The 40 Book Challenge Revisited

Years ago, at a professional development workshop, Ellin Keene poked fun at the creator of the overwrought and overused “Text-to-Self, Text-to-Text, Text-to-World” reading strategy. If you’re laughing right now, you know that Ellin is one of the original architects of this strategy, which appears in her groundbreaking book (co-authored with Susan Zimmerman), Mosaic of Thought.

A few years back, a woman proudly announced to me at a workshop that she was, “doing her own version of the Daily 5, but she could only get in three of them.” I imagine Gail and Joan want to know which three. I should have asked, ladies, but I was at a loss for words.

It happens; the original thinking behind an instructional idea becomes lost when it’s passed along like a game of Telephone. You heard about it from a 60-minute conference session. Your teammate attended a book study and she gave you the highlight reel. The teacher down the hall is doing something innovative. You should try it. We’ve all seen the quick adoption of shiny, new ideas without a full picture of how these concepts fit into best practices (or don’t).

I’ve shared many ideas through my teaching and writing, and I stand by what I’ve put out into the world—but the one idea most demanding a revisit is my 40 Book Challenge, which appears in The Book Whisperer. In a nutshell, the 40 Book Challenge invites students to read 40 books across different genres during the school year.

I wonder sometimes if I failed to communicate the true intentions behind the 40 Book Challenge. Teachers email me or contact me on Facebook and Twitter about it every day. I have also seen a lot of what my dear friend, Teresa Bunner calls, “Book Whisperer Gone Bad” activities that actually undermine children’s development as independent readers instead of fostering it.

On Teachers-Pay-Teachers, I found worksheets, award certificates, rubrics, and posters using “The 40 Book Challenge.” While citing me as the source (shudder), the teacher who designed these materials offers incentives and creates competition between readers—the antithesis of my teaching philosophy and research about incentives tied to reading.

An unfamiliar parent emailed me to complain. She tracked me down on the Internet after asking her son’s teacher about the “outrageous requirement” that students read 40 books and complete 40 book reports this school year. Her son’s teacher said the assignment was based on my work, and this upset mom wanted me to know that I was hurting her son. I responded that while I expect my students to read 40 books, I don’t tie any assignments or grades to this expectation.

A close friend shared on Facebook that a teacher publicly humiliated his daughter because she “only” read 35 books this school year. The complexity or length of the books his daughter read weren’t considered. What she gained from these reading experiences didn’t matter, either.

Visiting a school last spring, a 4th grade teacher told me that she didn’t “allow” her students to “count” any books that were under 100 pages long. Walking the school library together, I asked the teacher to look at the biographies, traditional literature, and nonfiction texts available (and appropriate) for her 4th graders to read. After 20 minutes of searching, we found 12 biographies that met her stringent guidelines. It never occurred to her that she was limiting her students’ choices or access to books.

The 40 Book Challenge isn’t an assignment you can simply add to outdated, ineffective teaching practices. The Book Challenge rests on the foundation of a classroom reading community built on research-based practices for engaging children with reading. Assigning a 40 Book Challenge as a way to generate grades or push children into reading in order to compete with their classmates corrupts everything I have written and said about reading. The 40 Book Challenge is meant to expand students’ reading lives, not limit or define it.

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.

If Alex read two books in 4th grade and reads 22 in 5th grade, I am celebrating with him. What an accomplishment! Look how much Alex grew. He didn’t grow because he read more books. He grew because he had 22 successful reading experiences.

Conversely, when Hailey read 55 books in 4th grade, reading 40 books in 5th grade isn’t challenging her. Encouraging Hailey to read biographies and historical fiction, which she claims to detest, does more to stretch her than simply reading more books.

Honestly, I don’t care if all of my students read 40 books or not. What matters is that students stretch themselves as readers and increase their competence, confidence, and reading motivation through their daily participation in our reading community. The 40 Book Challenge works for my students and me and for the many teachers successfully implementing it because of these core beliefs:

Everybody reads here. Let’s get started. Our direct influence on students’ reading lives lasts 40 weeks—36 weeks of school and 4 weeks of school vacation. Setting high expectations (roughly a book a week) communicates that reading is ongoing and continues from the first day of school to the last—hopefully longer. Students should spend more time reading than they spend completing reading-related activities like worksheets, reading responses, and projects. Students who read the most will always outperform the students who don’t read much (Krashen, 2004).

