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Mountain of books
Hawthorne Elementary School fourth-grader Brittany Tromp, 10, monitors the school's "ski hill" Friday afternoon. Librarian Michele Nokleby started the ski hill as part of an independent reading program for the students. Each student is represented by a pipe-cleaner skier or snowboarder, and can progress from the "bunny hill" up to the "triple-diamond expert" slope with increased reading.
Photo by GRETA MARTINSON/Missoulian

Students reach their reading goals with miniature ski hill as incentive

At Hawthorne Elementary School's "Library Lodge Ski and Snowboard Resort," the snow never melts, the restroom is just a few steps from the slopes and one need only read 300 pages to advance to a higher level of outdoor snow sports expertise.

On Thursday, just a week since the resort opened, a crowd of "skiers" was on the bunny slope, but a few had already advanced to hills labeled "intermediate" and "challenge."

Nearby, the steep drop-offs of "expert," "double-diamond expert," and "triple-diamond expert" hills beckoned those advancing readers.

For a student to reach the top of the mountain, he or she must read 1,500 pages.

That's where fourth-grader Megan Clawson, 10, plans to go before the resort folds up and the reading contest ends in late February.

"I just read books my level," she said. "It doesn't really matter what it is about, as long as it's interesting."

Clawson is currently reading "Amber Brown," by Paula Danzinger, and has already advanced to the "challenge" level.

Librarian Michele Nokleby created the series of hills from white felt and various props adjacent to the school library, offering a winter wonderland to tiny pipe-cleaner people who stand on Popsicle-stick skis or snowboards.

Dozens of interested students in grades one through five crafted their own character, adding a bead as a head and soft yarn for hair.

Fifth-graders Nathaniel Goodburn, Conner Anderson and Allen Hendricks engineered two chairlifts using wire, straws and tiny plastic tubs.

"We figured it all out after school one day, when we were bored," Hendricks said.

The trio worked on the lifts during recess. All three said they are motivated to read more now because they want to keep advancing their pipe-cleaner person onto another more difficult slope.

"I already have 400 pages done," said Tyler Daum, 10, who proudly points to his skier on the crowded landscape. "If I read 200 more, I'll move to the next level."

Daum started out reading a series of books by Lemony Snicket. He has read eight in all. Now, he has moved on to "White Fang," by Jack London.

The challenge has even the youngest of readers excited about hitting the books. Luke Entzel, 6, a first-grader, has read 28 books since the contest began last week. He's already reached "intermediate" level and hopes to keep cruising along. His favorite text so far is "Rotten Ralph," by Jack Gantos.

Fellow fourth-graders Ranie Gramm, 9, and Brittany Tromp, 10, have also plunged into books. Gramm recently finished "The BFG," by Roald Dahl, about a big friendly giant and a little girl named Sophie. She's now tackling "In the Clear," by Anne Laurel Carter, a story about a girl who is diagnosed with polio on her seventh birthday.

"She has a dream she wants to play hockey and her dad makes a rink in her back yard," Gramm said.

Tromp is reading three different books at once, including the 500-page best seller "Eragon," by Paradise Valley teenager Christopher Paolini.

All of the youngsters participating in the challenge have done so independent of their regular classes, although Nokleby also gives them credit for required reading. A parent or teacher must sign off when a student claims credit for finishing a book.

It isn't the first time Nokleby has used creative contests to motivate students to read. Last spring, a bare wall across from the library sprouted silk flowers, one for each student. Each flower grew taller with each new chapter a student read.

"The more they read, the higher their flower grew," she said.

Pretty soon the whole wall was covered in flowers.

Reporter Jane Rider can be reached at 523-5298 or at

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