wild readers: a new program that may or may not succeed

I remember when I read Abby’s post about Donalyn Miller’s book “Reading in the Wild.” I immediately went out and bought the book and consumed it in an alarmingly short amount of time. And then I told my coworkers. And then I bought it for my teacher sister-in-law. And then I talked about it incessantly.

I had big plans. I wanted to work with our Adult Services department and create a multi-generational program with the focus being on leisure reading. I wanted to throw a big all ages party where old people and young people and people in between would get together and just talk about books and share what they’re reading and make plans for what they were going to read next and I imagined awesomeness.

And then I remembered it’s somewhat challenging to work inter-departmentally in my library and I got wrapped up in my iPad obsession and we hired someone new and I tucked it away in my brain.

This fall, we begin the program on a much smaller scale. A K-3rd grade scale.

Here’s the plan:

When a child signs up for the program, they must be accompanied by a caregiver. The caregiver will sign a “pledge” (we’re still working on this part…something about allowing the child to carry a book with them pretty much wherever they go, allowing the child to choose the books they’re reading and stressing the focus is on leisure reading…) and the child gets a snazzy backpack:


and a Reading Passport (which I never in a million years could have done without Rebecca sharing her amazing SRP booklet. I know! I know! I already linked to it in my last post but seriously. Check it out. She was a lifesaver!) and off they go.



We have a variety of opportunities for them to read in the “wild”: while they’re waiting (to be picked up from school, at a restaurant, before a movie starts, during commercials), moving (car/train/bus/plane), fun places (think bathtub with pillows) and anywhere else they can think of. We’ve also left them places to write down books they want to read or things they want to remember about a book they’re reading. Once a month, starting in October, we’ll meet on a Saturday morning with the goal being to get them to talk about what they’re reading. We’ll show some book trailers, maybe read a chapter from a book, but it’s really about encouraging them to talk.

I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing when I approached the team during a department meeting about how it would work and I am so glad I talked to them a month out because there’s a whole bunch of things I didn’t consider:

1. What happens if a kid comes in and has 15 stamps and 5 brothers and sisters who also have 15 stamps and there is only one stamp and there are 5 people waiting for reference help in addition to the 6 kids who need their passports stamped? (That’s an extreme case, I’ll admit, but I am very concerned about added pressure to desk staff-me being one of them!-and I thought it was a good point.)

2. A staff member pointed out that this was a program that was geared toward kids who are already motivated to read which was definitely NOT my intention. Yes, those kids will sign up and I hope they do, but I’m really hoping to appeal to kids who just hadn’t thought about all of the places they could be reading. So…what can I do to appeal to them?

3. How can I make this measurable for my personal goals? I’ve included this program in my yearly goals and I thought it was ambitious to get 100 kids to sign up, but signing up is one thing…Do they turn in their passports? Do I keep a tally of how many repeat visits from each kid I get? And, again, how do I make this easy for front line staff to handle at the desk?

4. Is this a sacred cow I’ll end up having to slay in the future? Is it sustainable? Meaningful? Appropriate for the age?

I know typically people share successful programs and I am oh so grateful when they do, but I thought I’d share one that is brand spanking new and might just fail.

Please feel free to point out any potential pitfalls we may have overlooked. In fact, PLEASE POINT OUT ANY POTENTIAL PITFALLS WE MAY HAVE OVERLOOKED!




One thought on “wild readers: a new program that may or may not succeed

  1. I’m so excited to see how this program works for you! Thank you so much for putting this out there since I know how intimidating it is to share a big program with the fear that it’ll flop.

    I thought that I could give you my experience with the booklets (which may help you and your staff feel a bit better) and just my personal thoughts on the concerns that you bring up:

    1. We’re a very heavily Catholic community – so when you mention a family of five or six coming in and needing a bunch of stamps while others need other things? That happens (not as often as you’d think). And it really isn’t a big deal. The waiting patrons know what’s going on (if they don’t, then it’s a great opportunity to explain to them when it’s their turn), and I have yet to encounter an impatient/upset patron as a result of children needing their booklets stamped.

    It’s also a REALLY fun way to interact with the kids and chat informally about reading. At most we have one or two people covering the circ desk, this year only one official stamp, and we have 300-400 booklets in play during the summer. None of us feel like it’s “too much.” If it is? Then adjust next year.

    2. I’ll have to think more on this point. I was also surprised when you mentioned this as a potential issue. I think that this is a very good program to open the door to those reluctant readers since the focus isn’t on time or level of the book. The focus is making reading fun and something that can be done almost anywhere. And then there’s the chance that as more kids are seen reading out and about in your community, those reluctant readers may actually ask about the program and get involved once they realize that there’s no pressure.

    3. Without a final reading goal, this can be a bit tricky. What we do (again, a staff of four – myself included – where it’s rare for us all to be in at the same time) is that we have a sheet where our Children’s Librarian marks down the programs and attendance, and we mark down computer use, reference questions, etc. We add a spot for things like “SRP prizes” and then tally it. You could tally the “booklet stamps” just to see how many stamps you give out – OR you could just tally for each child who gets their passport stamped. I would opt for the number of stamps just so you could tell your superiors “children have read 1,345 different places in our community.” That sounds really cool.

    Tally marks shouldn’t be a stressful thing. It’s a slash on paper. I make sure and keep my team notified on the total numbers that they gather for us so that it has a concrete meaning versus it remaining just a slash on the paper. And it’s really fun to come in after a day off and have a staff member excitedly tell me that 15 kids picked up their grand prize yesterday (vs. a more abstract “a bunch of kids” which if they do say, then I run and look at the tally sheet and proudly announce the number).

    4. The fact that you’re asking these questions makes me feel like there’s no danger that you’re putting this cow on a pedestal. Keep track of pros/cons from both the public and your staff, and over time make adjustments to keep improving, or dump the thing if the cons outweigh everything else.

    And wow. I just thought of something really funny that I’ll have to create and send to you (only if it works). 😀

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