A GOOD READ: Are you up to the (Reading) Challenge?

As I write this, it is the end of August and fall is just around the corner. September is one of my preferred months, not because leaves begin to change colour or because the days become crisper, but because it signals the beginning of another year of my favourite program, the Reading Link Challenge. If your child is entering Grade 4 or 5 and likes to read, this may be the program for him or her.

First established in the U.S. in the late 1930s, this current day battle of the books program started in 1993 at Kalamazoo Public Library. It was used to encourage children to have fun and enjoy the "sport" of reading.

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In 1996, a similar pilot project began at Seattle Public Library. In 2002, Coquitlam Public Library and Port Coquitlam's Terry Fox Library joined the challenge and now teams take part all across B.C.

In order to play, students read six books, chosen by librarians, and begin by competing against other teams within their own schools. Teams of seven children answer questions on characters, plots and settings. The winning team advances to the library challenge, where it represents its school against other competitors from within the municipality. From there, winners advance to the Grand Challenge, where they face off against winners from other municipalities or library systems.

This past year, 362 teams from 86 participating elementary schools in nine Lower Mainland school districts, including SD43, took part in the first level of competition. This made for a grand total of 2,534 kids participating in the challenge.

In order for a book to be chosen for the competition, it must meet certain requirements. It needs to be at a Grade 4 to 5 reading level, it must not be too long or too difficult subject-wise, it must appeal to both boys and girls and, of course, it must be a good story. And if it is written by a Canadian author, that's even better.

One of the goals of the Reading Link Challenge is to introduce children to outstanding books they might not otherwise read, so bestsellers such as The Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Harry Potter will not appear on the reading list.

Book titles are carefully guarded until the Nov. 1 release date to ensure all children have the same amount of time to read and study.

Previous selections have ranged from engaging animal stories such as Seaglass Summer by Anjali Banerjee and Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo; to fictional accounts of historical people or events such as Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan, The Watsons go to Birmingham: 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis and Safe as Houses by Eric Walters; to amusing coming-of-age stories such as The Nose From Jupiter by Richard Scrimger and Klutzhood by Chris McMahen, the latter two both talented Canadian authors.

Schools in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, the Fraser Valley and Surrey that have expressed an interest in taking part will be receiving an information package shortly outlining the requirements for competition. If you would like to have your child participate in the Reading Link Challenge, contact your school librarian about the possibility of hosting the challenge at your school.

We wish all of this year's competitors the best of luck.

A Good Read is a column by Tri-City librarians that is published every Wednesday. Barbara Weston is children's librarian at Coquitlam Public Library.

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