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Reading Without Walls (Staff Edition)

This April, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang is embarking on a mission: help kids read further afield. In the form of a three-part challenge, Reading Without Walls is a loosely structured way for kids to move beyond the boundaries of their own experiences.

There are three criteria:

  1. Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you

  2. Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about

  3. Read a book in a format you don’t usually read For Fun (a chapter book, a graphic novel, a book in verse, etc.)

The Booksmith is very lucky to be hosting an event with Gene Luen Yang in just a couple weeks (on April 6, at 6pm, and tickets are here). Before that happened, I wanted to try out the challenge myself–along with the other kids’ booksellers. We came up with books we’d read recently that fit the challenge, read some new stuff, and made plans for the future.

Here’s what I (Alex) read.

1. A character not like me: Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
When Virgil Salinas is pranked into climbing down a well, three kid misfits form a detective agency to figure out where he has gone. The cast is diverse–including two Korean, one Filipino, and one Deaf white character–and the story is a kind-hearted adventure of four very different souls finding friendship.

2. A topic I don’t know: Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee and Susan McClelland
This young adult memoir is set in late ninties/early millennial North Korea–a place I knew very little about. Sunju recounts the loss of his prosperous childhood home, his parents, and his years of living by the fingernails as a street boy. However, it’s a story of survival, and not everything that seems to be lost is lost.

3. A format I don’t read: One Last Word by Nikki Grimes
Late elementary school to high school students are the right audience for this cleverly themed collection of poetry by a well-known African American poet. Each of her poems borrows, in sequence, words from a poem of the Harlem Renaissance–a method known as the Golden Shovel. The poems speak the experience of young Black Americans, frequently from the perspective of an older narrator. They’re emotional, sometimes rough love songs. Poetry isn’t something I pick up a lot, but this book could just as easily have been chosen for my first challenge.

Here’s what my fellow booksellers picked up.


  1. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

  2. Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson

  3. Ronit and Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin


  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (to be read)

  2. The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim

  3. Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Personally, I found the challenge to be a great way to gently expand my reading–and I intend to keep it in mind as I read for both children and adults.

Please join us to hear Gene talk about the challenge himself, on April 6th!

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