Is there anything better than curling up with a book by the fire on a chilly winter’s night?
Books are more than just sources of knowledge; they provide comfort, entertainment, life lessons and can transport us into whole new worlds.
With World Book Day landing on Thursday March 3 and Granite Noir taking place in Aberdeen this weekend, we thought it timely to celebrate how books are shaping the lives of people of all ages in the north and north-east today.
Traditionally, World Book Day is an event aimed at encouraging school-age children to read, with its mission for every child and young person to have a book of their own.
Uryside Primary School in Inverurie relishes the annual event, with its creative reading activities including The Masked Reader a big hit among pupils.
Yet, the benefits of books spread far beyond the classroom.
They can inspire people to open their own bookshops like Leakey’s Bookshop in Inverness, which has been a staple in the city for more than four decades.
They can bring people together through book clubs such as Saturday Slaughters in Shetland, who all share a love for the thrill of crime fiction.
And they can also encourage people to repurpose the value of books, like Charlotte Aitchison has done with her specially curated book-gifting service, Book Box by Charlotte.
Arguably the most enchanting bookshop in the north of Scotland is Leakey’s Bookshop.
Its owner, Charles Leakey, still has fond memories of founding his business back in 1979 and he says his passion for books is as strong as ever.
“I enjoy my work here as much as what I did when I started. It’s very good fun,” says Charles.
“I started in a tiny wee shop with just a single room in Grant’s Close just off the High Street.
“From day one it worked. But moving into this building on Church Street around 20 years ago was definitely a good move.
“Things have gone from strength to strength.”
Peering inside Leakey’s Bookshop is a Narnia-like experience. Walking through its doors reveals what Charles admits is “a bit of a spectacle”.
“Obviously I’m used to it, but I’m still constantly hearing gasps of amazement when people come through the door not having seen it before,” he says.
“But the crucial thing is what the shop contains – that’s what it’s all about.”
Stacked on seemingly endless shelves are books of all kinds. From fiction to fantasy and even rare Jane Austen discoveries, Charles feels that the printed book has held its own against digital alternatives like Amazon Kindles.
“The printed book has stood the test of time… it works,” says Charles.
“Books can be very attractive in terms of binding, paper and illustrations, which are all aspects that electronic devices don’t have.
“Ten years ago, people were wondering whether the printed book had had its day, but such views have been proven to be completely wrong. Books are doing fine.”
Adapting to online via internet sales – which Charles says have quadrupled over the course of the pandemic – has allowed Leakey’s Bookshop to thrive while still retaining its heritage and character.
For Charles, events like World Book Day are to be celebrated. But having a passion for books every day of the year is what he feels is even more important.
“I don’t usually celebrate World Book Day… I celebrate books every day,” says Charles.
“Literature illuminates life – it’s as simple as that.
“It’s essential that children learn to read books and devote time to it. They learn so much through them and they’re so enjoyable as well.
“Reading books is a very positive thing.”
Saturday Slaughters Book Group
Saturday Slaughters is a crime reading group based in Lerwick, Shetland.
Co-ordinated by librarian Marghie West, the group began in March 2015 in advance of the Shetland Noir Crime Writing Festival, which was held in November of that same year.
Since then, the dozen-member group continues to share its enthusiasm for crime fiction and meets at Shetland Library every second Saturday of the month.
“It’s almost seven years we’ve been together for now. People have been very faithful coming to the group,” says Marghie.
Marghie, originally from Philadelphia in the US, married a Shetlander and moved to the islands 16 years ago this year.
She laughs that many of the locals practice knapping (speaking in ‘proper English’ rather than local dialect) so that she can keep track of conversations, but being able to meet in-person again is something that the group is savouring.
“We went back to doing face-to-face meetings in September last year which everyone was delighted with,” says Marghie.
“Moving to Zoom during lockdown, there’s only one person able to speak at a time and you miss those nuances you get when you’re speaking in-person.
“Now, we’ve been having our latest meetings at a local community centre, which has a big room with high ceilings and windows so that people feel safe.”
Marghie adds that the pandemic has brought a new sense of value to the reading group.
“In a way, I feel like I sometimes lost my verbal ability during the pandemic with it being just me and my husband for so long,” says Marghie.
“I think the pandemic has made me realise that when I read on my own, I let books flow over me.
“Whereas with the group, I engage a bit more with the books, which is a good thing.”
Recent books that Saturday Slaughters have read include The Long Call by Ann Cleeves, who Marghie says has been a strong supporter of reading and the library in Shetland.
