The Genre Reading Challenge

It has been several years since our library was reorganized by genre. Having books grouped together by genre has helped many readers browse our library shelves and discover new books based on their interests. Each November, we typically celebrate Picture Book Month by highlighting the picture book section and hosting a reading challenge. The challenge has ranged from having students read 1 picture book from each genre section to students setting their own goal and working toward that goal in November. Some past feedback from students and teachers was a hope for challenges that stretched beyond just the picture book section. Since the past year has put some barriers in place for book access, I thought it was a great time to introduce a new reading challenge and get students exploring all of our library genres throughout the whole year and rediscovering where sections are located.

For this year’s challenge, students choose between 3 challenges: picture books, chapter books, and informational books. They receive a bookmark for their challenge that has pictures of each genre section. This picture matches the signs and labels in each area of the library. As students read a book from each section, they get a sticker on their bookmark. When the bookmark is full, that part of the challenge is finished and they can move on to a 2nd or 3rd challenge. Students read at their own pace. There is no deadline to finish.

The bookmarks were created in Canva. Educators can sign up for free access to Canva. I’ll be honest. I’m terrible at graphic design. I’m also not that great at using Canva, but they have added so many tools that make it easier to use. Canva has templates for so many types of projects, including bookmarks. You can print the bookmarks just as they are, or you can choose a template and make some edits. I ordered the bookmarks online rather than dealing with printing and cutting them myself.

I’m not a huge fan of prizes for reading, but I gathered some feedback from students about what some good “rewards” could be for finishing the challenge. We tried to keep things connected to reading, and we might make some adjustments as we go. For now, if students complete one challenge they get a shout out on our morning news show and a choice of bookmark. For completing 2 challenges, students get another shout out and a “Barrow Reads” backpack clip that was made on our 3D printer. The backpack clip was designed in Tinkercad by me with some input from students. Students also get their name entered into a drawing for several prize packs of books. For completing all 3 challenges, students get one more shout out and get entered into a drawing for an autographed book.

I introduced the challenge to the whole school on our morning news show.

Right now students are mostly coming as a class for lessons and checkout so I’m explaining the challenge again and letting students pick their first bookmark if they want to start. Grades 2-5 are starting with any challenge they want. K/1st are starting with picture books or informational books. As students check out their books, me or the teacher help them get their name on their bookmark and add stickers for the books they are checking out. When they return to the library, they have to bring their bookmark back to get their next stickers. The trickiest part of this challenge is going to be keeping up with that bookmark. I can look back a student’s history if they lose the bookmark, but hopefully that won’t happen too much.

When students finish a bookmark, they fill out a quick Google form that can be reached on an iPad through a QR code. This will help me keep track of who has finished 1, 2, or all 3 challenges so I can track any shout outs or other rewards.

What has happened so far this week?

  1. Most students who have visited have been excited to start the challenge.
  2. I’ve seen that students are confused about the difference between picture books, chapter books, and informational. Also there has been confusion about sections that have the same name in each of those areas. It has been a chance for me to clarify misunderstandings and also think about changes I could potentially make to sections.
  3. Students have discovered sections that they didn’t realize existed. This has helped me see sections I might need to teach more about.
  4. Books that haven’t been checked out in a long time are getting checked out.
  5. Some students aren’t interested in the challenge. They want to read what they love the most from just a few sections. That is ok because this challenge is a choice and not a requirement.
  6. Some students have been frustrated that they can’t do all 3 challenges at the same time. I’m thinking more about this.

As I’ve been sharing the challenge with students, we’ve talked about stretching ourselves as readers to try new things. I remind students that they can still get books from their favorite sections while also doing the challenge. The main purpose is to try sections you may not visit often in order to see if you find a new favorite book, author, or genre. I never want to discourage kids from reading what they love.

It has only been a week, so we’ll see where the challenge takes us.

