Making the Choice Makes the Difference

Meet Sofi Carreon, age 11, an avid reader with a passion for sharing her books. For her tenth birthday, Sofi asked her party guests to donate books instead of giving her presents. “My friends were kind of shocked that I didn’t want presents, they thought I didn’t do it by my choice.  They asked if I was positive or if I wanted a “real present” but the gift of sharing reading was plenty.” The effects of her passion are spreading, “One girl at my school did a drive for dogs and cats because she said she wanted to be like me.”

Sofi has been on a mission ever since. More than one year and  2,500 books later, Sofi’s eyes light up when she talks about the joy of opening a book, reading it, and sharing it with others. She takes books to local shelters, El Caldito Soup Kitchen, schools, Meerscheidt Center, Children’s Family and Youth Centers, Jardin de Los Niños, and to LCPS Project Link for homeless students. Recently, Sofi received the Youth Serving Children Award at Jardin de los Niños Red Carpet Gala. Las Cruces NEA Read Across America has made Sofi their Honorary Chair. Donations of books come from people who hear about her work.


When asked why she loves to read, Sofi explains, “Reading is the best way for me to get away from the reality of school and forget about what’s happening all around me and fly with the pages of the book. It lets me expand my world to places you can’t visit with a simple phone; a magical land of hopes and dreams that you simply pick up and read.”


Research suggests that what Sofi feels in her heart can be measured scientifically as well. According to analysis done by the British Cohort Study, reading for pleasure outside of school has a significant impact on young people’s educational attainment and social mobility because it actually “increases cognitive progress over time.”

Jeffrey Wilhelm and Michael Smith, authors of Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want—And Why We Should Let Them, claim that pleasure is not incidental to reading—it’s essential. Eighth grade subjects in the study favored books with romances, vampires, horror, dystopian settings, and fantasy. “We found that young people spoke of their reading pleasure with remarkable sophistication—and their pleasure supported the intense and high-level engagement with texts that schools seek to foster.”

Wilhelm and Smith identified four categories of reading pleasure: play, inner work, intellectual, and social.  “Our participants enjoyed making thematic generalizations, figuring out metaphors, and analyzing the aesthetic choices an author makes—intellectual pleasures all.  But more frequently, these young people experienced the deep pleasure of entering a story world, living through the character’s actions, considering the character’s perspectives, and pondering what it might mean for their own lives.”

In their own words:

“I like to get away, kind of, when I read…I choose a lot of fantasy because it sparks your imagination and lets you go somewhere else.”

“I learn about myself through books when I imagine myself in the different situations. And then I really can think about ‘what would I really do. Would I run and hide or would I, you know, stand up and take it? And then you say well I like to think that I would stay, but maybe I really would run away and the next time you’ve got that fight or flight thing going on, you kinda think back to which one you want to be doing. You can sort of help yourself change in that way, and when you really admire a character in a book who’s really brave and stuff, you kind of can idolize them and become more like them. So it’s not really learning about yourself, it’s learning about what you could be.”

“In out-of-school reading you don’t have the preconceived notion of what you should be learning, then you don’t have to set limits or expectations for yourself or for the book. Instead you have ‘this looks like an interesting book, let’s see what it’s about.’ And that just broadens the horizon without someone telling you what to do.”

“I’m part of a cultural club that grew up with Harry Potter. It gave me a sense of belonging. I loved wondering what I thought was going to happen; Talking to my friends about that; Aligning myself with characters; Waiting so impatiently for the next book. No other group of kids will have that experience again.  It kind of marks you as when you grew up and bonds you with other people your age.”

Wilhelm sums up, “Our data convinced us of the importance of choice. Students should have regular opportunities to behave the way adult readers do and choose their own reading.   They know the kinds of texts from which they will take pleasure. “

If we want students to embrace reading now and always, then we need to promote the rich, complex, and profound pleasures of reading by choice. With that goal in mind Children’s Reading Alliance begins our Giving Tree campaign. