Last month saw many of us celebrating World Book Day in our settings, with the traditional dressing up as our favourite book characters. This month, we have International Children’s Book Day, (ICBDO) which his similar, but different in that the focus is only on children’s books, although it has a similar aim to inspire a love of reading and to celebrate the writing and publication of children’s books. The date is the 2nd April, which is Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday and it has been celebrated since 1967. 

The day is organised by IBBY, (The International Board on Books for Young People) which is an international non-profit organisation founded in Zurich, Switzerland in 1953 by the author and journalist, Jella Lepman. According to their website, they have a lot of aims within their mission which revolve around helping children have access to books with “high literary and artistic standards”, encouraging the publication of high quality children’s books, stimulating research and supporting training for those involved with children and children’s literature. Their mission also includes a pledge to “uphold the Rights of the Child” according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

IBBY consists of 80 ‘National Sections’ from all over the world, so it is truly international in its reach and opportunities. Some countries have established and well-developed publishing and literacy programmes, whilst others are involved in emerging and pioneering work. What makes IBBY important is that its members consist of authors, illustrators, publishers, editors, translators, journalists, critics, teachers, students, parents and children so they are well represented in all areas, and they are actively involved in the production of children’s books, 

Each year, a different National Section of IBBY has the opportunity to be the international sponsor of ICBD. The sponsoring nation decides a theme and invites a prominent author from the host country to write a message to the children of the world, and a well-known illustrator to design a poster. They then promote the day through the media, schools, competitions and awards and in 2021, it is the turn of the USA to host and organise the events. 

The theme this year is “The Music of Words” which has been written by Margarita Engler and the poster has been designed by Roger Mello from Brazil. 

How to celebrate ICBD in your setting 

Authors write books to be read and as early years practitioners, part of our remit is to promote the lifelong love of reading. But once it’s been written, a book can take on a life of its own and there are many different ways in which that book can be enjoyed and a myriad of learning opportunities that can be devised if you begin to think of books as more than just words on paper. Books create characters, with lives and backstories, relationships and problems. They increase our vocabulary and develop our emotional intelligence. They inform and inspire us and allow us to explore new lands and experience things that we might never even have dreamed of, let alone have the opportunity to physically sense. They teach us how to respond in certain situations, and how not to. And they can develop our learning in so many more ways than by just reading the book or hearing the story. So why not take the opportunity this ICBD to really think about how you can use your favourite children’s books to develop and enrich your curriculum? We’ve listed a few ideas below to help you. 

1. Read the book to the children. When you read it, try to really bring it to life using your voice and intonation to deliver the emotions of the characters. Think about changing the pitch of your voice to create different characters, and vary the pace and volume of your voice to make it more exciting. 

2. Make the experience a full sensory story by planning things out. If there is a seaside, can you incorporate a sandpit or a bowl of water so the children can experience the waves and the beach? Think of some sound effects that you could use and play them during the storytelling. The BBC has just opened up its sound effects archive and you can search for and download tens of thousands of sound effects for free. 

3. Once you have read the story, ask the children questions about the characters and what happened. Start with simple questions such as “Who was the main character?” and “What happened?” but you can also move on to things about their appearance and background and eventually, even more challenging questions such as “Why do you think the character did what they did?” Or “Would you do the same if that happened to you?” By doing this, you can introduce the idea of social stories and start an oral conversation about how these things may help the children relate to their own life and experiences, increasing their understanding and vocabulary at the same time. 

4. Create a music-based activity using the story. Think about how the characters in the story move and what they represent, then think about what instruments or rhythms might match those characters. Prokofiev’s classic, “Peter and the wolf” is a great example of using music to represent different animals. You can even find some interesting music clips online or if you have instruments, get the children to make their own. It will stimulate their creativity and get them thinking about sounds and what they represent. 

5. Dress up and improvise other stories. Once you have explored the first adventure in the book, get the children to think about what other things could happen. For example, where else could the snail and the whale go? What else might they discover together? Or what happened to Goldilocks when she got home?  You can help facilitate children’s play by posing these kinds of questions. You may be very surprised with some of the innovative and inventive things they come up with. 

6. Do some arts and crafts. Use the story as a stimulus for some arts and crafts – it could be drawing the characters, their clothes or houses, or making a cardboard spaceship inspired by a story. 

So don’t stop at reading – explore, create and inspire too!

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