TV show owes its genesis to books, to novels, to non-fiction books. We don’t love Star Wars because of the special effects or because Chewbacca is so handsome; we love the movie because it is a classic tale of good vs. evil, a story that has been written about in different forms for centuries.
Books transport us. Think of how many times you hear someone say, “Yeah, I liked the movie, but it wasn’t as good as the book.” But even beyond the stories, books are a source of wonder for children. When I was a kid, I remember spending hours in my father’s study browsing through the encyclopedia, and the Time-Life collection books of the Old West, nature, WWII, etc. Sure, I was mesmerized by the photos, but I read the captions and sometimes I even sat and read chapters that captured my imagination.
A book is a great way to discover something new, something you didn’t know existed. This April 23, take some time to turn your children or friends on to a good book. Celebrate. Enjoy the stories and understand where they come from. Challenge yourself. Let yourself be transported. Read a book.
Happy World Book Day!