World Book Day Is Embroiled In Drama Over Celebrity Authors

Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

Reading campaign World Book Day gives kids a chance to receive a book in exchange for tokens handed out at school, from a prescribed list. The soon-to-be-circulated books for 2018 were recently announced, and children’s book authors are not happy with the celebrity names on the list.


The Guardian reports that of the ten books offered, a fair number were authored by people who are famous—but not for writing for children. That includes comedian Julian Clary, sports journalist Gerard Siggins, broadcast journalist Clare Balding, Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain and musician Tom Fletcher. Author David Almond wrote about his shock in a sad post on Facebook:

Well, I guess some folk might say I’m just being elitist or something if I start going on about the choices for next year’s World Book Day books, if I wonder how it is that books by a clutch of celebrities could possibly be better than those by some of the wonderful children’a authors at work today, if I allow myself to think that the nation’s children are being shortchanged by this and that the nation’s authors and illustrators are being scorned, if I wonder whether the choices show a lack of true seriousness and a narrow understanding of the importance of children’s literary culture... But what the hell. That’s what I wonder, that’s what I think. I couldn’t believe it when the list popped up on my screen. Huh.

Huh, indeed. Other authors spoke with the Guardian, explaining that they too were frustrated by the choices made for World Book Day this year. Anthony McGowan said that including so many well-known faces is “cheap and tawdry” and he expects “to see Kim Kardashian and whoever gets the smirk-and-sympathy vote” on book lists any second now.

Author Joanne Harris compared the glut of celeb personalities to feeding children fast food, writing, “Celebrity authors are the complete opposite of diversity. Celebrity authors reduce children’s fiction to a small group of well-known faces, leaving less room for newcomers, originality, variety.”

Author CJ Daugherty also expressed her frustration:


As did historical children’s book author John K. Fulton:


Bookseller Tamsin Rosewell told the Guardian that it’s depressing for her too:

“To give children and families the impression that books with a celebrity name attached to them have been chosen above all others sends a very damaging message: to be a successful writer you need to be famous or pretty,” she added.


Rosewell also thinks that children (and their parents) need be more aware of how a book by a celebrity author gets made, referencing co-writers and alleged ghostwriters by saying the celebrity names “are not the names of the people who actually wrote them.”

World Book Day director Kirsten Grant has responded to the brewing controversy by calling celebrity authors a “catalyst to encouraging a non-reader to pick up a book and start a nationwide conversation about reading.” World Book Day is set to announce their list for the Young Adult category this coming week.

Contributing Writer, writing my first book for the Dial Press called The Lonely Hunter, follow me on Twitter @alutkin


Agent Scully: Feminist She-Devil

Maybe I’m in the minority here but I feel like this debate entirely misses the point of World Book Day. I feel like most kinds won’t give a flying fig who the author of these books is. If it’s good children’s literature and the event gets them reading...what exactly is the problem? I mean yes, I get that this takes attention away from lesser-known authors, but this event is probably not the right place to have that conversation.