World Book Night: Promoting Literacy

Yesterday was World Book Night when thousands of volunteers across America distributed free, special edition copies of books to promote reading and literacy (see the full list of books here). I was beyond thrilled to be a book giver for this terrific event. I received The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak to give away which was my first pick. If you have not read this book yet, you should. It is a powerful, beautifully written book and I could not wait to put it into the hands of some young adults.

I went to the small mall in our town looking for teens and twenty-somethings and I was well rewarded. There were a lot of young people out at the mall – many just hanging out with friends, or sitting on the benches texting. I also was glad to see some young people working in the kiosks and food stalls.

I avoided people who looked older than thirty or who were carrying any type of reading material because we were supposed to be finding infrequent readers for the books we were giving away.

When I approached people, I asked if they had a moment so I could talk to them about World Book Night. All but one couple agreed to talk to me, although I could see that most were a little wary! As soon as I explained that I would be giving them a free book, faces lit up and smiles appeared. No one refused a book (except for a young woman whose first language was Spanish and she did not think she could read a whole book in English).

One young woman was incredulous that she would not have to pay for the book.

No one has ever given me a book before,” she explained.

There were a variety of responses to the question “Do you read?”:


I haven’t read a book yet this year.”

I read the newspaper, does that count?

Yes, but not too often. I don’t have the money to buy books.

Some people suggested I might want to give the book to someone who reads more – but I told them they were the perfect person to get a book for free!

I admit that some books ended up in the hands of people who liked to read because they were with friends who were light readers…but at least 75% of the books went to people who were infrequent readers or those who hardly ever picked up a novel.

One of the things I wondered about was how readers would react when I told them that Death was the narrator of The Book Thief. A couple of people raised their eyebrows and laughed. But mostly the reaction was “Cool!” or “Wow, that sounds great!” I guess Marcus Zusak knows his audience!

This was such an amazing experience.

I will admit I was a little scared when I started. Walking up to people you don’t know, especially when they are standing in a group, and “pitching” something is not where I am most comfortable. But these teens and young adults were awesome.

They didn’t blow me off.

They listened, asked questions and got excited.

Most even allowed me to snap their photo.

My box of books was emptied in less than an hour. As I got back into my car to head home, I thought of how it did not take the newest digital device, or a movie filled with special effects to get these young people excited. It just took a book – words on a page. I thought about that book being read, about the journey it would take those kids on, and how they might love it so much that they would share it with their friends…and I felt good inside.

World Book Night was a wonderful experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

What about you? Did you participate in this year’s World Book Night? How was YOUR experience?

Want to read more about other giver experiences and see photos of the event? Visit the World Book Night Facebook Page.


I’ll be celebrating World Book Night all week with a special give away of A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Go to this post to enter (US mailing addresses only) through April 30th at 5:00 pm PST.




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    • Serena on April 24, 2012 at 07:20

    Such a great experience. I’m going to link to your post in my examiner article. Sounds like you had a great time.

  1. I also participated, and gave away The Namesake. A lot of people seemed really excited to get the book I was offering, but I had some rude reactions as well. It was a great experience for me, and I wish that I had more books to give out! It looks like you had a great experience as well.

  2. AWESOME!!!! I’m so so so so so glad you had such a wonderful World Book Night experience, and I’m certain you have changed some readerly lives in your efforts. Thanks for sharing, Wendy! And I think it’s fabulous that so many were willing to have a picture snapped! 😀

  3. I’ll be writing up my post later today. I had a positive experience giving books away as well!

    • Flo on April 24, 2012 at 11:56

    It seems such a great experience (sharing is always great in fact) ! I wish we had this in France. The photos show happy people and it’s so good to see this when we love reading.

  4. This post just made my whole day! I love The Book Thief and think it was a great choice to giveaway. What a great event and wonderful that you made time to participate.

  5. How fun! I wish Canada had participated…

  6. What a great post! I love that you were able to give a book to so many teens. Hopefully they’ll go on to read many more books.

    • paula on April 25, 2012 at 06:01

    I was so excited reading your post about your experience of giving away books. I love that you chose teens and young people as I get the feeling that this group doesn’t read books like “we” do….at least that’s what I see with my own two girls who are 18 and 20. It’s a wonderful idea and if just a few of these folks get excited about reading it will be awesome!

    • Alyce on April 25, 2012 at 07:38

    I have to admit that the idea of going up to complete strangers was part of what kept me from signing up this year, that and not having a clue where in my small town would be ideal to hand them out. I think next year I will enlist the whole family to help, that way it’s not just me. 🙂

    And that quote from the person who said no one has ever given them a book before was amazing. Very cool post!

    • Trish on April 25, 2012 at 10:07

    I LOVE this post, Wendy!! And I’m so glad that you captured these picture to share with us. I didn’t participate this year but I’ve already signed up to help next year. Looking forward to it!

  7. I handed out let the right one in I loved peoples reaction and some people I work with have been gripped by the book already ,all the best stu

  8. It’s great to hear how you distributed the books – you really gave it some thought and it seems most recipients were happy to get a book. Let’s hope they’ll read it – just one chapter, and then one more, and another one…

    • Amused on April 25, 2012 at 17:34

    This post just made me smile throughout! I love the audience you chose for your books and how happy they look with their new books. What a wonderful thing you did.

  9. I love this post too! I decided not to be a giver because I didn’t know WHERE to give, but you had the perfect idea. I’m so glad to hear the experience was so moving for you!

  10. Great pics, Wendy! What a great night!!!

  11. Love, love, love this post!! And I love that you included pictures of the recipients. They all look so happy to have received a book (and what an AWESOME book, it is!!!). I’m definitely going to do this next year. I wonder what the selections will be…

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