Finding Our Way Back to Reading Joy: The 13th Annual #Bookaday Challenge by Donalyn Miller

How’s it going? A vast question often impossible to answer these days, I know. The pandemic lingers. The school year limps to an end. Teachers, caregivers, and kids are exhausted. In many families, the fear of COVID-19 remains because of their unvaccinated children or health-fragile family members. In Asian American communities, fear of racist harassment and abuse stoked by lies about the pandemic keep some families at home. The pandemic has affected the physical and mental health of countless people, too. Every family has experienced the pandemic and social strife of the past fifteen months in their own way and the effects will be far reaching. In spite of it all, I feel glimmers of hope in my community as spring rolls into summer. As vaccination rates rise, the weather warms, and government restrictions end, more communities will return to daily social interactions as people resume more public life. As we cautiously rediscover or deepen our joy in community, I hope we can share our pandemic stories and heal together.

Stories have the power to heal. I hope you have found and shared stories—movies, TV series, family discussions, bedtime stories, letters and emails, blog posts and essays, and books—that have entertained, soothed or inspired you this past year. Don and I watched all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, again, in preparation for WandaVision and Falcon and Winter Soldier. I watched series runs of Superstore and West Wing. I read Ed Yong’s coverage of the pandemic and added a lot of BIPOC scientists, artists, and political activists to my Twitter feed. Weekly conversations with our grandkids have forged stronger bonds. Grateful for the #quarantinebookclub my friend Jennifer started, I have rekindled some enjoyment for pleasure reading because I have other readers to chat with about books. When libraries, bookstores, schools and universities resume in-person events and programs, readers seeking social interactions with other readers will find more opportunities to connect. We are social creatures after all; we need to share our stories. 

Where have you found stories this year?

How is your reading life going? 

Last year in my summer #bookaday launch post, I wrote that I was struggling to allow myself the joy of reading. Talking with many readers during the past 15 months of the global COVID-19 pandemic, readers (adults and kids) have described a range of reading interests and motivation. Stuck at home without other forms of entertainment or enrichment—some people have read more than ever. Some parents and caregivers found more time to read with their kids. Many readers have shared that they still don’t have the attention span or cognitive energy to read for pleasure after spending much of the day on screens. According to the Lockdown Library Project’s survey of 860 American adults (2020), respondents reported spending more time reading during the summer of 2020, but did not read in greater volume. Folks were reading last year, but it took them longer to complete a book because of a lack of focus. 

In some communities, existing inequities in book access have worsened during the pandemic as school and public libraries necessarily closed, reduced services, or limited access to reading materials. Many of the librarians and schools I have worked with during the pandemic have focused extensive effort toward increasing and ensuring access to reading material, computer devices, and assistive technology for their patrons and students. It is impossible to motivate readers when they do not have anything interesting or accessible to read.

I am fascinated with readers, what motivates people to read, and the conditions that encourage reading engagement to grow. The alchemy of time, access, choice, community, and intrinsic motivation and confidence that fosters engaged and joyful reading develops differently for each reader. Factors such as emotional and physical stress, limited access to high-interest, relevant books, or lack of connections with other readers can influence readers’ ability and enthusiasm for reading. How has the pandemic shaped your reading life? How has it shaped the reading lives of your students and children? What can we learn about reading and readers during this challenging time that informs how we support readers in the future?

More than ever, I recognize that connections matter. The connections we make with the stories we read and the connections we find with other people, too. 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 the 2019 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. Folks posting book recommendations and sharing reading experiences using the #bookaday hashtag provide a network of readers to interact with if you wish.

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 Namina Forma’s The Gilded Ones or Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, you can balance it out with some picture books or early readers.
  • Any book in any format qualifies: picture books, nonfiction, professional development books, audio books, graphic novels, poetry anthologies, or fiction—children, young adult, or adult titles. No one can define your reading choices for you! Check out YALSA’s 2021 Best Audiobooks if you want to read with your ears and need some suggestions. 
  • 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. Titles or covers will do.
  • Connect with other readers and educators. Use the #bookaday hashtag to find other participants and exchange recommendations and resources. I “met” Colby Sharp on Twitter during the summer of 2011 because we were both participating in #bookaday. The Nerdy Book Club began because of this connection! 

Over the years, my personal #bookaday challenges have changed to meet my needs as a reader and teacher. #Bookaday began as a commitment to read every day, because my family’s reading had floundered during the hectic last months of school year. Every summer, I read a pile of children’s and young adult literature to share with my new students each fall. As a mom, #bookaday ensured that our daughters read or listened to audiobooks during summer vacation.

For the past four years on Facebook, I gave away books featuring the stories of historically-minoritized people—using the #bookaday hashtag to celebrate books and organize giveaways. Some years, I set specific reading goals within my personal #bookaday challenge such as reading more graphic novels or exclusively female and nonbinary authors. Looking at the professional journals piled on my office floor, I might read a journal article a day this summer to catch up!

If you don’t feel that 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. Suggest books to your local public library or volunteer to read with someone. One of the best ways to find our way back to reading joy is to share that joy along to another reader. 

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.”

I look forward to sharing stories with you this summer through the #bookaday posts, interacting online, or chatting in-person for a long overdue visit. Best wishes to all of you for a peaceful, joyous summer full of loved ones, some sunshine, and good books. 

*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 upper elementary and middle school English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas for almost two decades, and currently works as an independent literacy coach, consultant, and teacher & reader advocate. She is the author or co-author of several books about encouraging students to read, including The Book Whisperer, Reading in the Wild, and Game Changer!: Book Access for All Kids (co-written with Colby Sharp). Donalyn launched the annual Twitter summer reading initiative #bookaday and co-founded The Nerdy Book Club. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.