KIRO NEWSRADIO OPINION

Mayfield: What has Seattle elementary students embracing such weighty fiction?

Feb 16, 2024, 12:15 PM | Updated: Mar 25, 2024, 1:43 pm

A teacher working with a fourth grade class. (Photo By Harold Hoch/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle vi...

A teacher working with a fourth grade class. (Photo By Harold Hoch/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

(Photo By Harold Hoch/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

Our 4th grader just willingly and in her own free time read 8 full length novels in a month.  The subjects ranged from Native American historical fiction, Caribbean mythology, autism, a mixed Sephardic and Muslim family and a tween exploring their gender identity.  Those are some weighty topics far beyond the worlds of Superfudge and Bunnicula that I was exploring literarily at that age.

The thing that absolutely blows my mind is that my daughter isn’t unique.  Hundreds of kids across dozens of schools in Seattle have been reading these books as well.  None of them assigned by a single teacher or required for a single class.

So how on earth are these 10 and 11 year olds so motivated to read with such depth and cultural relevance?

The Seattle Public Library.

Each year since 1995 the library in our city has been organizing something called the Global Reading Challenge.  Students in 4th and 5th grades are offered a selection of 8 books carefully selected by librarians.  The students are challenged to read the books and then form teams of 6 or 7 students.  Those teams meet for roughly 6 weeks and discuss the books, quiz each other on the contents and encourage one another to keep reading.

This week librarians fanned out across the city and held game-show style competitions between the teams at each school.  3 rounds with 8 questions in each round.  Points were awarded and at the end a tiebreaker was offered if needed…until one team was declared the winner.  Now each school’s winning team will gather next month to complete in the semi-finals and ultimately a final competition.

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Are you with me through all this?  Remember these kids are doing this all because they want to and not as homework or for any kind of school credit.

I volunteered to help at our school and the excitement and passion for these books was palpable across all the usual strata seperating of student life.  I won’t reveal the individual stories of the students I know because those are their stories to tell, but what I saw absolutely blew my mind…and this is happening in small groups across the entire city of Seattle…and has been each winter since 1995…leaves me nearly speechless.

But of course, I talk for a living so I do have some final words and they are simple words of appreciation.

In a world increasingly focused on tearing things up and burning things down, it feels important to deliberately look for examples of building and nurturing.  The Seattle Public Library and the librarians who work there deserve our praise for this remarkable program and the generations of kids whose lives it has enhanced.

Travis Mayfield is a guest host on Seattle’s Morning News.

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Mayfield: What has Seattle elementary students embracing such weighty fiction?