Reading Challenges: Slice of Life #sol18 25/31

book stack

One of my favorite truths from Donalyn Miller’s wonderful book, Reading in the Wild, is that readers have plans. I love to make reading plans. I am constantly cooking up some new plan for myself. Sometimes, maybe even often, I spend more time making reading plans than I do actually reading. I’m not sure what Donalyn would say about a reader who gets more enthusiastic about making plans and collecting the books necessary to execute the plan than actually reading the books. Is that some kind of special reading dysfunction?

While I know it’s weird and not entirely productive, it’s also a source of great pleasure to me–discovering new books, seeing which of my libraries has them, requesting some from interlibrary loan, collecting them and organizing them into giant stacks, making plans to read them. And then sometimes, maybe, actually reading some of them.

As part of our study of how readers make plans, I asked the students in my Children’s Literature course to create a reading challenge for themselves. We used this helpful article from School Library Journal as the foundation for our exploration of reading challenges. I shared a few challenges from elementary and middle school teachers that I found online. Then I sent them off to do some searching and crafting of their own. They were welcome to join or modify an existing challenge, or be like me and create their own Frankenchallenge from bits and pieces of other challenges.

I invested/dedicated/lost/completely wasted (depending on your point of view) a delicious week or so of my reading life to crafting a reading challenge for myself and then researching books to slot into the different categories and then visiting libraries to collect books. I especially liked finding ways to slot in books I already had checked out from the library but hadn’t read yet or books I’d bought but not yet read. I also found a way to work in a couple of lingering reading challenges I never completed (like Elizabeth Bird’s Top 100 Children’s Novels. I only have 5 or 6 books left on that list, though I fear that the Frances Hodgson Burnett books are going to kill list completion for me. I have tried to read The Secret Garden about a hundred times and can’t make it past page 20. It totally counts if I’ve seen the movie, right??) I left some categories blank so that I could add more books later on.

And I even read a little bit! Martha Wells’s All Systems Red is a super fast-paced sci-fi novel about a rogue AI. I finished all three nominees I selected from the South Dakota Children’s Book Awards list. I’m nearly finished with the Schneider Family Award winners this year (always one of my favorite awards). Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess is a wonderful verse novel, and Silent Days Silent Dreams might just be my new favorite Allen Say picture book (though not an easy read). And I’m making good progress on the Golden Sower nominees (Nebraska state book award). I also started and abandoned two more books on the list so will need some new titles for the “first book in a new-to-you series” and “translated novel” categories.

If you’re the kind of person who stresses when you cook up a plan but don’t fully follow through on it, reading challenges might not be for you. The purpose of a reading challenge shouldn’t be to add stress to our reading lives. After all, what happens if you don’t finish a challenge you create for yourself? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. If your reading life takes you in a different direction, as mine surely will, that’s okay.

Do you join or create reading challenges for yourself? Do you encourage your students to create reading challenges? What books would you recommend to me for mine? (I especially need help with a new series and a retelling of a myth, fairy tale, or classic, but all recommendations are welcome.)