*Strong readers have lots of reading experiences. You need to be a good all-around reader. Encouraging students to read widely—sampling books from every genre—improves their reading ability by expanding their reading experiences. If you spend every day working on your jump shot, you’ll improve your jump shot. To be a strong all-around player, you must practice passing, guarding, and dribbling, too. To be a strong reader, you must practice reading poetry, fiction, nonfiction, wordless books, graphic novels, blog posts—a little bit of everything.

*There’s the right book for you out there somewhere. Let’s find it. For many students, trying a lot of books helps them find the one type of text that excites them and invites them into reading. True preferences come from years of wide reading—trying books, having some false starts, discovering authors, genres, and writing styles that we enjoy. Students who haven’t read much may not have found the books that speak to them. Reading buffet-style—tasting all types of books—students can discover what the world of reading has to offer.

*Whether you read or not isn’t a choice, but what you read is YOUR choice. I don’t waste a lot of time at the beginning of the school year talking about why students might not like to read. Everybody reads here. Everybody is a reader. Whether you read or not is off the table, but what you read is your choice. Whatever you want. You pick. Providing students with choice in what they read increases their reading motivation and engagement (Gambrell, Coding, & Palmer, 1996; Worthy & McKool, 1996; Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000).

*Your reading life matters. Students’ personal reading goals have as much value as our academic goals. Classrooms exert tremendous influence on the development of students’ reading identities—whether it’s positive or negative. While students learn the skills of reading, they must develop a positive reading identity to remain readers (Serafini, 2013).

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.

I recently received a Facebook message and photos from Aliza Werner, a third grade teacher at Parkway Elementary School in Glendale, Wisconsin. Aliza and her students held a 40 Book Challenge last school year, and she wanted to share her students’ successes with me, “Through the challenge, we created an enormous sense of community that embraced comfort, security, growth, sharing, excitement, and organic learning and curiosity that I had never felt before in any class.”

alizas class photo Aliza’s 20 students read 1741 books last year and they all met or surpassed their academic reading goals. More important, these 9-year olds developed a bond with each other and with reading that will last long after 3rd grade. Recounting anecdote after anecdote about her students’ individual reading successes, Aliza told me, “I could go on and on, as I am so proud of each of them in their own way.” Looking through the photos of Aliza’s beaming students, this note from Kristen made me smile.

Kristens best year ever


It’s clear that Aliza and her students embraced the full intent of the 40 Book Challenge. Aliza says that her students are still chatting over the summer–sharing their reading. In a classroom culture where reading threads through every class day and every conversation—everyone grows as a reader and finds reading more interesting and personally meaningful. Every reader has value. Every reading experience has value. It doesn’t matter who ultimately crosses an arbitrary finish line.

How can we empower our students and help them grow? How can we make reading an exciting adventure? What do we want our students to remember about reading and our classroom community when they leave? The 40 Book Challenge kicks off a year of reading. That’s Day One. What about the rest of the year? Developing students’ positive reading identities and development as lifelong readers—these must remain our priorities every day, all year long.

129 responses to “The 40 Book Challenge Revisited

  1. So glad you posted this now. It’s an important reminder as we begin a new school year. I look forward to creating a community of readers in my classroom. Your books have been my inspiration! Thank you, Donalynn.

  2. Thank you for this much-needed clarification. Sometimes I think that when a number is attached to a good idea, a switch flips in many teachers’ minds suggesting that the counting is more important than the big idea.

    The actual number doesn’t matter that much. Neither do draconian methods of verifying the number.

    Philosopher Joseph Campbell used to say that when it comes to myth, focusing on the surface rather than the meaning is like going to a fine restaurant and eating the menu. In this case, the menu is “forty”; the meaning is wide, frequent reading.

    Sometimes the whisperer needs to raise her voice a bit. Thanks again for taking the time for this course correction.

    • Gary, Great point! I deemphasize the actual number with my kids, and they know that we celebrate their successes along the way. In the picture of my class above, you see some that didn’t make it to 40 books, but each one of them was proud to have read books and genres they had not yet experienced until 3rd grade. I also send home a note at the beginning of the year explaining the 40 Book Challenge, and I speak very directly about not worrying about the number, but focusing on the process, and forming habits to support lifelong reading and learning. Thanks for emphasizing this point!

      • Sage Randklev

        I would love to hear more about how you implemented this Aliza. I teach 3rd grade too. I am going to start this for the second semester. So much that I’m seeing on the web seems to fly in the face of the intent of this challenge. It would be so nice to hear what worked for you. Would you be willing to share your parent letter?

      • Hi Sage,
        Thanks for leaving a message! I’d love to share some of my experiences and how I implemented them. This reading challenge, and the general atmosphere of my classroom and community, has been revolutionized because of our reading and independent reading practices. Drop me an email at Would be happy to chat.

