Sandi Toksvig Revealed as Lead Ambassador for World Book Night’s 10th Anniversary

01 April 2021

  • Full event line-up for annual celebration of reading in partnership with Specsavers
  • Flagship event with The British Library featuring Sandi Toksvig, David Nicholls, Bolu Babalola, Jamie Byng
  • Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation with Kate Mosse featured in line-up
  • Matt Haig, Hugh Bonneville, Adjoa Andoh, Richard Madeley, Jenny Eclair and more supporting
  • 100,000 books given away on 10th anniversary to organisations across UK
  • Bringing reading to everyone with free e-books and audiobooks
  • The #ReadingHour connecting the nation to make us smile
  • Bookshop.org, Waterstones and Libraries Connected confirm support

The Reading Agency, in partnership with Specsavers, is delighted to announce that writer, comedian, TV personality and literacy advocate Sandi Toksvig will be the lead ambassador for World Book Night 2021, as the full plans for the campaign are also unveiled.

World Book Night, the annual celebration of reading, will take place on Friday 23rd April 2021. This year’s theme, “Books To Make You Smile” is a response to the impact of Covid-19 on mental health, highlighting the proven power of reading and the benefits it brings to well-being. This also coincides with the launch of Stories to Make You Smile – a new collection of short stories compiled by The Reading Agency together with Specsavers.

To mark its 10th anniversary this year World Book Night will be hosting a number of virtual events, book giveaways, online activities, exclusive releases and promotions, calling for the whole nation to celebrate reading for pleasure. Over the last ten years, The Reading Agency has distributed over 2,800,000 books to help spread the joy of reading, with 245 titles by 205 authors distributed by over 90,000 volunteers and organisations across the UK. As lockdown gradually eases, The Reading Agency encourages everyone to share the pleasure of reading whether virtually or safely in person, as bookshops and libraries are due to re-open from Monday 12th April, and book clubs will be able to meet again outdoors.

Celebrations on World Book Night itself will be marked by a livestreamed event in partnership with The British Library, hosted by World Book Night Ambassador Sandi Toksvig and featuring best-selling authors David Nicholls and Bolu Babalola, and World Book Night founder and Canongate CEO Jamie Byng (8-9pm).

Prior to the event, The Reading Agency is inviting the whole nation to join the #ReadingHour (7-8pm), when everyone is encouraged to spend time with a good book, alone or with others, reading in any format they want and wherever they like. Last year, the estimated social media reach of #WorldBookNight and #ReadingHour was 14.3 million.

Celebrations on the night itself will also include a virtual event hosted by The British Library, featuring Nobel Prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation with Kate Mosse, bestselling author of The City of Tears and founder of the Women’s Prize for Fiction (6-7pm). Ishiguro, who was a World Book Night author in 2012, will be discussing his new novel Klara and the Sun as well as the wider impact of his writing on readers.

Sandi Toksvig, World Book Night 2021 Ambassador, said: “I am so excited to be the lead ambassador for The Reading Agency’s World Book Night 2021 campaign, bringing the nation together to celebrate the power of books and reading on Friday 23rd April. This year marks the campaign’s 10th anniversary, and it feels more important than ever to celebrate the power of reading to inspire, entertain and challenge. We all could do with some light relief from reality which is why this year’s theme “Books to Make You Smile” is so perfect. It’s great to have the support of Specsavers on this vital campaign, who have teamed up with The Reading Agency as they pursue their mission to improve lives through reading."

Karen Napier, CEO of The Reading Agency, said: “We’re hugely excited to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of World Book Night with such a fantastic array of events. Given the challenges of the past year, our theme feels particularly resonant, and we’re immensely grateful for the support from authors, publishers, bookshops and libraries to help spread the proven power of reading. We plan for this year’s World Book Night to be the biggest and best yet, and look forward to celebrating the Reading Hour with people across the country, ahead of what we’re sure will be a brilliant livestreamed event at The British Library – which is sure to make us all smile!”

As well as online activities, The Reading Agency has commissioned a new collection of short stories exclusively for World Book Night 2021, Stories to Make You Smile (published by Simon & Schuster). The commissioned book is edited by writer, former Costa Book Award judge and Quick Reads editor Fanny Blake, and featuring contributions from high-profile comedians and authors Richard Madeley, Jenny Éclair, Helen Lederer, Mark Watson, Eva Verde, Vaseem Khan and more.

Now available for pre-order in various formats, Stories to Make You Smile will be released on World Book Night, with 3,000 copies of the book being given out to customers through Specsavers competitions and giveaways, a free e-book version available to download on the day, and the audiobook narrated by Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, Notting Hill_), Adjoa Andoh (Bridgerton, Doctor Who_) and Samantha Bond (Downton Abbey, James Bond) available for pre-order now ahead of release on World Book Night.

Dame Mary Perkins, Co-founder of Specsavers, said: “Reading is such a popular past-time with so many people and is certainly a passion of mine. This year, more than ever, being able to escape with a good book has been a lifeline and having something to smile about, particularly during these challenging times, is essential. Which is why Specsavers is delighted to be working with The Reading Agency to help make that possible by bringing you, not only good vision, but Stories to Make You Smile.”

On World Book Night, The Reading Agency will be giving away 100,000 books in various formats – twice as many as last year. The Reading Agency’s mission is to spread the joy of reading to those who don’t regularly read for pleasure or have access to books, by distributing books to organisations such as prisons, hospitals, food banks, youth centres, care homes and mental health groups. Organisations receiving books this year include UNISON, Citizens Advice, Women’s Aid, Sanctuary Housing, Home- Start and many more. With a focus on well-being and mental health, the 2021 WBN booklist features Pam Ayres, Stephen King, Jack Monroe, Nina Stibbe, Jane Fallon, gal-dem, Kit de Waal, and many more. In addition to the booklist, The Reading Agency and Canongate will be distributing 10,000 copies of The Midnight Library, by international best-selling author and mental health advocate Matt Haig, to 10 library authorities.

In addition to print books, The Reading Agency is giving away 6,000 free audiobooks, as part of their efforts to make reading available to the widest possible audience. This year’s audiobooks include Emma by Jane Austen, narrated by Tanya Reynolds, BBC Audio’s Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, narrated by David Tennant and Samantha Spiro and Shahroo Izadi’s The Kindness Method. Anyone can apply online to receive an exclusive download code for an audiobook of their choice.

Author Stephen King said: “I’m very pleased that Elevation has been chosen for World Book Night. It’s one of my favorites, probably because it suggests that good people can still bridge the divide between differing points of view and find a path to acceptance.”

Author Nina Stibbe said: “I am thrilled that Reasons To Be Cheerful has been chosen for World Book Night in its 10th year, 2021. I have long admired this wonderful project that celebrates books and finds new readers throughout our communities. This year, in particular, we have been reminded of the transformative power of reading and the difference books can make to our state of mind. Being part of World Book Night 2021 is one of my proudest moments.”

Author Jane Fallon said: “I’m delighted that Faking Friends has been selected for World Book Night. Reading is a lifeline, a lifesaver. Everyone should have access to books, whatever their circumstances. We all need escapism more than ever now.”

For World Book Night, The Reading Agency is planning a Bookshop.org partnership, with authors sharing their reading recommendations for World Book Night (and beyond) on the online platform supporting independent bookshops. Waterstones will also be partnering up with The Reading Agency, supporting the #ReadingHour on social media and offering prize giveaways.

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