Skip to content Global Reading Challenge brings a global perspective – The Seattle Public Library Foundation
Ruman, back row center, was one member of The Bookmasters, one of this year’s winning teams of the 2020 Global Reading Challenge.

In the past year, 11-year-old Ruman experienced the magic of reading about girls much like herself.

There’s Mia, the lead character of “Front Desk,” who helps her Chinese immigrant parents at the reception desk of the hotel they manage – much like Ruman, whose parents immigrated from East Africa and who sometimes helps her family’s South Seattle business.

There’s also Kiki of “Kiki and Jacques,” who wears a hijab like Ruman does, and comes from Somalia, like Ruman’s mom. It was the first time she saw a girl wearing a hijab on the cover of a book.

These books were selections from the 2019-20 Global Reading Challenge, an annual program for fourth- and fifth-graders that calls for teams of competitors to read 10 books and engage in a city wide trivia tournament. Ruman, a fifth-grader at Graham Hill Elementary, joined the contest with her team of seven called “The Bookmasters.”

JK Burwell, Ruman’s school librarian at Graham Hill, serves on the Library’s committee that selects the books each year. And that magic Ruman enjoyed is very much intentional, she says.

The selection of books each year is intended to represent a variety of reading levels, characters, and authors, in an effort to make them accessible to as many children as possible and expose them to an array of perspectives.

And then there’s the teambuilding involved as students work together to study the books and quiz each other on their content.

“It isn’t about strong reading,” Burwell says. “It’s how you work as a team, trusting your teammates, defending your answer.”

Donors supported the purchase of 8,000 Global Reading Challenge books distributed to every public elementary school in Seattle, which not only gives Challenge participants access to books, but builds the collections of school libraries, many of which have limited resources for new books.

The Bookmasters won both the Graham Hill contest and a city semifinal in the Global Reading Challenge’s 25th year. The COVID-19 pandemic put an early stop to the tournament, but The Bookmasters were crowned co-champions with seven other teams who advanced far into the contest.

And it’s turned a girl who didn’t much like reading into a bookworm who hopes to become a senator when she grows up.

“Reading is a part of life,” Ruman says. “You need to learn how to read to learn how to do important things in your life.”

This story appeared in our 2019 Report to Donors. Read the full report here, complete with stories of donor impact and financial information.