As well as World Book Day, Marghie mentions that World Book Night, held in April and targeted towards readers aged over 16, is something that Shetland Library has celebrated in the past.
“Events like these highlight books on a national and global scale,” says Marghie.
“They encourage people that maybe haven’t read anything since they were at school or are too busy with life in general to pick up a book again.
“They can also remind people that they really like reading and should make use of their local libraries.
“It’s good to encourage people that might not be thinking about reading to read.”
Book Box by Charlotte
Charlotte Aitchison is a primary school teacher at Kirkhill Primary School in Aberdeen.
She moved to Aberdeen from Edinburgh 10 years ago and felt inspired to start her own business, Book Box by Charlotte (@bookbox_bycharlotte), during the pandemic.
“I felt like there was a gap in the market for a gifting service that revolved around books and the pandemic gave me the boost to go for it,” says Charlotte.
Charlotte’s love of books stems from countless visits to her local library with her dad when she was young.
With Book Box by Charlotte, customers can order book gift boxes on a one-off or monthly subscription basis.
Drinks and handmade wax melts feature alongside a specially chosen book within Charlotte’s gift boxes, and holidays like Mother’s Day are particularly popular times for the service.
“Customers can either choose the book genre that they like or choose to have a total surprise,” says Charlotte.
“I do hand-delivery within Aberdeen and some areas of Aberdeenshire, as well as UK tracked postage.”
With other book-gifting services like Aberdeen’s Words With Wine enjoying success, Charlotte’s following the trend of a popular new way of consuming books.
But as well as this, Charlotte is passionate about encouraging children to read through events like World Book Day.
“We often do a World Book Day themed day at the school where I try and link everything back to books,” Charlotte explains.
“It could be through maths where I’ll run a book shop in the class that explores dealing with money. I’ve got a few children who don’t read so well and audiobooks are amazing for them.
“They’re still being immersed in the language and the vocabulary, but it’s in a way that’s more accessible for them.”
Charlotte also points out that World Book Day is a great opportunity for adults to model more inclusive reading cultures at home.
“Everyone’s so busy doing a million things at once. But people can take the time, even if it’s just for 10 minutes, to pick up a book,” says Charlotte.
“World Book Day is such a good way to get reading, but I do think it’s important to then keep that going throughout the year.
“I was really lucky that I had my dad who would take me to the library every week, but a lot of other kids don’t have the chance to do that.”
Uryside Primary School
Uryside Primary School is based in Inverurie. Deputy head teacher, Lyndsey McGunnigle, began working at the school more than three years ago and has lived in Inverurie for 15 years.
The pandemic made World Book Day plans a little trickier than usual for Uryside in 2021, but that didn’t stop them from preparing a wide range of fun activities for pupils and their families to get involved with.
“We’ve had a big push with reading over the last few years now, especially encouraging the enjoyment of reading and getting the kids involved with books,” says Lyndsey.
“We did a book treasure hunt and hid books around the local area for kids to find and keep. This worked great around the local community.
“There was also a book character hunt where some families managed to create amazing book characters in their gardens for people to discover.
“We just wanted that sense of community back with everyone being isolated for a while in their own houses.”
Another of Uryside’s World Book Day inspired activities was The Masked Reader, inspired by hit TV show The Masked Singer.
“Staff within our school used phone technology to apply a mask and altered voice to the reader,” Lyndsey explains.
“They read bits of their favourite books while also having the excitement of trying to figure out who it was. It was a firm favourite.”
As well as being beneficial for Uryside’s pupils, Lyndsey adds that the events the school prepared to celebrate World Book Day had an impact on families and staff as well.
“We put out some surveys afterwards and parents, staff and children found that they were all reading more and enjoyed sharing books with each other,” she says.
“Parents were able to identify benefits for their children and they enjoyed getting involved in the events that we’d planned.
“It was lovely to hear.”
Uryside is keen to make as much of a success with its planned events this year as it did last year.
The Masked Reader and book character hunt will return. But there will also be opportunities for classes to share stories with other school pupils across the globe.
“We’re looking to share stories abroad this year,” says Lyndsey.
“Each year group in the school has recorded a Scottish fable or folklore story and we are sharing that with a school in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, who will also be recording traditional stories from there and sharing them with us.”
Uryside Primary School shows how children can engage with books in ways that are fun, creative and enjoyable.
For Lyndsey, events like World Book Day are second to none.
“World Book Day reinvigorate people’s love for reading,” she says.
“It encourages children to read for enjoyment rather than for task. They’re reading for the love of it.
“It’s good fun and seeing the enjoyment and the buzz that the children get out of it is what it’s all about.”