It started as a great idea; new town, new library, let’s go explore! We went, we fawned (yes, fawned) over the incredible library and then we saw what I knew already would be there; The Summer Reading Challenge! Thea, my 5 year old, and the only one aware enough to notice it, saw it right away and began to ask questions. “What’s the robot for? How do I get a sticker? I want a bookmark!”
So I signed them all up, even the baby, thinking this would be great. No big deal, after all, we read a ton, a challenge and log will only cement that. With our library books in hand, our new brightly colored reading logs, we went home to start the epic summer reading challenge.
At first, it was no big deal. We read a book, I had our 4 booklets right there, and down they went onto the page. Thea would ask to read another because she wanted one more title in her book. Sure! I couldn’t believe how much we were reading. Then I started to forget, leaving the booklets in random places. I often forgot and then had to really think hard about what we were reading. It wasn’t that we weren’t reading, it was more that I didn’t carry a booklet with me when we did. I can’t find a pen half of the time. So although reading continued to surround us, I quickly noticed how much of a pain it was to write it down. Oh well, I figured this was the least I could do to keep a focus on readin g this summer.
Off we went to the library, proudly handing in our booklets and getting our prizes in return; stickers, baseball ticket, and even a temporary tattoo. More books came home with us and I couldn’t wait to just read them. Then, Thea started to ask me to read so she could win stuff. Yup. My ferocious book swallower didn’t care what I read to her, it could have been the back of a can for all that mattered, but she wanted to make sure she would get stuff when she went to the library next. When I asked her why it mattered, she innocently said, “Because I want to win!” with the look of a lion that’s about to devour its prey. Reading was not our chill out time anymore, it was our competition.
Then I got sick. And not just it’s a cold kind of sick, but flu sick, for 2 weeks. Yes, we read, barely, some days my throat couldn’t swallow so reading was more of a miming game. But we read because it’s what we do. Reading is what we have always done. Books go everywhere with us, books are the tapestry of our family, we recollect memories through books. We read until we fall asleep. Filling out a log was the furthest thing from my mind. After two weeks of being sick, I knew we had read, but what we had read and when we had done it; no clue. So I lied. I wrote in whatever titles I spotted in the living room, circled 15 minutes on every day. I was sure we had done it, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t pretend to read, but the details had completely escaped me.
Again we went to the library, completed booklets in hand, Thea ready to harvest her prizes. I handed the booklets to the librarians, sure that they would see through my deceit. Sure, that they would question why it was all written in the same color pen, why my initials looked the same every day. They didn’t, they meticulously checked each entry, then guided Thea toward the trinkets she had earned. I breathed a sigh of relief, we were done. Reading could go back to being about reading, not about winning.
I thought we were stronger than a reading challenge. That something like this would only enhance the experience we already have with our books, going against my own teacher voice. I thought we were better than this. That our reading would never be a chore, a competition, or something to lie about. I never thought that our joy for reading could be replaced with an eagerness to read simply for the act of writing a title down, not for the experience of the book itself. I was wrong, it was proven, and I ashamed. I should have known. I should have thought about it.
We are about to leave, Augustine wants a bottle and the twins need a nap. Then Then spots it; a shelf full of books with a pink poster. Win these! Do the Extra Reading Challenge! “Mama, what’s that?!” she exclaims eagerly pointing. “Nothing, honey, now let’s go find some books…”
I am a passionate teacher in Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.