World Book Day 2021: the novels that have inspired academics

Last week saw World Book Day 2021 take place and while students weren’t heading to schools dressed as their favourite literary characters, online events saw record numbers of people taking part. Wednesday’s pre-event had 20,000 children taking part online, breaking the previous attendance record 20 times over.

The day itself may be behind us and the costumes hung up for another year, but the new World Book Day Book Club begins in April to create a global communal reading experience. Their YouTube channel will be sharing their favourite monthly reads, talking to authors and much more. Their first book is Sharna Jackson’s urban-set detective thriller, High-Rise Mystery. More details can be found by signing up to their newsletter.

Research collated for World Book Day has found that although many children were embracing reading at the beginning of the pandemic, a year later and the number of children reading has begun to fall.

More positively, data has shown that parents are reading more to their children during lockdown and that young people are using reading to help them to relax and feel happy.

World Book Day was created by Unesco in April 1995 as a worldwide celebration of books and reading. It is marked in over 100 countries around the globe. It is mainly focused on children and emphasises the importance of reading in young people’s development.

In our own celebration of World Book Day, we have been talking to our scientists about their own favourite books.

Dr Jadranka  Šepić, Department of Physics, University of Split, Croatia

I loved to read, so I had a lot of favourite books as a child. There are a few, though, which I read numerous times: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, and Sylvius by Henry Bosco. The last one I find the most charming and still read it from time to time. To me, all these books tell a story about those who dared to be different and to follow their heart’s desires, despite their families, friends and societies being against it.

Dr Darren Ranco, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Chair of Native American Programs, and Coordinator of Native American Research, Department of Anthropology, The University of Maine

I have to cite two: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt. They each spoke to something in me – my interest in satire exposing oppression and tyranny (in Slaughterhouse-Five) and my support for indigenous ways of knowing our place in creation (with Black Elk Speaks).

Dr Corliss Thompson, Associate Teaching Professor, Graduate School of Education, Northeastern University, USA

I remember reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 11th grade in my favourite teacher’s class: Barb Temple. I had just moved to a new school that year. Ms. Temple was incredibly supportive and really pushed me at the same time. I liked the glitz and glamour of Great Gatsby and the multiple story lines in the book, especially the story of Nick.

Professor Sander Thomaes, Professor of Developmental Psychology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

My favourite book as a teenager was Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther – I was drawn by big emotions, big struggles and big love This story, more than 200 years old, had it all.