40 Book Challenge

One of the most formative books I've ever read comes from Donalyn Miller and is called, The Book Whisperer.  I can't get enough.  I've re-read it, highlighted it, and several years ago, I even had her SIGN it.

She is a gifted reading teacher and coach and is the reason we do the 40 Book Challenge.

Essentially, the challenge encourages students to read forty books across a variety of genres.  Donalyn maps it out in her book but I've also tweaked it to work with my students.

At the beginning of each year, I present the challenge (very theatrically, of course) of reading forty books in a single school year.  There are always a LOT of emotions, ranging from thrilled to complete hesitation.  That's okay.  I always watch and take mental notes.

I use THIS freebie to have students read through the challenge and we discuss the rules and expectations before signing.  They know they get ONE copy of this so they keep it very safe (I recommend they keep it in their unfinished work folder; I also typically copy it on neon paper so it stands out).

They can go in any order they choose and I just ask that it be a chapter book.  I am FINE with them re-reading something they've loved before.  We always see something new when we read a book again.  I'm also totally fine with graphic novels.  Those are books, too.

Once they finish a book in that genre, they can color in the circle and write the title (or not, depending on the form you use!).  Ideally, you are conferencing with your students to assess completion.  I use resources in HERE to help me stay on track with my quick 1:1 reading conferences.

But: Pump. The. Brakes.

We have to pause here because if readers don't have a foundational understanding of genres, then this will all be a very confusing and overwhelming experience.

These stay on a ring, right on my small group table.  You can grab them HERE.  Sorry for the lamination glare!
Enter in: GENRE.

After doing this year after year, I began developing things to help my students understand the different components of each genre.  Now, we take about two weeks at the beginning of each school year to literally teach each one.  

They glue these in their reading journals and build as we learn and discuss!  THESE are a great resource.
They practice, we discuss, we share, we talk.  We make anchor charts, posters, and discuss which books would fall where.  We cut apart Scholastic book club orders and classify them on tree maps and we work with our reading partners to discuss the genre of each book we currently have.

THESE help us a TON!

We just keep a stack of these cards in our book return cart.  The class librarians pick which books to display and pop a genre card in, which helps the class pick books they might be interested reading!
In fact, the mini cards in this resource get popped into the books on display in our library (a job run by our class librarians) so that there is constantly a visual.  It is SO important.

We even track the genre of the picture books we read during morning meeting.  I want my students deeply immersed in a rich world of literature so I take every opportunity to teach it.
We read picture books and graph the genre here, right up on our front white board.
Even with explicit teaching, they'll still need help and that's okay.  I'm always willing to chat books, even if it's outside our reading conference time.

Alright.  Back to the challenge.
You can find beads and the rings I use HERE.
Once a child reads through an entire genre, they bring me their paper.  I use a gold pen (to make it official, you know?) and sign my initials.  At this point, they may select a bead and add it to their ring.

So to clarify: they don't get a bead for every book.  They get a bead for completing a genre.  
An example of completed cards.  You have to decide what works best for you!
Some years, I have them complete a little summary on an index card.  I'll be totally transparent right now, too.  I have anywhere from 30-36 students.  It can be unbelievably and frustratingly hard to conference with every reader consistently.  Even if they're only quick check ins, it can be hard to fit it all in.  The cards CAN help.  I wrestle with it only because I want them reading to build their love of reading, without the dread of a "project," no matter how small.

I use THESE shower curtain rings and link them on our drawer handles.  We practice opening and closing them because the students run this on their own.  I attach their name and they pick a drawer to hook it onto.

There is no meaning behind the color of beads, but if you wanted to set one up, that'd be fun, too!

We celebrate all readers throughout this.  We celebrate when they've completed one book or when they've finished the entire challenge twice.  We celebrate by sharing our during morning meetings and we give hugs, high fives, and rounds of applause.  Just like learning and growing, we read at different paces and I consistently and heavily emphasize the importance of celebrating each accomplishment.

I had mine printed at Vista Print (I have two).  They've lasted years!
In fact, if they finish it (each year is different as far as how many complete it!), we celebrate this same way.  They don't "get" something.  I do go over to their house and night and leave this yard sign for them, which families and kids LOVE.  They bring it back to school a few days later.  If a child lives in an apartment or gated community, I call the family and work with them on a way to make it happen!

I print on neon paper and laminate.  I like to have a stack ready to go so readers can pick a color they like!
If they complete the challenge, they get to add one of these little tags to their ring, which is an honor.  They're in THIS freebie!

At the end of the year, I let them take home their beads home (I usually give them a piece of yarn or string to put them on) but I keep the shower curtain rings.  And of course, we celebrate a year well read!

To shop any of the items in this post, click HERE!


  1. This is AMAZING! I'm dying to do this in my class! :)

  2. Love this! I’m rereading The Book Whisperer right now. My school is getting rid of AR next year, and most teachers are so upset. I’m reviewing the concepts in TBW to encourage them that all will be ok. ��

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