      • I too would love to see your parent letter if you are willing to share. Also — a question for all those who have implemented this in their classrooms, do you set any limitations on book levels for your students? I teach 6th grade and have teachers (and in the future – parents) asking about grade level reading guidelines and any other parameters that teachers may set during the challenge. Colleagues are worried that students/parents will choose to read books well below their grade level just to get to 40 books. We want to make sure that guidelines/requirements (if any) are very clear to both parents and students.

      • Bonnie, Thanks for asking and I saw your email! I’ll get you some answers there. To quickly address leveling, a life skill is to learn how to access books and to know how to select “just right” books for pleasure reading, and to use reading strategies to tackle more complex text. I do not level my books in my classroom library and encourage my students to find books that fit their abilities, interests, and wonderings. Typically, if a book is too challenging, students learn that fairly quickly in reading the book. During a reading conference, if I find they are struggling through a book because they can read the words, but do not comprehend the story, we will discuss abandoning that book, or having someone read it aloud to them instead if they are keen on accessing that book’s story. Lexile or any other reading levels are not infallible. They cannot measure down to the detail how a student will approach, engage with, or experience a text. By telling a student they may only pick books within a narrow range that they have the “ability to read” is closing them off from a world of books and sending the message that reading ALL the books is something they cannot, or are not allowed to, do. Interacting with my students through reading conferencing is a way to check in with my students to ensure that they are balancing their reading habits. After all, a picture book is not always “easy” and a chapter book is not always “challenging”. More in an email to come soon!

      • Would you be willing to share the letter you send home with parents explaining the challenge? Thanks!!

      • Hi Abby,
        Yes! Much like Donalyn, I’m happy to share my created documents. Please email me at and we can connect. Thanks!

  3. Wanted to tweet you, but would rather my question be a little less private private. Can you tell me, how would you handle an administrator who seems on board with the 40 books challenge, but wants weekly grades for “accountability”? My students were blogging about their books, which they enjoyed. Admin wanted a weekly grade for those blogs (ie… 0 if you didn’t read a book/blog this week). ARRRGGHHH! That completely undermines the point of the challenge!

    • Grading and accountability don’t mean the same thing. If your administrator doesn’t understand best practices in reading instruction or has at least read the section of Book Whisperer that described the challenge, I doubt he’s really “on board” with it. Output is a ridiculous term to apply to children. They’re not computers! Schools aren’t factories.

  4. As one who adopted your philosophy wholeheartedly, I am now in a situation where my new administration believes in rigor and that students must demonstrate that they have read with “output.” I don’t know what would motivate other teachers, but I know I will need to add more “work” to what students read. If I can the idea of student self-selected books, and setting goals for how many books to read, I will be lucky. Any advice?

    • The best way to add “work” to students’ reading is to increase your conversations and writing about reading. Conferring, sharing book recs, responding to what they read provide real insight. Add-on work doesn’t.

  5. Huzzah! A beautiful, smart, timely reminder. Am definitely sharing with many teachers (dear god, I hope my children’s teachers don’t think I was referring to them! 🙂 Have to admit I snort-laughed a little remembering that conversation!)

  6. How maddening it must be to have some people misunderstand the purpose of your challenge. There are enough competitions in our lives. Reading should not be one of them.

  7. Donalyn, this is a wonderful post. It always boils down to heart and common sense. Two things we seem to lose so easily these crazy days…and yet they are what we need the most.

  8. Have you ever had a student who you know faked their way through the entire challenge? Do you have kids who are motivated just to read more books than their peer and therefore, lie about what they have actually read? How do you handle that?

    • I confer with every student about what they’re reading on a weekly basis and we talk, write, and share books as a class every day. I don’t see how kids could possibly fake or lie all year.

  9. You are my hero! Just saying.

  10. THANK YOU SO MUCH! I have seen this done and hated by parents and students alike, It is something that can be a powerful way to explore genres, authors, and texts WITH your students, or it becomes an endless bore, it is all about the teacher’s attitude, and philosophy! This is so needed!

  11. mrscarlsonsblog

    Hi there! How do you see this transferring into a high school classroom? I only have them for 5 months and an hour a day. Last year, on ten months, I had some kids who didn’t meet the goals they set on their own of 5 books. This reading their own-selected material. So worried about these kids!

  12. Thanks for your feedback. I understand what you are saying, but I either provide the additional work or students will not be able to read independently during class time. That is what I have been told.