A first book in a new-to-you series Foundling (D.M. Cornish) (Abandoned)
A Newbery book that you haven’t read yet Piecing Me Together (Renee Watson)
A book published in the year you were born The Summer Book (Tove Janssen)
A memoir or autobiography by a children’s book writer or illustrator The House Baba Built (Ed Young)
A biography of a children’s book author Little Author in the Big Woods
A superhero novel Miles Morales (Jason Reynolds)
A translated novel Bronze and Sunflower (Cao Wenxuan) (Abandoned)
A book on NYT Children’s Lit bestseller list  
A book written as a series of letters  
A book written as a journal This Journal Belongs to Ratchet (Cavanaugh)
A retelling of a fairy tale, myth, or classic  
A short story collection Meet Cute
A book recommended by a stranger in library PS I Love You (Kasie West)
A book recommended by a student  
A true crime book The 57 Bus (Dasha Slater)
A horror book  
A mystery novel The Girl I Used to Be (April Henry)
A book from Top 100 Children’s Novels list  
A book you loved as a child  
A book from a country you’d like to visit  
A book from a country you want to learn more about Where the Streets Have No Name (Randa Abdel-Fattah)
A historical novel Ahimsa (Supriya Kelkar)
A book with a Muslim main character Saints & Misfits (Ali)
A book about Hinduism  
A book about Buddhism  
A diverse romance When Dimple Met Rishi
A book you borrowed or received as a gift  
A book in a series you already started Sweet Hereafter (Angela Johnson)
A book by an author on your 2017 top ten Patina (Jason Reynolds)
A book from each Prairie Book Award list Hoot Owl; What James Said; Hiawatha
A book from each Golden Sower list Madeline Finn; Wish; Scythe
A book from year you graduated high school Afternoon of the Elves or Winter Room
A book from an author you love  
A National Book Award Winner Far From the Tree (Robin Benway)
A book set in your state  
A Children’s Choice Award finalist/winner The Losers Club (Andrew Clements)
A book you recently abandoned Dear Martin (Nic Stone)
A Stonewall winner Little and Lion (Brandy Colbert)
Schneider Family Award winners 2018 Silent Days; Macy McMillan; You’re Welcome Universe
A Morris Award finalist or winner Starfish
An Alex Award winner 2018 All Systems Red



38 responses to “Reading Challenges: Slice of Life #sol18 25/31”

  1. persistenceandpedagogy Avatar

    I have never ever thought of a reading challenge and I LOVE IT. This might be just what I need to help my reluctant readers get going. I keep trying to think of ways to help them make reading their own… Also, I realized as I read that I absolutely do this for myself, I’ve just never formalized it. I’m going to get on that, read up and then see how I can fit this into my classroom. Somehow, I think this is going to be magic (the kind of magic that takes lots of planning and hard work, then starts slow and bumpy and possibly stalls until I think maybe I should give up, and then actually works in ways I didn’t anticipate despite all of my planning. You know, that kind of magic.) And you’ve hit my sweet spot in asking for recommendations. Here are a few to fit your challenge: A book written as a series of letters – Dear Mr. Henshaw (I’m betting you’ve read this, but I read it out loud to my own kids last year & they loved it); 84, Charing Cross Road (a book lovers dream); A retelling of a fairy tale- I just read Liesl Shurtliff’s Rump and found it very inventive, but Robin McKinley is one of my favourite authors and her Beauty is excellent (also, The Hero and the Crown won the Newbery years ago – it is SO GOOD.)

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’ve never done a challenge like this with my Children’s Lit students before, but I’ve also never had such dedicated and devoted readers. Usually we spend most of the semester just trying to build a consistent reading life, but these students are tearing through books. Have you read Donalyn Miller’s books? And Penny Kittle’s Book Love? My favorites, really, for independent reading. I do think it can be magic! I love your book suggestions–thank you!

  2. Ramona Avatar

    Love this! It makes me want to stop and work on my own, although I’d best get back to my already created MustReadin2018 list. I recently read Macy Macmillan too! It’s a new favorite, especially for someone who loves cookies as much as I do. Hmmm, maybe I need to create a challenge that includes reading books about cookies.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Oh yes, I have one of those #mustread lists too, LOL. Books about cookies sounds like a good challenge. I just reread Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons. So good!

  3. arjeha Avatar

    I really like this idea . It is a great way to expand what we read. Retelling of a myth – I would recommend anything by Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked. The Orphan X series by Gregg Hurwitz is one I am enjoying.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I almost never finish a challenge like this, but I do love discovering new books. ‘m going to have to check out Orphan X–so very different from the kind of book I usually read, but I discovered with my love for All Systems Red that I do like to venture outside the comfort zone and discover interests in different types of reading. Just requested from the library!

