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Cans of Food Become Votes for Favorite Books

“Bud, Not Buddy” prevailed in the first round. “Charlotte’s Web” defeated “The One and Only Ivan.” In a shocker, “The Cat in the Hat” failed to advance. But the “I Survived” series survived the competition by piling up a laundry basket full of canned goods.

In this March Madness-style reading contest at Lakes Elementary, students are voting for their favorite books during Reading Month with cans of soup and bottles of soap. When the winner emerges from 32 competitors at month’s end, all the collected goods as well as donated quarters will go to North Kent Community Services, a food and clothing bank.

In its first week, the Sweet 16 saw traditional favorites like “One Fish, Two Fish” by Dr. Seuss move ahead alongside modern classics like “Bud, Not Buddy” by Michigan author Christopher Paul Curtis. Lakes students will hear him speak at the upcoming Michigan Reading Association conference in Grand Rapids.


  1. Pick a theme for your child’s reading, like outer space or jungle stories

  2. Have your child set a goal for how much reading her or she will do

  3. Provide reading-related prizes for meeting their goals, like Dr. Seuss pencils or book certificates

  4. For beginning readers, sing the alphabet song with them, or play with letters starting with those in your child’s name

  5. Read to them from rhyming books, stopping at the rhyme and encouraging the child to say it with you

Sources: Scholastic.com, leapfrog.com

“’Bud, Not Buddy’ might be our Cinderella team,” quipped fifth-grade teacher Sandra Knottnerus. She hit upon the activity as a way to combine Reading Month with a service project.

“It’s so fun if I’m walking down the hall and I watch a kindergartner holding a can of soup, (thinking) ‘But I love this book and this book,’ and trying to decide to vote,” Knottnerus said.

Watching their favorite books advance through NCAA-style tournament brackets has energized students, added fourth-grade teacher Matt Zokoe. “Our students have the opportunity to learn how to serve and provide for others, in this case through a fun and exciting way,” Zokoe said.

Reading Until Their Brains Hurt

Members of the Lakes Student Council have helped run the tourney and store the collected goods in the gymnasium. Their enthusiasm was clear as they talked of voting for their favorite books with boxes of macaroni and cheese and cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew.

“It helps a lot of people who can’t afford all this stuff,” said Casper Green, who voted for “I Survived,” a favorite among boys. Jacob Bissell said the historical fiction series has “lots of adventure and action in it.”

Isabel Boncher’s choice was “Out of My Mind,” about a girl who can’t talk but has a photographic memory. Though it did not survive the first round, she called the tournament “a really creative idea, with a bonus that you get to help kids and families out.”

Lakes’ 500-plus students are trying to meet a goal of 100,000 total minutes of reading by month’s end. Fourth-grader Elizabeth Lane was confident they would make it. “We read a TON,” Elizabeth said. “It makes my brain hurt – in a good way.”

Competition is heating up. Knottnerus saw one student dump a grocery bag full of canned goods into a basket for his hoped-for winner.

“I’ve seen a passion for their books,” she said. “They understand this book is part of their history and their love, and they have to support it. It’s their team.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers series and issues stories for all districts. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio


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