  13. mrscarlsonsblog

    How does this translate into a high school English class? Only have them for five months and an hour a day. Some of my boys sadly didn’t meet the goal of five books they had set for themselves (due to time tabling, I had them for all ten months). Reading material was all self-selected. Help!

    • If you’re looking for more information about increasing student reading engagement in high school, I suggest reading Penny Kittle’s outstanding book, Book Love and Kelly Gallagher’s book, Readicide. Both teachers are thought leaders in high school literacy instruction and have smart suggestions for fostering HS students’ reading (and writing) lives.

  14. What an inspiring way to start a school year!

  15. With only 15 days until the start of school and your gem of a book having just fallen into my hands, it is a mad dash to look at how I can align my curriculum to sit closer to what has always driven me as a teacher: how to instill a love of reading. The concept of 40 books makes sense to me and throwing out the use of whole-class novels, etc. to head toward genre specific requirements is easy enough. My question revolves around using concepts such as annotation, close reading, socratic seminars, etc. – how or CAN you use strategies such as those along with your teaching methods? I only have a 50 minute language arts block for my eighth graders and I am trying to figure out how to do it all.

    Thank you a million times for heeding my question and for assisting so many educators in the realignment of their philosophies with the actual occurings in the classroom.

    • While students need lots of independent reading experiences, they still need direct instruction and reading of shared texts, too. I think you can still use the instructional practices that you listed here. Be mindful not to commandeer all of your students’ independent reading for these practices, though. This independent, low-strings practice and students’ increased reading engagement will feed and improve your instructional reading activities.

  16. Thanks again for responding. This new administrator is not on board; the previous principal (who had been an English teacher) had us adopt the model, and it changed my teaching, and I saw all the things described in your book. You are right to pick up on the attitude toward kids that person has–we were told in a meeting that the students were our products. So I’m trying to figure out how to be an “underground” reading teacher who gets students to read a lot of self-selected books.

  17. In Chester County PA, we have the Reading Olympics, sponsored by our County IU. Very much like the Battle of the Books, a list of 45 books is published in May or June, for the event the following Spring. I am an Elem. Teacher/librarian so I take teams of fourth and fifth graders each year. I break the list into sections so that each student is responsible for only a portion of the reading. Students participating for the second year are waiting with anticipation for the next year’s list to come out, and start reading in June. The are NEVER obligated to read all 45 books, but because if the great quality of the books chosen, and their great experience from the year before, many choose to set a personal goal of reading the list. I always find the less pressure there is on kids to read, the more they want to. We should never “insist” that they reach a certain goal, but simply suggest. Rather than “punish” for not meeting the goal, we should always praise when the goal is met. I am quite grateful for the Reading Olympic experience and the opportunity it provides to set and reach personal reading goals! Kudos to the “40 book challenge model!”

  18. I love this post! It reminds me of all the fun we had as readers last year. I can’t wait for school to start!

  19. Your book The Book Whisperer was the first book I came across in the library when I decided I wanted to become a reading specialist. I think I read it in one sitting. I then read it again and I think 1 more time. I was sold. Now I work mainly with kindergarten classes. There are two “reading programs” that the kids can participate in. The first is reading decodable books. Familys are given decodable books. If the weekly decodable is read 5 times, the child gets a popsicle. Towards the end of the year there is this book reading challenge where if the kids read a certain number of books and write something about it they get to have lunch with an author. Don’t get me wrong, I love the have lunch with the author. I think all of the kids should have lunch with the author. It shouldn’t be a prize. I have voiced this for the past 4 years. I have also advocated for those kids who don’t do any “book reports” only to be told that it is their parent’s responsibility to make sure they are completed and if they aren’t that can’t be helped. This year there will be a new curriculum person. I will be sharing an office with her so there will be many conversations about the reading curriculum and I am thinking of gifting her The Book Whisper.
    I so believe that there is a way to incorporate your philosophy into the kindergarten classes.

  20. Donalyn, the sad thing about data people is that they only like data that agrees with them. Yes, I have shared some of the research, such as writings by Stephen Krashen as well as other articles from a range of sources. I have even shown him data about independent reading and performance on end of year tests (the most important data for him).
    I’m not trying to be selfish with your time, but I don’t think I am alone in having to deal with this kind of situation in this era of “accountability” and over-testing. I think some of us need a book about Faking Rigor, some way to let students read self-selected material and make it look rigorous.
    I have also a theory that people who themselves don’t read have a harder time grasping the idea that kids will read for the joy of reading; instead, the perspective seems to be kids will read if we make it for a grade and ask them to do work.
    Anyway, I’m saddened as I start this school year and worried that books on my bookshelves (over 1500 books currently) will sit there and gather dust because we have to keep ourselves busy doing worksheets and graphic organizers and interactive reading guides. 😦

    • Anyone who doesn’t think reading offers a rich, rigorous education doesn’t know a lot about reading! It’s not faking rigor. I’m sorry that your administrator is resistant to research evidence in this area.

