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Celebrating World Book Day with the department’s key figures

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World Book Day is a worldwide celebration of books and reading. Around the country today, thousands of children have dressed as characters from their favourite stories to mark the day.

We know that just spending 10 minutes a day reading and sharing stories with children isn’t only a fun activity but can make a crucial difference to their learning and foster a lifelong love of reading.

This World Book Day, we explore the books that have shaped the lives of figures in the Department for Education.

Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education

I really enjoyed the Winnie the Pooh books as a child. The tales of Pooh and his friends are true, timeless classics. I loved the different characters and their amazing adventures. Reading them always reminded me of having fun with your mates.

My favourite books for children are any of the Paddington stories. The plucky, charming little bear always shows that kindness and a sense of fun are such important aspects of childhood.

My favourite book as an adult has been All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque a moving, vivid account of World War One and the sacrifice of all those involved in that terrible conflict. It is fundamentally a book about human endurance, even during the darkest hours of our history.

Nick Gibb, Minister for School Standards

As a 10-year-old, I enjoyed books that were part of a series. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken was such a book and part of a series of books set in the early 19th century but based on an alternative version of history in which the Hanoverians had failed to succeed the Stuarts to the throne in the eighteenth century.

As an adult my favourite book is probably the Pulitzer Prize winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, although John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is also a favourite.

My favourite literary character is Mr Pickwick from Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers. I adore Mr Pickwick, whose bumbling and naïve attempts at helping people lead him into so much trouble.

Vicky Ford, Minister for Children and Families

As a child I remember being so excited each time we managed to get one of the Laura Ingles Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series from the library.  There was something so gripping about the family moving across the unknown, creating new homes as they went, overcoming dangers on the way - wolves, panthers, blizzards and then the happiness of candies at Christmas.

My favourite book character as a child is Titty from Swallows and Amazons, the fearless able seaman of the Swallow. Maybe I resonated with her as a younger sister and middle child.

My favourite book as an adult is an old Dick Francis. When I am tired and need a rest, I cuddle up with one of them for a couple of hours of complete immersion!

My favourite character is the Horse from Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. He is full of such wisdom, kindness and friendship to inspire and comfort children at this difficult time.

During lockdown, my sister published her first book – The Book About Getting Older by Dr Lucy Pollock – I find that very inspiring.

Choosing one favourite book to read to children is a hard one as I have so many. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen; Hairy Maclary by Lynley Dodd; and Dr. Dog by Babette Cole are some of them.

If I had to choose one though, it would be Atticus the Storyteller by Lucy Coats. My eldest used to love folk lore and ancient history so we used to read it to him for hours as it is packed full of Greek Myths. He went on to graduate as an archaeologist, perhaps inspired by all that bedtime history!

Baroness Berridge, Minister for the School System and Minister for Women

I have a wonderful memory of a very happy summer reading Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men and Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott back-to-back. I was intrigued by the way that Beth was such a lynch pin amongst her friends despite being an introvert, and I loved her attitude towards life despite the challenges she faced.

When I was deciding what to do with my life, I read Donald Woods’ autobiography Asking for Trouble and it completely inspired me to enter the world of law. The complex legal aspects that he fought against in Apartheid South Africa were so interesting and it drew me to study and practise law. I even remember writing an essay on it for my GCSEs.

A book I keep going back to is Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It reminds me a lot of one of my closest friends from Nigeria and reading it is such a nostalgic experience as I haven’t seen her for so long.

Gillian Keegan, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills

As a child, I loved The Faraway Tree series. I was a huge fan of anything by Enid Blyton, but this story of children who find enchanted lands at the top of a tree in the forest was a favourite.

Nowadays, it has to be Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. A favourite book has to be one you would read time and time again, and my copy is very well thumbed. It's also where my favourite book character comes from, Lizzie Bennet. She's a great example of a woman who stands up for herself!

My husband read every word of Harry Potter to our boys, so I was let off that one, but I love reading the Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson to my nephew and doing all the voices of the characters.

Michelle Donelan, Minister for Universities

The What Katy Did books by Susan Coolidge were my favourite as a child. I loved reading about her journey including the strength she displayed after she had an awful accident.

My favourite books now tend to be quite factual, and I love autobiographies - perhaps I am just naturally fascinated by life journeys and how people reach their goals despite obstacles. Perseverance, hard work and faith are always at the heart of these stories.

Susan Acland-Hood, Permanent Secretary

As a child there were so many books that I would consider as my favourite – it is an impossible question for a voracious bookworm! If I had to pick one, I would say Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones. This fantasy novel tells the story of the Chant children who are orphaned after their parents die in a boating accident. Gwendolen and Eric are sent to live at Chrestomanci Castle where Gwendolen can further her magical training under the tutelage of the world's most powerful enchanter.

My favourite book character has to be Matilda because she is awesome!

As an adult I still love to read and asking me what my favourite book is an equally impossible question as the first. However, I love Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. The book follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again.

My favourite book character now is Death in the Terry Pratchett books. He is a parody of several other personifications of death.

I am inspired by books on a daily basis – when you read a good book, there is so much you take away from it and this stays with you pretty much every day!

If I am reading to children, my favourite book is The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas.

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