World Read Aloud Day Blogging Challenge #3: Snapshot of My Reading Life

World-Read-Aloud-Day-2014For the next 3 weeks, I’m participating in the World Read Aloud Day blogging challenge.  Each week, I will respond to a question along with many other bloggers participating in this global celebration of reading aloud.  Our students, teachers, and families will also be involved with these questions each week as I invite them to respond through Flipgrids, Thinglinks, and more.

For week 3, I’m asking students, teachers, and families to take pictures of their reading lives.  They will send these photos to our Flickr account via email.  Those photos will appear in the Flickr stream on our blog,

but I’ll also use them to create a slideshow of our reading lives.

Here’s a little snapshot of my reading life.  It was hard to take just one picture, so I cheated and took a few!

My bookshelf

My bookshelf

This is my bookshelf in our living room at home.  Looks messy doesn’t it?  That’s because my kids are constantly putting things on it and pulling things off.  At the very top of the shelf you’ll find a few of my autographed books.  I have so many that I had to put some in a boxes.  Many more are sprinkled throughout the books on my son and daughter’s shelves.  You’ll find books by Kate DiCamillo, Barbara O’Connor, Patricia Polacco, Jerry Pinkney, Aaron Becker, and Carmen Deedy (just to name a few).  I love reading books aloud that have been signed by the author because I somehow feel a connection with the author knowing that their pen has actually touched the pages I’m reading.  The signatures and dedications also hold stories of their own.  When I hold an autographed book, I’m reminded of the story connected with meeting and hearing from that author.

Alora & DiCamillo

My daughter, Alora, with her autographed copy of Mercy Watson

About 4 years ago, I met Kate DiCamillo at the Decatur Book Festival.  My wife and I were expecting our first child in December of that year and we wanted to get a special book signed to her.  At the time no one knew the name that we had chosen for our daughter.  As I handed Kate DiCamillo a copy of Mercy Watson, I said Alora’s name to another person besides my wife for the very first time.  The name became very real at that point.  Kate DiCamillo stared at the name on the yellow post-it note and said, “Tell Alora what a beautiful name she has and welcome to the world.”  When Alora was reading this book the other day, she saw that her name was on the title page.  I shared the story of getting the book signed and what Kate DiCamillo said, and Alora said, “Wow!  Thank you!  That is so kind of her.”  I love how our reading lives are filled with wonderful stories, but that those wonderful stories lead us to memories and stories of our own.

Alora's bookshelf, age 4

Alora’s bookshelf, age 4

This is my daughter’s bookshelf.  It is filled with books about Disney princesses and Dora the Explorer, but it also has so much more.  I love that we can share these Disney favorites with one another, but that we can also sit down and read books together like Creepy Carrots, Epossumondas, and Mercy Watson.  Seeing stories come alive through her eyes makes me enjoy and appreciate them even more.  Most of my reading life is spent reading picture books to my kids or reading books to share with students at school.

Anderson's bookshelf (age 20 months)

Anderson’s bookshelf (age 20 months)

Books often make their way from Alora’s room to my son Anderson’s room and back.  Right now, I read with Anderson every night while my wife Denise reads with Alora or tells stories aloud.  Anderson loves nursery rhymes like Hey Diddle Diddle and Jack & Jill.  He also loves Goodnight Moon and Babies.  Any books that are short, repetitive, with lots of pictures are the ones he likes to read.  We often spend time reading the same book over and over each night until he moves on to something new.  He has also stretched me to tune up my singing voice because he loves books that are songs.  We are still reading/singing Little Drummer Boy, It’s a Small World, and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands several nights each week.

Our school library is filled with so many different kinds of books, and this is another very important part of my reading life.  It’s impossible for me to read every book on these shelves myself, but students bring these books to life for me in my own reading life by sharing what they are reading and enjoying.

shelving cart

A few books that our Barrow kids enjoyed!

I love that every day I spend time reading with someone whether it’s my own children or my children at school.

For more information on World Read Aloud Day visit 

To connect with other libraries and classrooms, visit our shared Google Doc.