  21. Could you call it the 40 Week Challenge instead? Having read Krashen’s and Gallagher’s work amd as one who works with struggling readers who have learned to hate reading due to their reading disabilities, I think a week challenge is less daunting that a numbered book challenge. Maybe you covered this and I’m sorry if I missed it. I haven’t read your book, yet.

  22. I am also saddened this year as our middle school reading is being cut down. We have three reading teachers and we are all asked to teach study skills the first marking period. In addition, the remaining three marking periods are divided for us by rotating classes of sixth and seventh graders. One of us will teach coding for the rest of the year, while the other two will teach either fiction or nonfiction. Therefore, I am giving the fiction section and will have each student for only five weeks total (on a every other day schedule of sixth and seventh graders). I am very sad about this because I am the only reading teacher that offers the 40 book challenge incorporated with the reader’s notebook. I do not force my students to read all forty books, but encourage them to broaden their horizons and make reading branches through their initial choices and interests that we share and discuss as a class. I do grade their letter portions. I feel this challenge has been a huge impact on building better readers in my building encouraging them to think about their choices and how they connect to them. The kids who were encouraged to read books out of their comfort zone were more likely to come into the library and chose others, even if they were discarding and chosing others. These are the same students who come back to the library and recommend books to other students in the following years. But, I really feel let down because I will not have the same students all year and will not be able to build this love of reading through the 40 book challenge. I agree with you. We should not force students to complete the challenge, because it defeats the purpose of building a lifelong reader. Thanks for your post.

    • Nicole, at least I’m not alone. I was setting up my library today, and part of me is wondering what’s the point. What part of this do you attribute to Common Core and the push for “rigor”?

      • No Stefan, you are not alone. I fear for my library too, and had similar thoughts as I was setting up! Kids do not have the time anymore to read for pleasure with all the common core demands. I felt a significant drop in books being checked-out last year. This year I fear it will be even more. Students feel overwhelmed, and now that reading is being cut down to almost nothing, students will not even have that small portion during class to read. I like being able to model good reading habits during this time, and help them to understand how it can be a part of their lifestyle. I feel it is such a disservice for the students, and many of our students really look forward to reading class (believe it or not), because it is a chance to make connections and have deeper discussions on situations and events that are close to them. I chose my books based on my student needs, and this in turn supports the library because they come back hungry for more!

    • I should have asked whereabouts you teach. I’m working in North Carolina.

  23. I love the idea of setting a goal like this to stretch our reading but not making it a competition. And your post makes me think of how many cool ideas I only learn about through a Tweet or other tiny excerpt. A great lesson in making sure to go to the source to really get to the heart of a great concept–especially before you mutate it, implement it, and give “credit” to the originator–yikes!

  24. Alexandra Meyer

    Excellent post at the most appropriate time. Thanks for making it so clear.

  25. So many school districts are mandating and shaming and rewarding… they’re losing sight of what’s really important. Thanks for conveying what really matters about this challenge in this post, Donalyn!

  26. This will be my fifth year implementing the 40 book challenge. Every one of my students has read more books in 5th grade than in past years. They value their time reading self-selected books. I have also implemented student led book chats using Steven Layne’s format. (They sign up when they are ready to share, no pressure.) My classroom library has grown to over 730 different titles, and I use BookSource’s Classroom Organizer to keep track of the titles. Students can easily see what books are available and check them out. They can even add a rating or review when they are finished. Donalyn, you along with Ellin Keene, Steven Layne, the Two Sisters, Jeff Anderson, Ralph Fletcher and Katie Wood Ray all inspire me as I continue my journey to inspire students to embrace text and (hopefully) become lifelong readers. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    I also embrace the “Golden Gate Bridge” model of conferring you shared in Northbrook when I asked how you manage conferring with all of your students without falling behind.

  27. I re-read your books this summer to prepare for this year. On Wed. this week sixth graders picked up their schedules and walked around the school. One of them entered my room and said, ” I heard we have to read 10 books.” I asked what he liked to read and he replied he didn’t like to read. I informed him he would be reading 40 books. He told me he couldn’t do it. I asked how many he had read last year and he told me “none.” I asked how many he thought he could read and he replied he didn’t know. My response was, “then this is the year we find you some books you will enjoy and see how many you can read.” I waited for the next negative reply and instead he said, “cool, okay”. It is all in how they perceived what they must do. They will not write book reviews, they will engage in authentic conversation. Thank you for such wonderful books that encourage teachers to teach reading the proper way, so that kids will learn to love to read.

