Students read for clues in missing-book mystery

There’s nothing quite like a Paul Banks Elementary School readathon. Each year faculty and staff put their heads together to come up with a challenge that sends the school’s pre-k through second-graders into a reading frenzy. This year, the youngsters’ reading will result in clues to help locate a dog-sled load of books that disappeared between Nome and the East End Road school.

“The theme this year is ‘Kid-a-Rod: the Great Reading Race,’ timed to run just leading up to the Iditarod,” said Wendy Todd, a Paul Banks teacher and one of the event’s creators. “The storyline is the case of the missing books.”

On Tuesday, the youngsters watched a dramatic enactment starring Sven, a Nome resident, who loves books and dogs and was a friend of Paul Banks, for whom the school is named. A letter from Banks asks Sven to bring a sled of books to the school to replace those lost during a flood. Sven immediately responds to his friend’s request, but, somewhere between Nome and Homer, loses the books during a snowstorm. 

A videoed interview with a couple of mushers informed the students that for every 120,000 minutes they read, they will be given a trivia question that, if answered correctly, will produce a piece of the map indicating the missing books’ location.

Asked if they would accept the challenge, the youngsters, adorned with dog-like ears each of them had fashioned, were quick to respond. If the volume of their voices was any measure, they’ll have the map pieced together before the readathon ends Feb. 26.

“It will culminate with an exciting assembly and, hopefully, the arrival of books if they have read enough minutes,” said Todd.

A fundraising effort also is tied to the event, with students collecting pledges of a flat fee or for 15-minute blocks of reading time. 

“The readathon serves a dual purpose,” said Todd. “It is a chance to really have fun with reading during a long stretch of winter months and also a fundraiser for our school. The monies go to things such as busing for field trips and other technology and equipment needs.” 

Students reading the most minutes in each grade and students raising the most money in each grade will earn a sled dog ride. The class at each grade level reading the most minutes is awarded a pizza party.

To keep the momentum going, the school is arranging to be in contact with the Iditarod’s teacher-on-the-trail. The Feb. 13 “Bingo for Books” event is another avenue for encouraging youngsters to read.

“The other piece of this that is so exciting is the incredible enthusiasm that is built between staff, students and parents during this readathon,” said Todd. “Every year, I have parents tell me how excited their child is to read, read, read. The staff has a great time putting this together and the families and students enjoy the activities that go along with it. And on top of that, hopefully we can raise some money.”  

New to Paul Banks this school year, Principal Eric Pederson has a strong link to the storyline.

“I’m bringing in some of my mushing equipment,” said Pederson. “(My family) did this when we were in the bush for about 10 years.”

Although his experience on a sled is mostly recreational, Pederson said he entered a couple village races and has had “a couple of good dogs,” including at least one related to Iditarod musher Martin Buser’s dogs.

For Pederson, the importance of the readathon is evident.

“It’s incredible. The creativity of this staff is amazing. Every time I turn around, there’s something new they’re up to that’s all for the kids,” he said. “It always just adds to the great experience of Paul Banks.”

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at