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.”
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.
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.
Thank you so much for starting up this community event during this time! I think it’s an amazing time to connect with readers, share our joy or reading, and to discuss what these books bring into our lives. I am very thankful for you being such a huge reading leader! I’m excited to begin #bookaday.
It is so good to hear that even the Book Whisperer is distracted from reading with all that is currently happening in our world. I thought it was just me. PHEW! I love this challenge for me…for my kids…and my students. I will pass it onto my scholars!
Love the #bookaday challenge! Great idea. Best of health to everyone.
I love the #bookaday challenge! I also have also been devouring online news and lacking the attention span to read for pleasure. This weekend we seem to be settling into our new normal so I will be challenging my own children to join me in the #bookaday challenge. Thanks Donalyn!
Thanks so much for posting this, Donalyn. I’ve been struggling to write–ironic and frustrating since, with no kids at home, no schools to visit or talks to prepare, I’ve never had so much time for it in my life. It can be hard to feel that writing–like reading–is the thing to be doing now. I appreciate your helping me remember how important and urgent both are for connection and community. xxx
This is exactly what we all need! Do you have the book a day info in Spanish? Are we allowed to share it with our school community?
Thanks for this beautiful post!
You may certainly share with your school community, but I don’t have a translated post in Spanish.
Thank you for this post. I have been experiencing the same “jumpy” feeling when I try to sit and read. I’ve been wondering what is wrong with me. This helps me feel a bit better. I’ll be teaching from home starting tomorrow and I have a huge stack of books next to me. Here’s hoping my heart and mind can quiet enough to reawaken the reader I normally am.
I have been struggling with the same thing Beth! I thought it was just me so I am so glad to find out I am not alone! I have nothing but time but absolutely no attention span for reading right now. I am working on slowing my mind down with shorter texts and articles until I can get my groove back!
I’m reading a book a day!
I’ve been an avid reader for absolute-ever, and now I find I need it more than ever before. I’m reading, mostly re-reading, a book a day during this unusual time. I have recently re-read Stephen King’s The Stand, which (even though I think it’s his best book) I do NOT recommend for the faint of heart right now. I have read lots of light-hearted books, also, like A Man Called Ove, and The Financial Lives of Poets. Books are still able to help and sustain me, for which I am so grateful!
I am struggling to sit down and read for the first time In can ever remember. It is so reassuring to know it is not just me! I hope we can all go back to enjoying our usual escape as soon as we get used to this new (and temporary) normal.
I needed to read this today! I have been spending so many hours with Steph creating resources to help. This reminded me to take some “me” time too! Thank you Donalyn! ❤️❤️😘❤️❤️
I have been “forcing” my grandchildren to listen to me read books while on FaceTime. They act as if they really don’t want to “read”.However at times when we reach our reading 📖 goal for the day they say “may as well Read another chapter grandma”. I have also been watching Mo Willems Lunch time doodles podcasts. (One of grandkids favorite authors)Although I don’t doodle with him his podcast is very informing and an escape from reality for a while. I also discuss the lessons with the grandkids. They email me the doodles they create while watching Mo.
Thank you for this. You put into words exactly what I’ve been feeling but couldn’t express! Looking forward to learning about what people are reading and finding new titles and old friends.
I love this idea. I’ve been having trouble sitting still to read or write. But I finally took Kwame Alexander’s book Swing off my shelf. What a delight!
Thank you for this! It really does explain how I feel- love this idea and can’t wait to start!
Publicizing this on our library’s web page and community Facebook pages.
I love what you said about the measure of a reading life. I think as a teacher, this is what I hope for all of my students to understand about themselves and their reading life!
I have been upset for not allowing myself to become absorbed in a book. It has felt like a giant flaw in my life. Thanks for the explanation. I wonder if my students have felt the same and hope a book challenge will help both me and them stay connected and return to reading. Great idea.
I’m glad you’re feeling like I do. I probably have 50+ books in my “to read” pile right now, and I’m struggling to find the attention span to do so. Then I get angry because I finally have the time to focus on them, but I can’t sustain the attention because of my anxiety and also teaching from home. I’m trying to keep whatever I’m reading on my bed and read a few chapters each night. I finished a great book last night that way. Thanks for sharing!
I went to one of your 2 day workshops several years ago when you were in Hawaii and I LOVED it. During these challenging times of distance learning, one of the constant and steady things for me and my kids has remained the read aloud. I have had difficulties connecting with my students for all of the same reasons all of you do. I miss my students and regret that I did not give them a proper goodbye when school ended for Spring Break (and ultimately, for the year) on March 13. When we began doing virtual school on Google Classroom, one of the first things I instituted was a daily read aloud and check in time. Even though I have only had a few students online at one time, it proved to be a comfort to me and to them. We read part of Inkheart until someone requested it (e-book) and The Black Pearl and now we are reading Able’s Island. I got to really show the kids how important the library is. Even though our library is closed, one can still order e-books and audio books and even get a library card online. I am definitely a book pusher. I am grateful for you who really cemented for me a love and a desire to read aloud in my classroom and during distance learning. It makes all the difference in connecting and exploring life and learning through literature. Thank you and take care.