  28. I was “this” close to turning the 40 book challenge into a quantifiable assignment-based contest and then I saw this post. Thank you so much for reminding me why I started doing this challenge in the first place! I’ve been doing this for 4 years and I guess over time and hearing my colleagues talk about projects and reflections and reports I forgot about my foundation as a teacher which is to turn students into readers! Readers are the best people! Reading this post I was reminded about what I tell students and their parents when they get nervous about reading 40 books: you won’t go to 7th grade jail for not reading 40 books. I just want kids to read more than they have before, love the books they choose, and realize that reading as important as anything they’ll ever learn.

    I’m happy to say that with this post and after re-reading the chapter about the 40 book challenge in The Book Whisperer, my students are now out of danger. Thanks!

  29. Thank you Donalyn for reminding everyone that reading matters! I challenge my 5th and 6th grade students to read 30 books a year, as our class time together has gone from 80 minutes per day to 50, and I must also co-teach social studies in that time. However, my students are always told from the beginning that if you are pushing yourself to read more than you have in the past, or more challenging texts than you have in the past, or reading outside your comfort zone, then you are growing as readers, whether you make the 30 book goal or not. All my students who have participated since I started the challenge 3 years ago end the year surprised by how much and how widely they have read. Even the ones whose parents may be disappointed that they didn’t make the goal. I always celebrate their successes, no matter how small. When they leave me, they are usually disappointed by how little free choice reading time there is in the upper grades, because they VALUE being given that choice and the time to indulge in it.

    I wholeheartedly support your idea, and would recommend it to any ELA teacher. The one caveat being that they do it in the spirit in which you intended it.

  30. Bridget Carbonetti

    Thank you for this. This is just what I needed. I am entering into my first time teaching middle school, and I am in a new district. I’ve already felt pressure to, in my opinion, over-monitor my class’s independent reading. This just eased my worries. Thank you!

  31. Started the 40 Book Challenge for the first time with my new Gr. 5 class yesterday! My librarian has agreed to help me, too. My students are already quite excited about it. Looking forward to see how it all works out this year.

  32. Great post at the most appropriate time. Thank you for this..

  33. How can I ever thank you enough for sharing your philosophy on teaching reading? I read The Book Whisperer over the summer, and by the time I finished I could not wait for school to begin. Because I have always loved to read, I was shocked to discover how many children enter my sixth grade class and tell me they hate reading, or that they only read when they absolutely have to. In my ten years of teaching, I can think of only a handful of students whose attitude toward reading has improved as a result of my efforts.
    Before classes resumed, I expanded and reorganized my classroom library in anticipation of the great year of reading ahead. I implemented daily independent reading time within the first week. It was happening! Not all students were happy about it just yet, but every student was READING EVERY DAY!
    Then an administrator noticed this daily independent reading in my lesson plans. “How will you know students are actually reading? Limit independent reading to three days per week, and include written prompts as proof of reading.”
    My enthusiasm is slightly deflated at the moment, but I am not giving up that easily. I have already expressed to her my reasons and goals behind my lesson plans, and will now need to depend on the anticipated enthusiasm of my students as the year progresses.
    Everybody reads here.

    • Research supports daily reading. No research basis for 3 days a week. Conferring holds students accountable. Ask your administrator for the research basis for his/her suggestions.

  34. HI Donaylyn, I admit to being an upset parent of 8th grade twins being required to complete the 40 Book Challenge. I decided to read your book, “The Book Whisperer” before I complained. After every book my girls read, they need to write a specific Reading Log Formatted Response. And they are graded per a rubric. Yes, their responses to each book is graded! They must be “beautifully constructed with careful attention paid to detail and formatting throughout!” Yes, “Book Whisperer Gone Bad”! I wish they could just read and write letters to their teacher about their reading. They have to do 3 assessments, 10 response to literature every quarter on top of reading the books. Everything is graded, their assessments, their responses to the literature and even what genres they pick. I wish we could go back to your original intention for the 40 book challenge, it is a beautiful idea.

    • How can we support your children’s teacher with good advice about conducting the challenge in the spirit it was designed and intended?

      • Hi Donalyn, The twins are now going to be freshmen in high school. As they look back on the 40 book challenge, they are both so excited it is over. The writing became a chore. They enjoyed the reading, but writing for a grade every time they read was laborious and tedious. They did enjoy the new genres, but on the whole, I’m not sure it was a positive experience. They can now write a response to literature, they each wrote 40, so 80 total in our house last year, yikes!

