Reading Challenges and Resolutions

Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


This post was first published on the School Library Journal and is reprinted with permission.

This time of year is ripe for resolutions. It’s a good time to resolve to read and, perhaps, to resolve to change things up a bit.

The new year may be the perfect time to invite your kids to read a little differently–to suggest they build personal challenges based on their own passions, as well as an array of prompts or intriguing options you might imagine together.

Challenge inspirations

I was recently inspired by Laura Sackton’s Book Riot post: 50 DIY Reading Challenges to Make 2018 the Best Year of Your Reading Life, as well as Emma Nichols’ collection of 2018 Bookish Resolutions. Both are chock full of clever ways to rid anyone of a reading rut. Both lists reach well beyond the typical genre challenge.

Here’s a taste of Laura Sackton’s first five ideas:

1. Make a list of ten identities that are important to you and/or influence the way you experience the world. Now read ten books by ten different authors who share one of those identities, and/or ten different books that center and explore those identities.

2. Make a list of ten identities (race, religion, sexuality, gender, nationality, etc.) that are not yours. Now read ten books, each written by an author who holds one of those identities.

3. Pick ten countries you have always wanted to visit. Read one book that takes place in each of those countries.

4. Is there a genre you’ve always wanted to try but just haven’t gotten around to? Maybe your best friend has been telling you to try fantasy since forever but you’ve always shrugged her off. Pick the genre that’s always scared/baffled/bored you and challenge yourself to find one book in that genre that you absolutely love.

5. Read a book published each year between your birth and now. Goodreads by decade shelves can help. 

BookRiot also gathers a wealth of #Must-Read lists, many would work well for high school. Goodreads offers Reading Challenge Groups, as well as Popular 2018 Reading Challenge Books, and, of course, oodles of lists to mine in Listopia–many of which are children’s and YA titles. Penguin Random House offers some fabulous lists in its series Challenge Your Shelf Reading Challenges. Last year Tanya Patrice of Girlxoxo gathered a Master List of 2017 Reading Challenges that will continue to spark a million ideas.

A Pinterest search reveals hundreds of possible reading challenges graphically. On Instagram, you might follow the #popsugerreadingchallenge.

Beyond personal reader’s advisory to personal research (or DIYRA):

Personal reading challenges might involve learners in more than simply setting goals and reading. What if we ensured the reading challenge experience also became a bit of a personal inquiry experience?

If you are planning to present a reading challenge or planning to have your kids create their own DIY challenges, give them a few tools. You may want to introduce resources that will feed them with reading inspiration well beyond the challenge.

In addition to your OPAC, these resources will help you and your students get started. Make them discoverable by listing those that work best on a library web page or a LibGuide or gather them on a curation platform.

Choose an appropriate handful of the following:

  • Curate a list or link to feeds of age-appropriate book bloggers and reviewers.
  • Amazon has so many lists of 100 Books to  . . .

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 11.23.39 AM

Keeping track of reading goals

You can encourage kiddos to keep track of their reading challenges in their notebooks. They could share their challenge progress in your OPAC or in a tool like Biblionasium or Epic! that offer incentives/badges. [But please read the warning below!]

Joy Millam shares a Piktochart example in her Reading Challenge: 25 Books in 12 Months and her Padlet the includes posters and a customizable tracking sheet for readers. And Naomi Bates shared a Young Adult Novel Reading Challenge and a handy Google Doc for copying and editing. The Modern Mrs. Darcy (@annebogel) recently launched her 2018 Reading Challenge complete with reproducibles.

Setting up a Hyperdoc introduction/index page that leads to Slides, Docs or Sheets may be a perfect strategy for Google Classroom schools. You might also have kids post their reads on sharing spaces like Padlet.

Challenges come in a variety of flavors

Over the course of the year, semester, or a particular month, etc., you might encourage kiddos to participate in challenges of a few sorts:

  • You might encourage them to choose to read 10 (or so) books of a certain genre or format or type and keep track of the titles list or digital shelf style.
  • You might set up a passport system where kids can creatively design the path or perhaps, work to complete a Bingo card on which they might record the one-ofs they read from their own selected or invented challenge prompts.
  • You might set up a collaborative whole-class or whole-school challenge. For instance, post or distribute maps of the states or countries of the world. Have kids collectively pin/ check-off books they’ve read that were either set in those places or by authors from those places. Try to avoid duplications!
  • Reading resolutions may be as simple as handwritten sticky notes shared on a wall or a board.

Here are just a few ideas challenge ideas to get the ball rolling:
(Fill in the number of titles or make them one-offs.)

  • Don’t see a book movie in the coming year before you read the book.
  • Read X different how-to books that challenge you to learn new skills
  • Read X books narrated by non-human characters (animals, robots, aliens, plants).
  • Read X books about social justice.
  • Read a book recommended by each of your immediate (extended?) family members or teachers.
  • Read X “unloved” books with particularly ugly covers.
  • Read X interactive or transmedia books
  • Read X graphic novels in multiple genres
  • Read X novels in verse.
  • Read X novels inspired by fairy tales
  • Read X picture books with naughty of spunky princesses.
  • Read X books that were on the best seller list the year you were born. (for high school)
  • For your favorite event in history (or historical figure), read a connected biography/autobiography, nonfiction title, a memoir, a novel, a play.

Keep it fun!

IMHO, challenges are consequence-free zones. It’s okay to read in any format and on any device. We don’t need to count pages. It’s okay to put the book, or the challenge itself down.

Reading challenges should be fun and joyful and competition-free.

Before you start a challenge, read Donalyn Miller’s post, The 40 Book Challenge Revisited. As one of her many research-based strategies to engage children with books, the year-long genre-tasting challenge was meant to expand students’ reading lives, not limit or define it.

Referring to the misinterpretation of this challenge she described in The Book Whisperer, Donalyn addresses why we should and how we should not present a reading challenge:

The 40 Book Challenge is a personal challenge for each student, not a contest or competition between students or classes. In every competition or contest there are winners and losers. Why would we communicate to our students that they are reading losers? For some students, reading 40 books is an impossible leap from where they start as readers, and for others, it’s not a challenge at all  . . . 

Your reading life matters. Students’ personal reading goals have as much value as our academic goals .  . .

Without these core beliefs in place, the 40 Book Challenge becomes another tedious reading assignment that drives kids away from reading. If students leave our classrooms hating to read or skate through without any positive reading experiences, we have failed. It doesn’t matter what they scored on the reading test. It doesn’t matter how many books they read if they stop reading when they leave our classrooms.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments