Winter Reading: A Program How-To

It’s my first programming post – how exciting!  One of the things I resolved to do when I resolved to start posting more often was to post not just book reviews/feminist rants/author interviews and giveaways but to also talk a little more about the programming aspect of my work.  I LOVE and have been so inspired by other library blogs that discuss their programming (y’all – thanks for all the ideas I’ve stolen from you.  Y’all are the best.) and I want to keep a better track of the things that work and don’t work in my own programming.

I thought the perfect way to kick-off was with a post about my library’s Winter Reading program.  I don’t know if Winter Reading is a common program in other libraries, but our library has been doing it for years.  We’ve really grown it in the past few years: to the point where this year we registered 237 0-12 year old patrons – a HUGE number for a low maintenance  program  that runs over the course of two months.

How do we do it?  What works?  What do I want to change for next year?  Let’s dive right in!  (and, just in case you want to steal from me, I’ve included .pdfs of the documents we use and would be happy to provided you with editable versions if you’re interested!)

Winter Reading: That’s a bingo!

We have bingo cards for 2-6 year olds and 7-12 year olds.  The entire program is this one sheet.  There are instructions on the back. Once we make sure parents from other countries understand what bingo means (an actual issue in our community) we create displays with books fulfilling the squares and … they’re off!

7-12 year old card

(the 7-12 year old card)

0-6 year old card(the 0-6 year old card)

We change up many of the squares every year.  One year we might feature James Stevenson, another year Nancy Carlson.  We’ll switch out “a book with frogs” to “a book with penguins.”  (one lesson learned: make sure you choose something your library has a lot of!  No authors with only 2 books published!) Other squares always stay the same, simply because one thing I LOVE about Winter Reading is the chance to broaden our patron’s horizons: Look at these cool picture book biographies we have!  Check out these amazing non-fiction books that your younger child will love! EVERY year there’s at least one 7-12 year old who discovers the wonder of graphic novels or manga thanks to the bingo.

And, of course, there’s always a square for Caldecott, Newbery, Coretta Scott King, and Belpré winners and honor books. This is a fantastic chance to expose parents and readers to these books, these awards, and what they mean.  Our CSK and Belpré books circ like crazy during these months as participants are rushing to fill out their cards, which is just fabulous!

Kids love filling out the cards.  Here are two of my favorite examples from this year.

Bingo Card 2

(the messy 3 year old)

Bingo Card 1

(the neat 6 year old)

Here are some elements I think make Winter Reading a success:

  • Though most public librarians I know are loathe to give “assigned” reading, I think parents in the 0-6 group actually love directed reading, so the card gives them a chance to really interact with us and get reader’s advisory and to try different genres and really explore the picture book section.
  • It’s relatively simple.  None of summer’s arcane rules and weekly requirements and complications: just follow the card.
  • It’s largely self-directed. You can read at your own pace, chose your bingo direction, select from a wide number of books.

The prizes are another draw and, here’s the best part, they’re free.  We’re a county library and through cooperation with our recreation department we are able to give away children’s passes to our local skating rink (also good for renting snowshoes) and municipal pool.  Of course recreation doesn’t mind supplying the passes because it’s not just good PR but usually means a grown-up is also buying an admission ticket.  Here’s how the incentive scale works.

  • One bingo in any direction is one pass.
  • A blackout of the whole card is another pass.
  • Fulfilling all the special themed squares (this year it was stars, last year cookies) earns another prize – a bookmark and a few stickers.

The themed squares tie in with our progress tracker.  This year we did BLAST-OFF INTO WINTER READING, themed around a spaceship and stars. (we’ve done cookies and popcorn in the past). Every time a child read a book from a star square they were invited to write their name on a star and hang up on our tracking board.  This, of course, is a huge hit and a great in-library promotion.  Everyone loves this part!

StarsWe posted this picture to our Facebook page and got over 1,000 views: it was picked up by our local newspaper.  People LOVE this kind of promotion and display and it’s super easy!

Here’s a few things to improve on for next year.

  • Making some of the squares more flexible.
  • Creating bookmarks with pre-selected lists such as “Picture Book Biographies for your 3 year old!”  (MOAR CHANCES FOR READER’S ADVISORY, YES!)
  • Making a special card for 0-3 year olds more focused on early literacy activities.
  • The whole teen part.

Yes, of course there’s a teen element to Winter Reading.  The program is we’ve just never been able to make it as successful.  This year, I did take the positive step of dropping the bingo for the teens.  (I think that was really limiting participation – my teens just didn’t like that format.) I replaced it with having them fill out three-six shelf-talkers.  All they had to do was write a few lines for a shelf-talker to be hung up in the teen section.  It was quick and had lots of freedom to self-select but…still.  It just didn’t work.  BUT!  I think I have the solution for next year: it’s the prizes.  We were using the same incentives for the teens and I just don’t think passes to the ice-skating rink has the same appeal for teens.  So, next year I plan to still use the shelf-talkers (they’re gold!  Here’s one I got for The Dead by Charlie Higson: “Very good.  A great zombie book.  Surprise twists and turns.  Absolutely terrifyingly amazing.”) but come up with a better incentive scale for teens and see if that manages to engage them a little more.

So, that’s winter reading in a nutshell.  Do you do Winter Reading or another reading program that’s NOT the great summer juggernaut at your library?  Tell me about it!  Do you think something like this would work at your library?  Why or why not?  Any suggestions or questions about my program?  ASK/SUGGEST AWAY!

In all, Winter Reading is a big success for us and a great program we get feedback about all year.  Parents even ask for the bingo cards during summer reading.  It’s prompted me towards thinking about creating a monthly self-directed reading bingo.  As a matter of fact, that’s what I’m plotting next …

Want .pdfs of the bingo cards, including the backside with full instructions?

Grab ’em here and let me know you’ve taken them!  Want modifiable versions?  Comment/email/tweet me!


12 Responses to “Winter Reading: A Program How-To”

  1. Jennie

    For teen prizes, we’ve had really good luck getting free passes from local movie theaters, cupcake shops, and the bowling alley. I mean, seriously, who doesn’t want a free cupcake?

  2. Cassie

    Thank you! The turnout for my WRP was very small this year. I hope to take some things from you and work them in!

  3. Jennifer

    This is awesome. I have been wanting to do a winter reading program for several years and I have firmly told my director that THIS IS THE YEAR. I fully intend to take your idea and Mold It To My Dreams!

  4. Stacey

    Love this idea! How long do you run the program for? A month? 6 weeks?

  5. Essie

    I love this! We are going to use this for our Winter Reading Program. Thanks for the great idea!

  6. LeeAnn

    I’ve lifted your bingo card for 2 – 7 year olds. Not sure I want to try a full-blown winter reading program but I’m thinking that I might pass this out at story time and provide a deadline. Just to get my toes in the water. Thanks!