      • I’m sorry that the 40 Book Challenge was implemented incorrectly in ways that diminished your children’s reading enjoyment.

    • Karen, I applaud you checking out the source and recognizing that this is definitely a case of idea gone wrong. Is it possible the teacher is required to do these types of assignments by her admin? If it’s coming from the teacher herself, maybe a link to this article would be a helpful refresher of what the 40 Book Challenge is intended to do. My class writes about their reading, but in the Reader’s Response section of their Reader’s Notebook. Responding to their reading during their reading (not always after) gives me a window into their understanding of the book and if they are self-monitoring to select “just right” books for their abilities. Good luck in helping to swing the teacher’s practices back to what’s best and research-based for your kids.

  35. Thank you – for your common sense approach to empowering students through reading.

    In library based ‘Active reading’ sessions for 11-13s We use book prompts to stimulate book talk – keeping simple records of progress -set book challenges so that students trial various genres & get out of their comfort zone couches.
    Once they understand that we are interested in what they read & can be expected to ‘book talk’ – we can spend 75% of that lesson ‘just reading’

    Having read your article – I may ease up on record keeping & spend 95% of their time reading.

  36. I, too, was eager to encourage my 46 middle school boys to read and read and read. We didn’t set a specific number as a goal. Instead, they read and keep track of the title, author, genre. So far, this year, they have read over 2500 books! I’m so proud of their effort. It warms my heart to overhear students discussing which books to read next. And, I don’t have words for the feelings I get when I have parents hug me and say, “My kid is reading!” Thank you, Ms. Miller, for the inspiration.

  37. Came across your post at the perfect time. I’m a new teacher-librarian who was required to participate in a district-wide Battle of the Books and the only result I’ve seen so far is depressed and embarrassed students who can’t answer explicit recall questions about books they read months ago. Self-selection doesn’t exist, the reading experience is completely inauthentic, and depth of knowledge/true comprehension is not required to perform well. The research you reference is precisely what I need to share with my principal and TL community so we can rethink how we create lifelong readers and learners. Thanks, Donalyn!

  38. I have a question? When I choose a class read aloud I like to let my students read along? For example, Number The Stars. Each student follows along…What are your thoughts?

    • You know your students best. Do they all seem to be enjoying and comprehending the book?

    • It depends on your purpose for reading. If I choose a novel to read aloud for 10 minutes at the end of the day, my purposes are enjoyment, exposure, and community. I encourage my students to acquire a copy if they want to follow along or read ahead (without spoiling anything for others!). Some choose to do this, and others choose to just listen to me reading aloud. They enjoy that time to use their imaginations as I read, and prefer to experience the text as auditory, rather than printed. It’s all about student preference and choice in this instance.

  39. Aimee Beisner

    I am really excited to implement the 40 Book Challenge, but I need some advice. I strongly believe in the teacher-selected read-aloud to also build classroom community. What is the best way to incorporate daily SSR (the 40 Book Challenge), a class novel, and a teacher read aloud. I want to give my students many reading avenues, but having three books going on at the same time seems like it will be too overwhelming for my 8th graders…. A little background info… I teach English and Reading for two class periods in a row, so I do see them for 90 minutes every day. What is your advice?

  40. Thank you! It’s nice to begin the new year with a clear focus. I want my students to love reading and find something that pulls them into the story and excites them as readers.

  41. Excellent article. I once read an article titled: When Bad Things Happen to Good Ideas. Great reminder to share with colleagues.

  42. Donalyn, thank you for writing this very timely post. I love the 40 Book Challenge and am heading into my 3rd year of implementing it with my 5th graders. This year my class read over 1700 books together, and we celebrated our reading accomplishments as a class. Most kids went way over 40 books, and a few came up shy of 40, but ALL kids talked about their personal growth as readers. We had wonderful community bonding throughout the year as a result of the 40 book work.I have a large classroom library and I pretty much let kids choose what they want to read, although I offer guidance. We also look at book trailers, recommendations from classmates, and others. I have students track their reading on a simple spreadsheet in googledocs, and they write me a weekly letter about the latest book they are reading (also via googledocs). What was most rewarding this year was how many of them, without prompting, started reflecting on their own reading habits and growth. I love your books, and your passion for reading. I hate when good ideas are turned bad by people who really do not understand and I think it is so important to help them understand why independent reading is so important. Thanks for your

  43. This is so intriguing to me. I have felt this way for decades, but it’s hard to buck the system. One question – if you are challenging these students to read a certain number, they are keeping a list of the books they’ve read, right? And if you are challenging them to read different genres, are they keeping track of that as well?

