Stories about animals, particularly wild ones that live in Africa. Tales of adventure and lands unknown, where the writing is so provocative the fantastic stories seem true. The chronicles of a young girl who discovers a magic amulet in her great-grandfather’s closet. 

“I like reading,” said Phoebe Thompson, a second-grader at Garfield Elementary School. “It’s fun and I like learning things and a lot of times you can learn things from books.” 

Thompson, 8, set a classroom record this year for reading 10,020 minutes — or 167 hours — which is the most in school history. She said she started reading chapter books at the end of kindergarten and has now moved on to books her parents read, like J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit. Her librarian father James used to read a chapter of it to her each night before she went to sleep and she loved it so much that, once they finished the book, she picked it up and re-read it herself. Three times. 

“I think it was a good adventure, and also thought it had good imagination,” she said. 

Her teacher, Marilyn Goldenberg, described Thompson as an articulate, participatory student who always has a book in hand. At the beginning of the year, Goldenberg started a Read-A-Thon contest for her students, their assignment being to read 75 minutes a week to instill a love of reading and get reluctant readers to pick up a book. Every year, she said, she has a high-achieving student who reads more than 4,000 minutes for the year. Thompson more than doubled that. 

“No one else has ever done that,” said Goldenberg, who has been holding the contest for 22 years. “The child has such a love for reading.” 

While Thompson agrees she loves reading, she said the Read-A-Thon inspired her to read even more, since it made the activity feel productive. She said she would come home from school every day, settle into her favorite spot on the couch and open up a book. At the beginning of the year, when she learned about the Read-A-Thon challenge, she and her mom quickly determined that she would read more than 75 minutes a week. They decided to aim for 10,000 minutes for the year. 

By late March, it looked like Thompson might not reach her goal, having read “only” 6,100 minutes. So they revised the goal to 8,000 minutes, which seemed more achievable. Thompson kept reading. By the end of the year, she not only reached, but surpassed, her original goal. Her family threw a pizza party for her to celebrate her achievement, inviting grandma, grandpa, uncle and aunt. 

“I feel really happy, proud,” Thompson said. 

She hopes students find encouragement in her achievement and decide to read more. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” she offered as advice. 

Thompson said a few teachers told her she beat the school record for Read-A-Thon a few days ago. At the annual end-of-school assembly, teachers also created a new award to recognize her achievement, giving Thompson the “Super Reader” award and gifting her with a Barnes & Noble gift card.  

Principal Mary Stauder said she hopes to see more avid readers and will make it an annual award. 

“What a great example: the family reads together, sets goals together,” Stauder said. “They set the goal, achieve the goal, then create a new goal, another new goal. She’s learning a life skill and enjoys it too.”