2020 Reading Challenge

January 31, 2020

In 2020 we are resolving to read aloud every day. Why? Because reading aloud to children is the single most important thing you can do for your child’s reading and learning skills. And United Through Reading recordings allow military service members to read aloud to the children in their lives every day, no matter where their military service takes them. Whether deployed, working overnight, away for training, or living away from family, UTR recordings are there for military families. UTR helps military families maintain their routines, stay connected as a family, and build important skills including literacy.

Not sure what to read? Join our 2020 Reading Challenge. Each month we’ll share our theme and suggest a few book titles for you to record at a UTR Story Station or on our app. We will also share photos of you and the children in your life reading our monthly themed books.

January – New Year, New Series – read the first book in a new-to-you series
February – a children’s book about love
March – a children’s book featuring a character from the child’s favorite movie or TV show
April – a book about plants or animals for Earth Day
May – a book about health and wellness
June – a children’s biography of a scientist
July – a children’s biography of an American hero
August – a book from your child’s summer reading list
September – a book about moving or starting a new school
October – a mystery book or a book with a twist ending
November – a book about a holiday you don’t celebrate
December – Reread your child’s favorite book of the year

Use hashtag #unitedthroughreading or email them to stories@utr.org to join in on the fun.

Every month we’ll be updating this post with suggested books from our recent book gives and some reading tips from our staff and our very own book critic Leslie. An educational and grant consultant, Leslie helps us access new books to add to our recommended book list.

January: New Year, New Series



Reading the first book in a series that is new to you in this new year can seem like a scary task. Not to worry, we have a great pointer for you when tackling a chapter book.

Just sent to commands around the world, pick up a copy of The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series #1) by Rick Riordan for your reader.

What’s it about? “”Percy Jackson, the demigod son of Poseidon, has barely settled at Camp Half-Blood when he’s sent on a quest to find a stolen weapon. Together with his satyr friend Grover and Annabeth, the demigod daughter of Athena, Percy follows the clues . . . and discovers more than he bargained for.”

If this summary seems intimidating, don’t panic. Chances are that your child has already seen the movie (even if you haven’t), and the book is much better than the movie.

The secret to reading a chapter book aloud is to come up with a schedule for you and your child. You may read the first chapter aloud and then suggest that the next three chapters be read independently. Read chapter five aloud and follow the same pattern until the book is finished. Your child will appreciate the effort you’ve put forth and may even become hooked on reading!

February: A Book About Love


Our February theme is all about love! Love for each other, love of reading, and showing love.

Leslie’s pick is one from our recommended book list: The Night Before Valentine’s Day by Natasha Wing.

The book is very rhythmic and the format will be familiar to your child as the book is a spin on a classic with, “kids dreaming of candy hearts in a funny Valentine’s Day take-off of Clement C. Moore’s beloved Christmas poem.”

Reading aloud to your child should be a fun activity for you and fun for them to watch. Here are some handy tips for you to make sure that you and your child get the most out of this experience:

And we couldn’t help ourselves in picking a few more options. Some of our staff’s favorite books about love are Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, That’s Me Loving You by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Llama Llama I Love You by Anna Dewdney, and If Animals Kissed Goodnight by Ann Whitford Paul. These books were included in some of our most recent book gives to our Story Stations and will make the perfect Valentine’s Day gift to your loved one.

March: A Book Featuring A Favorite Character



Our March Reading Challenge theme is to read a book based on your child’s favorite character!

Why? Because many television programs and movies are based on books. Before How the Grinch Stole Christmas became a much loved Christmas cartoon and also made into a movie, it was a book, and The Polar Express was a book before it was turned into a movie. Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat was a childhood favorite read aloud book long before it became a movie and a hit show on PBS.

But sometimes that the process is reversed, and a book is written based on the movie. This is the case with MARVEL’s Black Panther: Meet Black Panther. The book does an excellent job of introducing early readers to the world of Wakanda and the Black Panther.

The book, part of a series, ends on a cliffhanger, so children are eager to read another Black Panther book to see what happens next. Be sure to look for it at your Story Station or download our App today and request it as your free book.

April: A Book for Earth Day



On April 22, 2020, the world will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. And as many of us are staying closer to home, what better time to broach the subjects of sustainability and pollution with your children?

