Want a Reading Challenge?

My daughter just finished reading 12 chapter books in two weeks. That’s almost a book a day. Her third-grade class is participating in a 6-week reading challenge called Maud Hart Lovelace (MHL). She motivated me to take my own a reading challenge. I plan to read one book per week for the next month. Want to take the challenge with me?

The school’s goal is to encourage recreational reading, student responsibility, and time management. The students will read up to 17 selected books from the Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award list and participate in book discussions and other projects. As a parent volunteer, I get to lead 5 small-group discussions on Summer of Riley by Eve Bunting. It’s a lot like having a book group for little people.

In my first discussion I learned they know a lot more than we think—like when they told me the difference between dynamic and static characters. They identified William, the eleven-year-old boy whose Grandfather just died, as the protagonist. The other characters are his mom and dad who are divorced, his friend Grace, the neighbor Mrs. Peachwood, his new dog Riley, and the bully Ellis Porter. We all liked Grace’s big vocabulary.

While the time of year was obvious to them, further questions helped us discover the meaning for the title. We recalled this line, “Summer was almost over, too. In my mind I called it the summer of Riley because he had filled it up.”

Each wanted to describe where it’s set: a small town in Oregon and the house where William lives with his mom and Riley, next to Peachie and her horse. They each visualized the layout of the yard differently, but all mentioned the big empty hole that William and his grandfather had dug for a pond but never finished.

I asked, “What do you think that hole could represent? And what ends up happening with that hole at the end of the book?” What followed was a mesh of thoughts and expressions that sounded more excited and searching than many of the adult book groups I have attended. We were discussing real feelings and the emptiness of William’s heart.

Well, the story is really about the dog, Riley. He chases the neighbor’s horse, is taken away to the pound to be put to sleep, and William’s fight to save Riley. At first, the four students said it was just an OK book (not enough adventure or action). However, in the process of searching and finding answers I think they found its importance to them.

As for me, I am not a dog lover and avoid animal stories; yet, I liked it. I could relate to the conflict. First, the conflict is just between William and Peachie. But then, it grows so that most people in the town are taking sides and dividing the community. Aren’t we somewhat the same? Too often we polarize ourselves in the midst of discussing issues. Maybe we rush to judgment too quickly and then we are unwilling to cross the street and listen. But, that’s a topic for another post. . . .


  1. Minna
    Jan 13, 2008

    Hmmm…I might have to wait for the next challenge. I’ve got three books that I need to finish! I love the idea though.

  2. Liza
    Jan 14, 2008

    I love the idea of parents helping in the class room by leading a discussion group. How did you get involved?

  3. Rachel
    Jan 14, 2008

    I’m up for the challenge! I just started reading again (I go in spurts) and have finished 4 books since Christmas Eve! So, I’ve already got one started for this week.

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