Make Reading a Slam Dunk with a Tournament of Books!

Poster for schools 2017

Question: How can I combine my crazy passion for sports with my crazy passion for books and the kids who read them?

Answer: Tournament of Books!

Four years ago, I decided to integrate my love of sports in general, and basketball more specifically, with my love for what I do each day: put books and kids together. Using the myriad of models out there as well as the sublime and wonderful NCAA March Madness, I developed the Deerfield Public Library’s Tournament of Books. Four years later, we’re still going strong! Over the past two years alone, almost 12,000 votes have been cast!

Question:  How do I begin?

Answer:   I start with our wonderful Head of Support Services, who compiles the 32 highest-circulating picture books, early readers, juvenile fiction and graphic novels from the previous year. From each of those lists, I use the top 8 titles. (Our Teens have their own tournament with the top 32 fiction titles comprising their bracket.) Over the four years, I’ve changed how I pick our Round of 32 books. In the past, if multiple J.K. Rowling or Mo Willems titles showed up on the list, I would combine them into one (“Elephant & Piggie series,” for example). This year, I decided to thoroughly honor the circulation statistics, so, for the first time ever, all eight early readers in that section of the bracket were Elephant & Piggie titles! I’ve heard mixed reviews from kids and adults about this approach; many children thought it was unfair that one series was so heavily represented. I will change back to my original approach next year and combine series into one.

Question: How does it work?

Answer:  I create a painter’s tape bracket display on a half wall in our department. 32 book covers go up at the beginning, and after each round, the winners advance (with the book covers getting bigger each round). Children can vote in the Library using paper ballots, but I’ve also established a strong partnership with the fabulous LMC Directors in our elementary and middle schools. As each class visits the LMC, the students have an opportunity to vote online via a Google Doc. Voting in each round starts on a Wednesday and ends the following Tuesday to give every class a chance to vote. Each week, I tabulate all the votes to calculate the titles that will advance to the next round. During the “Championship Game,” I leave the voting open for two weeks.

Using painter's tape to create brackets
Our painter’s tape bracket and display in the Youth department. (Photo credit: Pamela Sorrentino)

Question:  What will change next year?

Answer:  Next year, I plan to introduce a third bracket to make the voting more interesting for each age group. My plan will be to have one Tournament for picture books and early readers, one for juvenile fiction and graphic novels, and one for teen fiction. I have heard positive feedback from some of the LMC Directors about the third bracket, so I’m really looking forward to implementing it. I’m also hoping to create some sort of reusable display where I could attach the book covers with Velcro, rather than making the painter’s tape bracket each year.

Question:  What works well?

Answer: Our partnership with the schools has been very helpful, not only in getting the word out about the Tournament but also in helping the kids vote. Without the LMC Directors, there’s no way we would have almost 12,000 votes over the last two years.  The display in the Library and the weekly Library blog posts also generate interest, as does the social media support on Facebook and Twitter from our ever-helpful Digital Communications Coordinator.

Final Tournament of Books brackets after the Championship Game
Our bracket from after the Championship Game.

It’s really a team effort, and I think we’ve got a slam dunk way to reach kids and get them excited about books!


Photo courtesy of guest blogger

Our guest blogger today is Kary Henry, School Outreach Coordinator for the Deerfield (IL) Public Library. As much as Kary loves sports, she loves her job of preschool, school and homeschool outreach and programming even more. Kary can be reached at and on Twitter as @MissKaryReads

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at

One comment

  1. Michelle Thomas

    Do you have any tips on how to create this for google classroom? We were planning on doing this with our students, but since we are out of school, I’m struggling with how to turn this into something electronic!

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