Our choice for gardens and growing things is a read aloud classic – The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson. When a little boy plants a carrot seed, everyone tells him that it won’t grow, but he knows differently. He waters the seed and pulls the weeds, and the plant begins to grow. Why don’t you try planting a seed or seedling with your child? It can be as simple as a pot in the window or as elaborate as a vegetable garden in the backyard, and it’s a fun experience for everyone.

What happens when Grace’s teacher decides that Grace’s class should go green? A lot. Just Grace Goes Green by Charise Mericle Harper is a beginning chapter book highlighting the benefits of reducing, reusing, and recycling as a way to end pollution. Follow Grace as she tries to make the world a better place to live in.

May: A Book About Health and Wellness

Health and Wellness is our theme for May. With many of us under a stay at home order, it is important for us all to stay healthy and to teach our children the benefits of keeping well. One of our favorites on this topic is Eating the Alphabet: Fruits & Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert. Healthy eating is the key in this fun book that not only teaches the alphabet but delicious fruits and vegetables. The book even includes a glossary of where each food is grown and how it is usually eaten. Take the book to the next level and try to prepare the foods as seen in the glossary.

If you’ve been trying for the past month to explain germs to your little ones, this book is for you! Germs Are Not for Sharing by Elizabeth Verick. Rather than focus on what germs are, this book encourages children to: “Cover up a sneeze or cough. Hug or blow kisses when you’re sick. And most of all, wash your hands!”

June: A Children’s Biography of a Scientist

In June our theme is children’s biographies of scientists. Recently, science has been at the forefront of many conversations, and children’s biographies about scientists make this field more approachable to your children. One of our favorites is I am Marie Curie by Brad Meltzer. This book is perfect for your elementary school kid and is the newest addition to the popular picture book biography series Ordinary People Change the World. The fun and beautifully illustrated book follows Marie’s unique childhood, schooling, and her contributions to Chemistry and Physics, which she received the Nobel Prize in each subject.

Another great choice for this month’s reading challenge is Hidden Figures (Young Readers’ Edition) by Margot Lee Shetterly, perfect for the tween in your life. It is the powerful story of four African-American female mathematicians at NASA who helped achieve some of the greatest moments in our space program. These remarkable women were known as “human computers,” and made all of their calculations using pencils, slide rules, and adding machines; these calculations would ultimately launch rockets and astronauts into space!

July: A Children’s Biography of an American Hero

Our country celebrates Independence Day on the Fourth of July every year. To go along with the patriotic nature of the month, our recommended books are biographies about American heroes. Our first choice for July is Escape North!: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Monica Kulling. Read about this extraordinary Black woman who escaped slavery and then helped other slaves escape as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. This remarkable true story brings to life one of America’s greatest female role models.

My Journey to the Stars by Scott Kelly tells the story of NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who was the first person to spend an entire year in space. “This story of an ordinary boy who grew up to do extraordinary things is perfect for children;” it is also the perfect partner to his adult book, Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery. Enjoy!

August: A Book From Your Child’s Summer Reading List

With so much uncertainty clouding the start of the school year, it is imperative that we strive to maintain a sense of normalcy for our children. What better way to teach and comfort your child than by reading aloud to them from a classic? While all schools have different reading lists, we’re sure these have been on at least one over the years! Although the child may have heard of these books before, the familiarity of the words and pictures are sure to brighten their mood. The two books we’ve chosen for August are Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

Does Panda Bear, Panda Bear sound familiar to you? It should, the book is written by Bill Martin, Jr., who is also the author of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? And, do the vibrant pictures remind you of another picture book? Once again, they should; the book is illustrated by Eric Carle, the author and illustrator of another classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. In Panda Bear, Panda Bear, “A Bald Eagle soars, a Spider Monkey swings, a Macaroni Penguin struts, and a Red Wolf sneaks through, all watched over by our best hope for the future―a dreaming child.”

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of Meg Murry, a high-school-aged girl who goes on an adventure through time and space with her younger brother Charles Wallace and her friend Calvin O’Keefe to rescue her father, a gifted scientist, from the evil forces that hold him prisoner on another planet. Meg is battling an unknown and unseen enemy, only to find that the key to defeating the monster is her love for her friends and family. We all need a feel good story with a happy ending right now, and Meg’s love, honesty, and determination are wonderful qualities to teach our children.

