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This past week a fourth grade student asked me what book I am reading. She was shocked when I told her that I am in the middle of four books. “Why four?” she asked. 

I have one on my nightstand (Inside Jewish Day Schools). One in my den (The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership). One on my desk at school (The Ball). And I have been making my way through the Daf Yomi cycle of the Talmud (Thursday we began a new tractate, Nedarim).

Reading is a fundamental skill that we instill in our students. We challenge our students through the 40 Book Challenge, created by Donalyn Miller. Miller says “Children who read the most will always outperform children who don’t read much.”

Kindergartener Daniel reading to Henry

Research shows that a minimum of 20 minutes of daily independent reading has a tremendous impact on a child’s academic success. If a child reads 40 books over the course of a school year, they will have read an average of 20 minutes daily.

We have challenged our students and our entire staff to participate in the 40 Book Challenge this year. It is a personal challenge with the goal that students will self-select books that fall across all genres and to track the books and share with our classmates, our teachers, and our colleagues what we are reading.

This is not a contest. It is not a reading assignment. There is no assessment. There is no prize for completing the challenge.

Second Grader Yahav has read over 180 books so far!

Our staff has taken the challenge and have included their current reading list on the bottom of their emails, just below their signature. Our students track their books and report to their teachers when they have completed the 40 Book Challenge.

After just one quarter of the year, several students have already completed the challenge. They are moving on and challenging themselves to read another 40 during our second quarter of the year.

Forty books might seem like a lot. Each story, each book, opens a new world of possibilities—whether we are reading a non-fiction book about a person, a place or a time in our history, or a mystical, magical work of fiction, where our imagination must take hold.

First Graders Everett, Carson, Lila, Aurora, and Arielle have completed the 40 Book Challenge

Reading provides the opportunity to build comprehension and analytical skills. Plus, it’s a brain workout. Reading helps to grow vocabulary and builds independence, self-confidence, and social emotional skills. It is a critical piece of our cognitive development.

A Harvard Medical School publication from 2016 explains that “a number of brain regions are involved in reading and comprehension. Among them are the temporal lobe, which is responsible for phonological awareness and for decoding and discriminating sounds; Broca’s area in the frontal lobe, which governs speech production and language comprehension; and the angular and supramarginal gyrus, which links different parts of the brain so that the letter shapes can be put together to form words.”

Kindergarteners Golda and Gigi holding their favorite books they’ve read while completing the 40 Book Challenge

At Bornblum, we teach our students to read and write in not one, but two languages. We recognize the importance of reading during the day at school and reading at home as the fundamental building blocks of education.

And equally important, we model for our students that education does not end when you graduate eighth grade, high school, college, or beyond. Education is something that is continuous. Reading to or in front of our children models for them that education is a lifelong endeavor.

So, join me in taking the 40 Book Challenge. Start with forty and then another forty and then forty more. Spark up a conversation with someone around you and teach them what you have learned.