One Billion and Counting - Y Magazine
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One Billion and Counting


Librarian Chris Hales encouraged students to read one billion words during the 2009-10 school year.

In the library at Anderson Junior High in Chandler, Ariz., students gather around a screen displaying names and numbers. It tells them which of their peers have read the most words during the last quarter—an extremely competitive list to top. This display is only one of the ways librarian Chris Hales (BA ’93) motivated students to reach their goal of one billion words read during the 2009–10 school year. That’s about 140 books and 6.5 million words a day.

The goal, Hales says, is to get them to love reading—any reading. His philosophy is that “if you have good books available—books that kids actually want to read, not what their teachers and librarians tell them are good for them—then they’ll read.”

Hales encourages student suggestions and makes sure to have multiple copies of the most popular books. The school’s morning announcements feature a segment called “Hales’ Hotties,” in which students offer their own book recommendations.

As additional incentive, Hales started displaying the names and word count of the top 200 readers, allowing students to check their stats and compare with their friends. The Accelerated Reader program, in which students read a book and then take a brief comprehension exam, tabulates the word count. Hale says some students wait until the last moment possible to take all the tests so they can surprise friends who thought they had a comfortable lead.

“Hales really gets them pumped and ready to go,” says Brenda Whiteneck, the library assistant. “The kids are so proud of their accomplishments.” As a result, they are aiming to read one billion words again this year.

Hales also serves as the co-vice chairperson of the Scholastic Customer Advisory Board in his region. “A lifelong love of reading,” says Hales, “translates into a lifelong love of learning.”

Visit, Hales’ website about encouraging children to read.