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Newton bookstore holds summertime reading challenge

Book bingo boards and a prize wheel encouraged families to participate in the Newtonville Books Summer Reading challenge.Mary Cotton

Each square on the board was a call to arms for any avid reader, a taunt to finish one more space, one more book.

The Newtonville Books summer reading bingo sheet was emblazoned with reading challenges. Each square had a different type of book for participants to read, such as books by African American authors, books set far from Newton, or books about making the world a better place.

Finishing a row or column on the sheet gave readers the opportunity to explore different genres and writers along with spinning the prize wheel and winning an award from Newtonville Books.

Mary Cotton, owner of Newtonville Books since 2007, said the program was intended to encourage Newton students and adults to read during the summer months, and highlight the importance of diverse voices in reading material. The store was founded in Newtonville and is now located in Newton Centre.


“I think the more widely we could read, the better it is. And so we’re sort of giving you a chance to broaden your summer reading as a fun project,” Cotton said.

The Newtonville Books bingo challenge concluded Sept. 22, the last official day of summer. Newtonville Books holds annual summer reading challenges, but this past summer Cotton wanted to do something different.

“And then this year we were just going to be around, and I was like ‘You know what, let’s put together an actual bingo card,’” Cotton said.

Olivia Bernow, a first-grade teacher at the Cabot School in Newton, said her two children participated in the event. Bernow said the challenge forced her to learn more about marginalized voices in children’s literature, like Indigenous and LGBTQIA+ authors.

“I didn’t have knowledge of LGBTQIA+ authors and that kind of made me do a little bit of research on that and do some research on Indigenous authors.” Bernow said. “It forced me to kind of broaden my knowledge.”


Tui Sutherland, a local author, said she enjoyed the Newtonville Books bingo challenge and the push to expand her reading list for the summer.

“I try to read books with a wide array of perspectives anyway, but it was a really good opportunity for me to sort of sit and look at the books that I was planning to read and be like, ‘Oh, I don’t have an Indigenous author on here,’” Sutherland said.

The end of the summer reading bingo coincided with Banned Books Week, which a national coalition of library and advocacy groups organizes to try and bring awareness to books historically and currently banned in some schools around the country. Cotton said she had seen a shift in other cities around the country and in the public’s understanding of book banning.

“Just a few years ago, we would have a lot of people who were surprised that books were banned. And now that’s totally changed. Everybody knows because we’ve seen so many bans in schools and challenges from school boards... it’s on people’s mind more,” Cotton said.

When asked about a recent increase in book bans in schools in other parts of the country, Bernow said, ”I feel lucky that I’m in a community that trusts educators and that we’re taking care of our students, we’re not marginalizing anyone. We’re trying not to marginalize anyone. We’re trying to do the opposite.”


Sutherland and her 10-year-old son participated in the reading challenge together.

“I think it was really awesome for [him] to get to mindfully choose books, as opposed to just the books I put in front of him,” Sutherland said.

They filled in one square with “Rabbit Chase,” by Indigenous author Elizabeth LaPensée and another square with “The Prince and the Dressmaker,’’ by Jen Wang, a title recommended by Newtonville Books.

Cotton said she is glad there is an appetite for diverse reading in the community. “People are definitely open to trying new things and thinking about their reading in a more conscious way,” she said.