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Young children, even tiny babies, enjoy stories and rhymes.

And research shows sharing books with babies and toddlers is a great way to help them learn about their world, while talking about the pictures helps children begin to talk.

That's why World Book Day, a celebration of books, authors, illustrators and, most importantly, the joy of reading, is such a fantastic event.

This year is World Book Day's 20th birthday and on March 2 children of all ages will come together to join in this special celebration.

It's a fun way to recognise the benefits of reading for pleasure and make the bookiest day of the year one to remember.

World Book Day is actually a small, independent charity, funded by sponsor National Book Tokens, publishers and booksellers.

The annual celebration, launched in the UK in 1997 in response to declining reading and writing standards among children, is a designated international event by UNESCO and marked in more than 100 countries worldwide.

Founder of World Book Day UK Baroness Gail Rebuck says: “In 1997 the level of children’s engagement with reading was at a point of national crisis. We wanted to do something to reposition reading and our message is the same today as it was then – that reading is fun, relevant, accessible, exciting, and has the power to transform lives."

Now that's a message I am very happy to endorse.

The main aim in the UK is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own.

That’s why the charity sends schools, that have registered to participate, a Book Token for every child which this year can be exchanged for one of 10 exclusive, new and completely free books from their local book shop. Or it can be used to get £1 off any book or audio book over £2.99 at participating book shops or book club.

In 2004 the charity extended the reach of the World Book Day initiative into the pre-school sector. Although it's now too late to register your setting, you can still download the free World Book Day 20th birthday resource pack for nurseries and pre-schools at

The pack is jam-packed with ideas, resources, games and tips to help your setting celebrate books and reading based on favourite books, brands, characters and authors.

World Book Day is also the perfect opportunity to fundraise for charities who put books into the hands of children who need them most. Last year schools and individuals across the UK raised £120,000 which Book Aid International used to send 60,000 books to African schools and libraries.

By far the most popular way to raise money is to invite children to come to your Early Years setting dressed as a character from their favourite exchange for a £1 donation.

Expect a deluge of Disney Princesses and comic book characters but, as Director of World Book Day Kirsten Grant says in The Telegraph online: "All children are interested in different things, we have to find something that makes them pick up a book. If it's a Disney book, or a Star Wars book, at least it's a book."