I am not generally a competitive person. Sports (both the execution and understanding of them) evade me. Surprising though it may be, I am not usually a fan of attention, so winning has never really appealed to me. Winning brings with it public recognition and people staring at me, and every thought in my brain being replaced with the haunting screech of a vintage train whistle.

The most driven I’ve ever been was when my younger brother grew tall enough to be able to safely sit in the front seat, and we would engage in mortal combat instead of just calling shotgun.

not pictured: our horrified mother who just wanted to leave the grocery store

But when I was in elementary school, we had an annual event called Books and Beyond.

For an entire month, each student in the school would be given a weekly worksheet to fill out with the number of pages they read, and for what length of time each day. At the end of each week, we would turn in our papers to our teacher, who would review and tally up our totals. The winner got to choose a prize from a prize basket.

I have always been a huge nerd, so this particular competition came easily to me.

From first grade on, I was ruthlessly annihilating my peers week after week without trying. I would read under my covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping, behind the couch when I was supposed to be doing chores, in my room when I was supposed to be putting my toys away. My parents signed off on my reading log each week without hesitation, and I would often have read the most out of the entire school, not just my grade.

And every week, I won my choice of prize from the prize basket.

It got to the point where my teachers started allowing prizes for the top five readers because my classmates were growing to resent me and I simply could not be contained. I truly did not care about any of this, because I got to read a bunch of books and also got a weird rubber monster puppet for each of my fingers.

I can still smell them in my mind

At the end of each competition month, there was an award ceremony, where all participants got a “gold medal” on a thick ribbon. As the medals were draped over our necks, they would announce how many pages we had read. A slightly disbelieving (possibly fearful) chuckled would ripple through the audience as they declared the absolutely absurd amount of books this tiny child had consumed in 30 days.

This went on for years. Until 5th grade, when I was summoned to the principal’s office at the end of the first week of the event.

I was given a cookie on a napkin, and a warm smile.

And then I was asked if there was any possible chance that I could simply stop reading so much.

I think her wording was something along the lines of “We don’t want to discourage you from reading at all, but maybe there is a different way that we can record your reading so that you aren’t keeping your classmates from earning prizes.”

As an adult, I would absolutely love to know what happened behind the scenes that lead to a nine year old being begged by her principal to not read so much. Did someone’s mom complain? Did a student bring themselves to the principal to set up their own flare? My teachers had always been nothing if not continuously delighted by the sheer volume of literature I was consuming, so I don’t think it was them. Was the principal paying for monster finger puppets out of her own budget, and I was reading her out of house and home?

We may never know.

What I do know is that I listened intently, feet not quite touching the floor and nibbling on the edges of my cookie, all through her vague speech where she tried to get me to stop being such a nerd without outright saying so. And then, when she smiled and said, “do you think you can do that?” I looked her dead in the eye, smiled with genuine sweetness, and said,


this was the moment that made resistance from authority figures my biggest motivator

I was promptly released back to my classroom, where I immediately forgot about the incident because I had already determined that it would not impact me in any way.

As far as I was concerned, it was far from my problem if I was reading too much for anyone to keep up. Most of my classmates didn’t even like reading, and the prize basket was filled to the brim, so it’s not like there weren’t enough treats to go around. Also, I truly sucked at math (I still do), so I figured the scales were balanced when it came to number-related activities.

This was my calling. I was going to read every book in the library and win every word-based prize known to man.

Everyone got prizes after that.


4 thoughts on “Competition

  1. Love it!!! When I would go to the library I would choose several books that I had never read and 1 or 2 that I had read and loved. I did this because the idea of choosing a book that I wouldn’t enjoy without having a book I love to read was an unbearable thought. I seldom hated the new to me books, so I would read all 6 or 7 before the next library day. When i was in 4th grade i discovered a bibliography section of historic people that I loved. My favorite was the story of Louisa May Alcott. I checked her story out as my back up quite frequently. Enough so that the librarian came to my 4th grade classroom and asked me to refrain from checking that book out so other girls and boys would have an opportunity to read it. I was mortified. The librarian came to my class, interrupted my teacher and out for a quiet request. I was not as brave as you. I still wish I could have declined aloud, but, he had me caught with embarrassment. So instead, every library day I would march to that section and look to see of that book specifically was gone, as well as the rest of them. After 4 weeks. I chose a large armful of those little orange biographies and matched to the desk to check them out. The librarian looked at my books and then looked at me and I simply said “No one ever checked these out before I discovered them and no one else has checked them out since you talked to me. I am taking these home with me today.” I still quietly thank the library card system where you could see how many times a book was checked out simply by reading that card.

    Anyway, i appreciate you and your spirit of reading and i admire your courage to simply say No to the principal. That’s not easy for a kid to do.

  2. Shame on that Principal for attempting to thwart your zest for reading! Imagine if Principals asked the star football player to ease up so other teams could win too. Ridiculous! I’m so glad you didn’t hold back!

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