Book Riot Read Harder Challenge in the Classroom

It’s time to reflect on my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2015 victory before I begin the process again with the 2016 challenge. I hope you’ll consider joining me! At the bottom, I discuss how I’ll transfer this challenge to my English 9 classroom in the new year.


  • War Dances by Sherman Alexie (short story collection) was yet another book I’ve read by Alexie, and he continues to strike a balance between social justice and humor–one I strive for in my own writing.
  • School Leadership That Works by Robert Marzano (author with a different gender from mine) was just the next book on my to-read list that happened to be by a man. Since I tend to read slightly more males than females.
  • The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco (a book set in Asia) kind of counts for this challenge, but I’ve read Ha Jin, Shusaku Endo, Iris Chang, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Yann Martel, so the setting was not ever going to be new to me.
  • Code Talker by Joseph Bruhac (indigenous author) is a young-adult novel that taught me about the Navajo code talkers during World War II. I love reading indigenous authors and learning new things, so this was fun for me.
  • Cod by Mark Kurlansky (microhistory) was possibly going to be difficult, because I’d heard bad things about Salt, but I love microhistories, so I read this short one in a weekend and loved learning about cod’s role in the discovery and establishment of America.
  • The Cemetery Boys by Heather Brewer (YA novel) wasn’t my favorite YA novel this year, but I read a lot of them as a teacher, so it was easy to use this book to check the challenge off of my list.
  • The Martian by Andy Weir (sci fi novel) swept me up in all its hype and didn’t disappoint with its delightful voice and high-stakes premise. I read sci fi from time to time, so again, it wasn’t much of a challenge.
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (award winner) brought me back to a beloved author. While it wasn’t a challenge in any respect, it did encourage me to keep up with the latest award winners.
  • No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay (poetry) was incredible, as I knew it would be. I usually read one or two poetry books each year. You have to be in the right mood to read/savor poetry, and you need to find a compatible poet. I know Sarah Kay wouldn’t disappoint.
  • Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (recommended) was given to me as a gift. I loved Gone Girl, and I loved Sharp Objects too.
  • Blindness by Jose Saramago (another language) was able to break what could have been a hard challenge. Reading translated works is difficult, but Saramago had a couple of fantastic translators. In addition, I knew this bizarre, apocalyptic story would be perfect for me.
  • March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (graphic novel) was another book I’d been looking forward to reading. I’ve struggled to read graphic novels in the past (it took me forever to finish The Watchmen), but this autobiographical narrative was just familiar enough that I could follow along.
  • Yes, Please by Amy Poehler (guilty pleasure) was the first book I read after I had my baby. It kept me laughing through the sleep deprivation and hormonal tidal waves.
  • Shutter by Courtney Alameda (book published this year) was a book we read in Midnight Book Club, which reads mostly current books, and therefore was an easy challenge to meet.


  • Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (author under age 25) challenged me in terms of perspective and voice. At first, I thought I was going to hate one of the narrators, but the irony of how he spoke made me love him in the same way I love Holden Caulfield. This book taught me to give different voices a chance. By the end, the novel’s truth had me weeping.
  • Science and Religion in Quest of Truth by John Polkinghorne (author over age 65) was about promoting dialogue between scientists and theologians. Because I am neither, the abstract argumentation challenged me. It helped that I discussed this book with a group of people. Ultimately, I emerged with a greater appreciation of the patterns present in our natural world.
  • Race, Class, and Gender in the United States by Paula Rothenberg (LGBTQ author) challenged my theoretical knowledge of privilege and oppression in ways I had never before considered. While difficult to understand (and difficult to accept), I emerged from reading this text a better advocate for justice in education.
  • Creed by Trisha Leaver and and Lindsay Currie (published by an indie press) had a cliche plot about evil ultra-conservative Christians. I was disappointed that I didn’t find a hidden gem through the indie press challenge. Instead, I found something that had no business being published.
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (novel by African author) was a book by a new African author for me, and I loved it. The only difficult aspect was the length (477 pages), which in itself was only a problem because I had a baby early in my reading then had to fight recalls to the public library to finally finish it.
  • Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn (romance) introduced me to a genre I had never before read. In general, I don’t like love stories in books, because they rarely feel real to me. In the end, this was a fun, quick read. I doubt I’ll read any like it again, but it’s nice to know that I could pick up a Quinn book and enjoy it.
  • Splintered by A.G. Howard (retelling of a classic) challenged me to find a retelling. In the reading, I struggled because this is a retelling of Alice in Wonderland–a story I’ve never read. I saw the live-action movie a few years ago, but that’s it. In retrospect, retellings probably are more enjoyably if you’re steeped in the source text.
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra was my audio book, which I wasn’t looking forward to reading. I used to do audio when I had a longer commute, but now I work so near my home it barely seems worth it. However, now that I’m a nursing mother, I have oodles of time to sit and listen. It was great to get back into this habit.
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (published before 1850) was hard because it was long and old. Also, most “classic” books on my to-read list were actually from after 1850. When I decided to read this one, my friend asked, “Isn’t that book about miserable people in a miserable setting being miserable to each other?” She was right, but I loved it! Heathcliff is a perfect villain, and I loved the creeptastic moors. Even the language was not so much of a barrier. I was proud of myself for reading this one so quickly and with such delight.
  • Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman (self-improvement) was a good way for me to meet this challenge, because it wasn’t a cheesy self-help book. It also helped me prepare for parenthood, so it was other-focused. Her memoir/instructive style made it approachable and fun.

Read Harder in the Classroom

I would love to challenge my students to complete the Read Harder Challenge. The 24-book challenge is only appropriate for my most voracious readers.

For the typical 9th grade reader, an appropriate challenge would be 20 books for the year or  8 books for January to May (about 100 pages/week and average book length of 250 pages). For the less enthused reader, an appropriate challenge would be 14 books for the year or 6 books for January to May (about 70 pages/week and average book length of 250 pages).

Students could choose their challenge categories from the Book Riot list. As a “final,” they could do what I’ve done above, discussing  why challenges were easy or hard. Lots of great lessons for readers lurk here about the perception and handling of challenges.

I’ll be using the Read Harder list to prep book talks that will meet my diverse readers where they are. Stay tuned to book talk ideas!

How are you using Read Harder in the classroom?


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