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International Literacy Day 2021

Exeter City of Literature marks International Literacy Day 2021

Exeter – along with other Cities of Literature around the world – is marking International Literacy Day 2021 by highlighting work to give families a “book prescription”.

Cities with the prestigious UNESCO status strive to improve literacy every day, in order to enhance life outcomes and wellbeing for their communities.

The free bibliotherapy programme in Exeter is for the benefit of low-income families who struggle with literacy and reading engagement. It was run in association with Susan Elderkin from The Novel Cure, with parents and children from Whipton Barton Junior School.

Bibliotherapy is a therapeutic approach that uses literature to help people better understand and cope with the world around them. Research has found that reading increases personal confidence, reduces social isolation, improves concentration, and increases self-awareness. Each family receives a ‘book prescription’ tailored to their individual reading levels, interests, and wellbeing needs and Exeter City of literature will provide three of the books from each family's list.

The theme of this year’s International Literacy Day – on Wednesday 8 September - is “Literacy for a better life: An invitation to think about an inclusive community”, and celebrations will be led by Bucheon Creative City of Literature in South Korea.

Nine Creative Cities of Literature, Bucheon, Dunedin, Exeter, Heidelberg, Kuhmo, Manchester, Nanjing, Odessa, and Ulyanovsk, have joined together to shine a light on International Literacy Day. Other activities range from telephone workshops to a rap video – and it is hoped the will reinforce the importance of reading and writing for healthy communities, and to leverage the power of words in offering unity and strength during these difficult times.

Anna Cohn Orchard, Director of Exeter City of Literature, said: “Literacy and reading for pleasure open up entire worlds for children and adults. Research has shown that reading fiction can reduce feelings of isolation, improve self-confidence, and reduce stress and we wanted to pass on those benefits to the residents of Exeter. The free bibliotherapy programme at Whipton Barton school encouraged parents to develop a stronger, more personal connection to reading, for their own benefit as well as the benefit of their children.”

Gary Read, Headmaster of Whipton Barton school, said: “Our families have really embraced bibliotherapy with Susan Elderkin, a bibliotherapist. Their discussions have led them to new books and in some cases, reignited an interest in reading.”

International Literacy Day occurs on 8 September each year and was first declared by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1966 to remind the international community of the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies, and the need for intensified efforts towards more literate societies. The issue of literacy is a key component of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Ensuring that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults achieve literacy and numeracy is one of the ten targets for SDG 4: Education.

Created in 2004, the UNESCO Creative Cities Network gathers 246 cities from over 80 UNESCO Member States that have positioned culture and creativity as strategic enablers for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the local level. The Network covers seven creative fields that are Crafts and Folk Art, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Media Arts, and Music. Thirty-nine UNESCO Creative Cities of Literature from 28 countries are currently members of the Network and collaborate actively and closely to promote the power of literature for sustainable and inclusive societies. 

For more information on the UCCN, please visit:

To learn more about the UNESCO Creative Cities of Literature Network:


What will the Creative Cities of Literature be doing on International Literacy Day 2021?


Bucheon (South Korea)

Lead city Bucheon highlights the work of the Bucheon Literacy Education Association. The teachers at fourteen district centres have reached out to seniors with difficulty accessing a digital platform by providing individual learning via telephone, since gathering in the classroom has not been possible. The online learning festival will show videos and interviews that share teachers’ and students’ experiences during the pandemic. This event will be held on 8 October (the day before Hanguel Proclamation Day) to celebrate the importance of literacy while remembering the invaluable work of the teachers.

Dunedin (New Zealand)

Dunedin Creative City of Literature has joined forces with poet and teacher Jenny Powell who will run literacy workshops for new entrant school children at local schools: the first day of this exciting programme being International Literacy Day 2021. Jenny’s workshop consolidates early reading experiences and will include oral language, performance and poetry-writing. Jenny has written works for all ages and her children’s poems have been published in New Zealand’s School Journal for many years. The combination of Jenny’s skills in literacy and creative writing is impressive and Dunedin is pleased to be able to offer this new programme for creative young minds to celebrate International Literacy Day 2021.


Heidelberg (Germany)

Non-profit organisation MENTOR supports the reading ability and literacy of school children aged 8 to 16 years: Mentors and students read age-appropriate texts together and talk about the experience, and play reading games, to awaken a desire to read more and tap into the imaginations and creativity of the children.


Kuhmo (Finland)

To celebrate International Literacy Day, Kuhmo Creative City of Literature will publish two YouTube videos: one a Kalevala-themed rap song, and the other an interview featuring the artist and translator behind the Juminkeko Center’s Kalevala-themed summer exhibition. Among their other works, the artist and her husband have translated the Finnish National Epos, the Kalevala, into Farsi. During the interview she speaks about what we modern day people could learn from the national epics, and why everybody should read them.


Manchester (UK)

Read Manchester is a partnership with Manchester City Council that engages local families with books and stories, and inspires them to make reading a priority in their everyday lives. With a focus on the area of Wythenshawe, Read Manchester works with children and young people as they reach each milestone in their education, helping to end the vicious cycle of illiteracy.


Nanjing (China)

Nanjing Creative City of Literature is celebrating the theme ‘Reading as the Seed for Kids’. Primary students, while enjoying their reading from 10 August until 30 September, choose their favourite parts from reading materials in any genre, make self-recordings, and submit their entries to a city-wide competition. Best Reciters selected by the panel will have their recordings shared via China’s largest podcasting platforms, Ximalaya and Qingting. With Nanjing Literature Center taking the lead, organisers of the Nanjing celebrations include Nanjing Publishing and Media Group, Nanjing Reading Promotion Association, Qinchun Bookshop and independent bookstores across the city.


Odessa (Ukraine)

Odessa Creative City of Literature is marking International Literacy Day with a series of events in 2021:

9/3: Presentation of the project ‘Odessa chronographs: Witnesses of history in the columns of Greek periodicals of the early twentieth century’ at Odessa National Scientific Library;
9/8: ‘From a clay tablet to a printed page: Cognitive feast’ at Branch Library № 25;
9/9: ‘Pocket book: A book exhibition dedicated to International Literacy Day’ at Branch Library № 28;
15/9: ‘Helpers in the world of literacy: Navigator to International Literacy Day’ at Branch Library № 35.


Ulyanovsk (Russia)

Ulyanovsk Creative City of Literature plans to hold twelve simultaneous online events in libraries dedicated to digital literacy. The online sessions will be organised by the libraries of the Ulyanovsk Centralized Library System and will include a mini-course on digital literacy; an introduction to electronic libraries; questionnaires; web travel; online conversations with children about safe internet and digital security; and reviews of digital library collections.

Date: 3 September 2021

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