Benedict Shaw is my new kid-hero: eight years old and he’s managed to read more than 60 books for a library reading challenge. To score a gold medal in his school’s Monster Reading Challenge, Shaw need only have ticked off 24. He’s tripled that and more. Benedict’s mum told the Omskirk Advertiser that her son is a chronic reader, staying up long nights finishing chapter after chapter. Her other son, a chipper four year old, is, she notes, as keen on stories as his older brother.
This got me thinking; reminiscing really, about a reading challenge I participated in yearly when in primary school. I looked forward to the MS Read-a-thon like most kids looked forward to the swimming sports. The read-a-thon worked as a fundraiser for multiple sclerosis, with money raised through individual sponsorship. I’d get about a dollar for every book read, and only from my parents as I wasn’t prone to door-knocking for solicitations like some other kids I knew. For me, though, it was never about the money—I used it as a chance to show off my reading habits, which I thought were way awesome. This was the one time out of every year, you must understand, that reading books was suddenly cool. I filled out my “Books read” form with vigor, proud to record my re-readings of Ralph S. Mouse and The BFG next to the hordes of easy-peasy kiddie books I’d scan just to get the form entirely filled up.
Still, with all that reading, I wouldn’t have come close to Benedict Shaw’s haul. I do secretly wonder, though, how many “Tom has a ball” books he’s flown through to grab those extra gold medals, but that’s the primary school competitor in me talking, who just knew the kids at my school weren’t reading half the books they said they were. I remember Lizzie Wyke, for instance, including Stephen King’s It on her form, but never once telling me in any detail exactly what the book was about. I know she mentioned snakes. Snakes? But I’ll take Benedict’s word for it—I’m not in competition with him, after all. Then again, perhaps I am. I’ve long been a recorder of books read, so I’m well aware 60 books takes me over a year to get through. Sure, there’s less time these days. And with my new full-time job, I’m anticipating less still. I dream about a life like Benedict’s—under the covers with a torch, turning those pages, not worrying about falling asleep in class the next day because those books were a proper education, free of written tests and recess (and swimming). There’s just no hiding in the back room at work to read, and barely enough time before bed to get that last chapter in. Ah—to be eight again.
As it happens, the MS Read-a-thon still exists. A Google search reveals the challenge going strong in Australia and in Canada. The fundraiser, turns out, is over 30 years in existence, and continues as a major event for the MS Foundation worldwide. I hope Benedict discovers it soon.