  44. I loved your post. There really are so many worksheets and incentives out there that people have created, which I agree is not the point of the 40 book challenge. Your post really emphasized that it’s all about getting kids to love reading and learn that there are a variety of books out there to enjoy. One of my friends reads three or more books a week, while I am struggling to reach my 50 book goal for the year. We encourage each other and give suggestions for great books. Even though I don’t think I will make it to my 50 book goal, I feel proud of myself for reading more this year. I want my students to feel proud too, whether they meet their 40 book challenge or not. I will be teaching grade 2 and 3 this fall and can’t wait to do the 40 book challenge with them. I think that I might have to adapt the genre list numbers for them, as some like biography have been challenging to find at their level. I won’t let them count our read alouds, but I think I will let them count their books that they read with someone during centres as long as both students are reading parts of the book. I am so thankful for The Book Whisper and Reading in the Wild for inspiring my fellow teachers and I to challenge our kids to read more and create communities of readers.

  45. Reblogged this on From Branch to Branch and commented:
    I wholeheartedly agree with all of this. Angela Watson offers a clear explanation of the research and ideas behind the 40 Book Challenge and explains the importance of implementing it appropriately. This could just as easily apply to any new system or strategy.

  46. I did not really elaborate, but if the 40 was taken out maybe students would not feel as threatened about the challenge. Just a thought.

    • Research shows that children who develop strong reading skills and an orientation toward reading typically read 35-40 books a year.

  47. What do people (I’m especially interested in your opinion, Donalyn) think of tailoring the 40 book challenge by having kids set their own goals at the beginning of the year and maybe having a list of suggested goals?

    • You know your students best and I have invited students to set individual reading goals for the year. I encourage them to try at least two books from every genre, so they can develop wide-reading experiences.

  48. The first thing I do is get rid of taking AR tests. My students LOVE this. I tell them, they can take them if they want to, but that we are focusing more on reading for the love of reading. This will be my third year reading across the genres. I keep a reader’s notebook with the kids and read my books along with them. “Stealing time to read” is genius and key to the program working. They build their confidence throughout the year and I never discount their choices or say no to a book. They naturally start choosing books with more substance when they are ready. This program has changed my lives and the lives of my students. Thank you!

  49. The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy posted this on Facebook today and after reading this post I wanted to scream “YES” from the top of my roof. I’m a pre-service student teacher and para-educator in middle school and I’m baffled in handling a 25 book challenge in my current work. See, it is tied to book reports or quizzes and due dates for each one. Kids are demoralized and instead of learning to love reading are learning to loathe reading. Rather than building a reading community, they are tossing their book reports and quizzes into a void only seen by their teachers. I would love to see such a challenge turned from yet another year long assignment into the chance to develop a reading community in the classroom and school-wide. Do away with due dates and book reports – encourage students to share books they liked or didn’t like with classmates, have literature circles based on the same book or the same genre, have students write book reviews to post in the classroom or on the hallway way – find some way to make the challenge about establishing personal reading goals and finding the joy in the reading process. Teach students how to choose books, expand their readership and become an engaged member in not only their own life-long literacy, but also as part of a community of readers. THANK YOU!

    • stefananders323323

      I found that the 40 (or 25) book challenge, or a workshop model requires a different way of thinking about teaching reading. Instead of skill based, it is meaning based. There is a level of student choice that many teachers, and even more administrators fear.

  50. Hi Donalyn,
    I just finished reading the Book Whisperer. I’m a parent, not a teacher, and I was wondering if I could get your help in implementing you ideas at home. I have a third grader who is a very reluctant, ehm, I mean developing reader. I read to my kids two or three times every day, we have a house full of books, my husband and I are constantly reading, and my kids love to look at (but not read!) books–but despite that, my 3rd grader (boy) is not at all motivated to read on his own. I make him read every day (and it’s always his own choice of books) but he still moans and groans about it and I always get the how many pages, or how many minutes question. I would be so thrilled to get some ideas from you!!!

    Thanks so much for this incredibly inspiring book!

    • The strategies that encourage children to read at school are relevant to a home setting: access to books, time to read, choice in reading material, reading role models, opportunities to talk about what you read. Read alouds are still beneficial throughout the school age years. Perhaps, your son would enjoy reading a book together. You could take turns reading aloud a book he chooses, or get two copies of a book and hold a little book club. Don’t negotiate minutes or pages with him, which reinforces that reading is an onerous task.

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