  4. Tamara Avatar

    For a retelling of a fairy tale, myth, or classic, if you haven’t read Adam Giwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm, you might want to check it out. This 3-book series is very popular with my upper elementary kids who want “edgy.” We do Donalyn’s 40-Book challenge. Students set the number of books they want to read per genre for about 10 different genres. Your list has sparked some ideas for new categories they might want to include.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      We do the 40 book challenge in my Adolescent Lit class as well. I started reading A Tale Dark & Grimm aloud to my son last year and he decided it was a little too edgy and grim for him. But I’ve been meaning to get back to it and finish because I thought it was quite good. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. Scott Day Avatar

    I don’t do challenges often. Usually, it’s an author’s style that attracts me, so currently reading Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor and The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson. I loved Okorafor’s Akata Witch (wondrous creatures, interesting characters, fascinating introduction to Nigerian culture of which I know nothing). I can’t get enough of Kij Johnson. Under-stated, character-driven stories. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe was my first Johnson book. Yesterday, I finished The Man Who Bridged the Mist (a little more than 40 pages, but it won the Hugo and Nebula awards). Very beautiful. As for fairy tale retellings, I love T. Kingfisher’s (aka Ursula Vernon) Bryony and Roses, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I make up the challenge–and then usually promptly forget about it, because I usually have other reasons for the ways that one book leads me to another. And serendipity–however achieved–is probably my most-prized quality in my reading life. I have never even HEARD of Kij Johnson, so off to remedy that right now AND request the other books you mention too… I’ve been wanting to read Akata Witch and just haven’t prioritized but moving it right up on the list. Unbelievably, my library has all of these books! Thank you.

      1. Scott Day Avatar

        You’re welcome. One more to add (which you’ve probably already read) to fulfill your Buddhism category: The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth. This is one of my many “keepers”.

  6. leemiller13 Avatar

    It is so funny that I didn’t know how – obsessive? – you are about such plans, and how much time you spend on them. I don’t know if you know how much time I spend doing the same (I also do the same with music). We do it a bit differently, though. I have several spreadsheets that I have worked on for years, and a more recent one of popular fiction across several different genres that I am just starting to slowly work through. Right now, that means du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” Patrick O’Brian’s “Master and Commander,” and Stoker’s “Dracula” (my second time…this time I’m listening to it…), not to mention Vygotsky’s “Thought and Language.” It’s a weird mix, but I like it.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Obsessive is a fine word for it. And equally obsessive with avoiding the list I just made and reading whatever whimsy suggests. I love it and I am not the least bit surprised that you have spreadsheets for these projects. I have managed to read Dracula, of course, but never Rebecca or Master & Commander, though both are–or were–on my shelves. I did a big book purge a few years back when I realized that my reading interests are now so different than they were in my late teens and early 20s when I bought so many books.

  7. ktsreadingblog Avatar

    I love this idea. This is a great way to get me out of my comfort zone. The middle school teacher in my school does a book challenge with “Golden Sower” books and the students love it. I need to make a challenge for myself as well as my class. This will be on my agenda!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      The Golden Sower books are great! I’m probably going to read more from the lists. I think they do a good job of compiling lists with truly appealing books.

  8. glenda funk Avatar
    glenda funk

    You should ask Donalyn that question about creating reading challenges. In terms of my own reading challenges, I set a numerical goal on Goodreads each year, but my reading life is pretty organic. The challenge I want to tackle this summer is finishing the 40+ books I started and didn’t finish for whatever reason. Otherwise I have a rotation: nonfiction, classic, YA, professional book. I’ve been participating in #APbkchat now called #thebookchat so await the next month’s announcement, which is The Poet X in April. Given the political climate, I’m reading a lot of books about politics, Russian Toulette and Fire and Fury are the last two, but I’ve also gravitated toward induction and minority literature the past couple years to honor voices of those often silenced and create more social justice spaces in my classroom.

    1. Trina Haase Avatar
      Trina Haase

      I am on Goodreads too!! We should find each other!

    2. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I have sometimes had numerical challenges too but had to abandon when I started getting too obsessive and struggling the last two weeks of the year because I had, say, 25 books still to go and I was determined to reach the goal. (And that’s what verse novels and graphic novels are apparently for–reaching unreasonable Goodreads goals!). I admire your system and the discipline of your rotation. I just follow my whims and often end up feeling rather unbalanced in my reading life. I just bought The Poet X and am very much looking forward to it.

