As so many significant events in my life, it happened at the library. It all started with a stack of bookmarks printed with a list of middle grade books. My oldest daughter had just finished second grade, and had already cloistered herself in the world of high fantasy. The books on this list were varied in genre with a diverse cast of main characters and a disproportionate number of Newbery medals gracing their covers. The bookmarks were labeled “Global Reading Challenge,” so I challenged my daughter to read all ten before the summer was over.
I even read some of them myself. I discovered Lois Lowry, who was just getting started as a writer when I was the right age for her books, but whose Number the Stars made me reconsider what I wanted to do with my life. I read The Breadwinner, which gave me as much insight into life under the Taliban as The Kite Runner did, without the nightmares. I celebrated that my daughter had already been introduced to one of my favorite authors, Louise Erdrich, and that now we had the world of her stories in common.
Fast forward to fourth grade. My daughter came home from school and informed me that the books we had been reading every summer were not part of a summer reading challenge; they were the subject material for a city-wide competition put on by the Seattle Public Library. Fourth and fifth graders could compete.
She and her friends formed a team; they strategized who would read which of the ten books to ensure each book was covered by someone. On the day of the competition, the teams assembled in the gym with an audience of several younger classrooms and a team of judges from the library.
Her team lost. Someone had not read one of their assigned books, and the team couldn’t answer any of those questions. Everyone on the winning team had read all ten books. That day he learned something beyond what she had read in the books.
This year, she was determined not only to read all ten, but to reread as many as possible before the competition. Several of her teammates made the same commitment. The teams gave up their lunch recess to meet in the school library on Wednesdays for a month before the competition. They made up team names, checked in on how many books each person on their team had read, and tested themselves using the quiz format of the actual competition.
Her team still lost. They missed one question, while the winning team (the same one as last year) had a perfect score. They went on to win the semi-finals at the Central Library with another perfect score a few weeks later. They will compete in the Final round
Tuesday, March 24
Central Library, Microsoft Auditorium
The competition is open to the public and in my opinion is worth watching. At the very least, you might discover a few middle grade books you want to read.
Don’t sneer. I read all ten books, too. I was impressed by the librarians’ skill in making the selections. The list included literary fiction, a history book disguised as a choose-your-own-adventure story, stories with a focus on science, a book that integrated Spanish vocabulary, and one book entirely in verse. Local authors were well represented, as were authors and protagonists of color. Developmentally targeted themes of personal identity covered not only the discovery of protagonists’ individual talents but their place in the larger world by addressing immigration, displacement, and race.
I challenged my daughter to broaden her horizons by participating in the Global Reading Challenge, but I ended up expanding my own.
Get the list here.