Reading or Not, Here We Go: A Social Distancing #Bookaday Challenge by Donalyn Miller

“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps greater.”

—J.R.R. Tolkien


If you asked me three months ago what I would do if the world was cancelled and I was forced to stay at home, I would have said, “Read a ton of books!” I am the Book Whisperer, after all. Currently, I am reading too many newspapers and not enough happy endings. My vast experience reading dystopias isn’t helping me right now because this is how they all start.

Don and I recognize how privileged we are. We live in a suburban compound surrounded by books and canned goods. Our health is good and our kids are safe. Losing work isn’t ideal, but we support the need to stay at home and keep our communities safer. Cancelling travel arrangements and conference appearances, rescheduling coaching jobs, helping Sarah move back home from college, checking on my parents and older relatives. Just like you—we have spent the past ten days hurriedly transitioning to self-isolation. So here we are. Now what?

I have never had so much free time to read. Too bad I don’t have the requisite attention span or emotional energy to read much right now. Last week, I binge-watched all of the Daniel Craig Bond movies and managed to pay the phone bill. I’m calling a win.

Reading has been an escape for me since I learned how to read. No matter how anxious, lonely, or broken I feel—reading has always been there to comfort me. Right now, sitting still long enough to read more than a few pages makes me jumpy. I can tell that I haven’t been reading enough lately because I feel splintered a bit—a sure sign that I am too much in my head.

I’m struggling to allow myself the joy of reading.

Reading for hours seems self-indulgent when I should be problem-solving or helping others. With sudden school closures and restrictions on public spaces like libraries, many children have lost their book access overnight. I have been working with schools and families to identify needs and navigate obstacles to book and technology access at home. I have been working with educators to move professional development activities online. We are helping our grandchildren and daughters make the transition to home learning, too.

This combination—the need to be “productive” and my inability to focus means I haven’t read as much as I planned. Frustrated by my lack of reading enthusiasm last week, I read a lot of picture books and graphic novels. It worked to a degree. Dipping into something shorter with lots of visual interest often kick starts my reading momentum. Planning for this week, I have built a stack of poetry and novels in verse. I look forward to reading texts I rarely pack for travel because they are oversized, heavy, or too short to provide much reading material for a trip. Silver linings.

An extrovert who has always enjoyed the social aspects of reading, I know I read less when I don’t have other readers to talk with about books. Unable to work in schools or attend conferences, I miss interactions with kids and colleagues about books and reading. Talking with some friends this weekend, we started a Voxer book club. Everyone mentioned the need to talk with other readers right now. As one member said, “It feels almost normal to listen to you all talk about books.”

Every summer for over a decade, I have hosted a #bookaday challenge—a public commitment to read or share a book for every day of the long summer school break. If you are interested in the origins or evolution of #bookaday, check out this Nerdy post launching last summer’s challenge. Over the years, #bookaday has become a community of readers sharing and celebrating books. Whether you read a book every day or not doesn’t matter, really. The folks posting book recommendations and reading experiences using the #bookaday hashtag provide a network of readers to interact with if you wish.


#bookaday online


Asking folks on Twitter and Facebook last week, there’s interest in holding a Coronavirus social distancing #bookaday challenge, so that readers who miss talking with other readers can gather and share. Here are the “official” #bookaday guidelines:

  • You set your own start and end dates.
  • Read one book per day. This is an average, so if you take a week to read Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Virtue and Vengeance or Libba Bray’s The King of Crows (both fabulous on audio), you can balance it out with some picture books or early readers.
  • Any book in any format qualifies: picture books, nonfiction, professional books, audio books, graphic novels, poetry anthologies, or fiction—children, young adult, or adult titles.
  • Keep a list of the books you read and share them often via a social networking sites like Goodreads, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Use the #bookaday hashtag to find other participants and share your recommendations. Titles or covers will do.

If you don’t feel like reading a book a day is the right reading goal for you, share a book every day—read with a child or family member, give away a book to someone who needs it, or buy a book from an independent bookstore if you can. Support Asian and Asian-American authors and illustrators, who may be encountering increased xenophobia and racism in their communities due to the Coronavirus pandemic, by buying and sharing their books.

As I wrote in my 2019 summer #bookaday launch post, “Ultimately, the measure of a reading life isn’t how many books we read. We measure our reading lives in experiences, knowledge gained, the conversations and relationships we have with other readers, or the further reading, inquiry, or action our reading experiences spark. Beyond the reading itself, the #bookaday challenge is a community of enthusiastic readers who want to remember and celebrate what we love about reading in the first place.”

During this time of community upheaval and separation, we can still find and support each other. If you need other readers, #bookaday and Nerdy Book Club are here. I look forward to connecting with you, discovering some new books, and celebrating books and reading together.

I don’t know what your reading life needs right now, but I hope you find it. If your book access at home or children’s book access in your community have diminished or ceased during the shutdown, please list your needs in the comments. I know someone in the Nerdy Book Club community has resources to share. Happy reading! Be well.

*Thanks to author/illustrator Debbie Ohi for creating the #bookaday logo featured here and for creating and sharing free #bookaday resources on her website here.


Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas. She is the author or co-author of several books about encouraging students to read and creating successful reading communities at school and home including, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009), Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013), and Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids (Scholastic, 2018). Donalyn hosts the annual summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter @donalynbooks or Instagram @donalynm.