  9. margaretsmn Avatar

    I’ve tried reading challenges and fail miserably. I should explore the reasons, but let’s just chalk it up to the don’t wants. Your list is so long. Good luck with it. I read Secret Garden aloud to a 4th grade class years ago. It took us a long time, but the memory of that time makes the book pretty high on my list of classics.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I have wondered if I should try listening to The Secret Garden on audio. Actually I think what I should do is skip the first few chapters and start ahead of where I’ve abandoned it so many times! If I get halfway through a list I create, I consider that a big success. I never mind not achieving one of these challenges. The fun for me is creating it and finding the books–oddly enough!

      1. margaretsmn Avatar

        I like your attitude. I listened to A Lightening Thief so I could get through it. Audio books count.

    2. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      So technically, I’m a failure too!

  10. Trina Haase Avatar
    Trina Haase

    The only reading challenge that I have ever done successfully is simply by number of books. I keep track on Goodreads. Since I started each year I have surpassed it…that’s a great feeling. By the way, you have an incredibly impressive list!

  11. Karen Avatar

    I love this idea, but not sure if it would always meet my own personal reading needs. I used to the the GoodReads challenge, but got too caught up in the number, and quit enjoying my reading a bit. My reading challenges come from my 2 book clubs – they both help me to read books I might not have otherwise read.
    I would love to hear more how it worked with your pre-service teachers setting challenges for themselves.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’ve had a numerical reading goal too and also found I got too caught up in it, so had to stop. I can imagine that you find plenty of challenge in your reading life with 2 book clubs!

  12. elsie Avatar

    I’ve never challenged myself as a reader. I just pick up what ever seems to interest me. Usually I’ve read about it on somebody’s blog. I loved Silent Days Silent Dreams too. What an interesting book Allen Say created. Have you read his book Drawing from Memory? I will think about challenging myself, but not yet. 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I have read Drawing from Memory, another book by him that I loved. I think just picking up whatever seems to interest you is an excellent way to invest in a meaningful and pleasurable reading life!

  13. Lisa Corbett Avatar

    I could get into this in an unhealthy way! 🙂 I try to let reading be a relaxed, stress-free part of my life.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      LOL, I know what you mean! Some years I cook up lots of challenges, but then I usually need to schedule a year with nothing so that I can get back to stress-free reading!

  14. bjdonaldson Avatar

    Wow, this is an extensive list. I am trying to work my way through the classics, or what I call the top 100 books to read before I die. I’ll have to add a few of your ideas to that list.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Oh wow, I have wanted very little reading of the classics since I finished my PhD. What have you especially enjoyed from your challenge?

  15. carwilc Avatar

    People like you and Mary Lee Hahn never cease to amaze me! You. NEVER. quit! I don’t think I have ever done a reading challenge (unless you count being a CYBILS judge). I have done the thing where I read through an entire author or an entire series, or become interested in a particular topic and read all of the books I can find about that topic. And I’ve done Donalyn’s BookADay challenge in the summer, but I have never created my own challenge. How long will it take you to read through the challenge you have created?

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I think being a CYBILS judge definitely counts! As would reading through an entire author, series, or focusing on a topic. I’m sure I won’t finish my challenge. I’ll probably putter around with it for another few weeks before forgetting all about it and moving on!

  16. My personal IEP – Persistence and Pedagogy Avatar

    […] a reading challenge (a la Elisabeth Ellington) and read loads of books of all kinds. Timeline: at least once per year, repeat regularly […]

  17. readingteachsu Avatar

    Reading seemed to be easier for me in the past. Now I’m tired at night and have a had time focusing. I did notice the challenge has pulled me away of useless reading and drawn me closer to meaningful books. I’m going to find a reading challenge. Perhaps that’s for April. I do make a summer book a day plan.

  18. Akilah Avatar

    Ah, this is perfect. You have the best ideas. I’m teaching creative writing in the fall and children’s lit in the spring, so I think I might challenge my students to come up with their own reading challenges. I LOVE THIS.

    1. Akilah Avatar

      Also, I think three attempts + the movie for Secret Garden counts. Life is too short to force ourselves through books we’re not into when they are SO MANY great books waiting to be read.

  19. […] am still working on my #MustReadin2018 reading challenge as well as the reading challenge I created with my Children’s Literature students, but that doesn’t mean there […]

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