September: A Book About Moving or Starting a New School

By the beginning of September, our kids are usually back in school, our families have settled comfortably into their fall routine, and we would be featuring back to school books. However, this year is shaping up to be very different, and for that reason we are featuring books that will pique your child’s imagination and hopefully increase their love of reading and reading aloud. The two books for September are: Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton and Stink and the Midnight Zombie Walk by Megan McDonald.

Moo, Baa, La La La! is basically a poem of animals and the sounds they make. “A cow says moo, a sheep says baa” until you get to the surprising line “three singing pigs say la la la.” That’s when the giggles and laughter begin. The rhythmic style of the book is enchanting, sure to make this book a favorite read.

Stink and the Midnight Zombie Walk features Judy Moody’s little brother Stink, who is counting down the days until the release of Book 5 in the Nightmare on Zombie Street series (think a younger version of Twilight or Harry Potter). Stink’s whole school is excited because they’ve been reading the zombie books as part of their goal to reach one million minutes of reading. As the night of the book release party and zombie walk approaches, zombies begin turning up in the strangest places…you’ll have to pick up the book to find out what happens next.

October: A Mystery Book Or A Book With A Twist Ending

Happy fall! Our October theme is a mystery book or a book with a twist ending.

Poe: Stories and Poems: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Gareth Hinds (grades 7-9) fits neatly into this category. The book is a great introduction to Poe’s work, and it shows in pictures much of what Poe revealed only through words. Gareth Hinds is one of the top graphic adaptors of great literature for young adults. Here he adapts the Poe stories and poems most children are required to read in school, and makes them accessible, and, with the addition of the illustrations, scarier…

Not quite sticking to the the mystery theme, our choice for young readers celebrates the arrival of fall. It is Pumpkin Day by Candice Ransom (ages 3-6). A boy and his family visit a pumpkin patch to find just the right pumpkin for their family, just in time for Halloween! The rhyming pattern throughout the book makes it a nice choice for a read-aloud, and the illustrations match the joy and exuberance of the text.

November: A Book About A Holiday You Don’t Celebrate

Our theme for November is to choose a book about a holiday you don’t celebrate. It is important to read books like these so that children can have a sense of diversity and a respect for other cultures and peoples. Our suggestions for November are Together for Kwanzaa by Juwanda G. Ford and Elmo’s Little Dreidel by Naomi Kleinberg and Christopher Moroney. Both of these books will be available at our story stations and app book order form.

Together for Kwanzaa, is perfect for kids in Pre-K through 2nd grade, begins with Kayla missing her brother who’s away for college and probably won’t make it home for Kwanzaa. The book is a perfect introduction to Kwanzaa as it teaches children all about the traditions and practices that make Kwanzaa a special winter holiday. It also provides a pronunciation guide for the Swahili words, which is an added bonus.

What is a dreidel? In Elmo’s Little Dreidel, Elmo wants to know. He finds out as he celebrates the first night of Hanukkah with a friend’s family. The book pro­vides the youngest children with a sim­ple, age-appro­pri­ate intro­duc­tion to some of the holiday’s traditions: light­ing the meno­rah for eight nights, remem­bering the miracle of Hanukkah, singing Hanukkah songs, and play­ing the drei­del game. And when Elmo receives his first Hanukkah gift, he is delighted to find that he now has a little dreidel of his own!

December: Reread your child’s favorite book of the year

The theme for December is your child’s favorite book, so…we thought it would be fun to pick from our most requested books of the year! As 2020 has been a particularly difficult year, it is important for everyone to remember what we are most thankful for. In Elephant and Piggie: The Thank You Book by Mo Willems, Piggie wants to thank EVERYONE. But Gerald is worried Piggie will forget someone . . . someone important. Does Piggie forget to thank the most important person of all? Read the book and find out.

The second book choice is That’s Me Loving You by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. While families are separated now more than ever whether by deployment or COVID quarantines or travel restrictions, it is important to remember that distance does not lessen anyone’s love for a child in their life. In this read aloud book, Amy Rosenthal addresses separation anxiety in a way that could calm the fears of nervous children (and parents). The book touchingly reminds children that even when they are separated, parents are thinking of them.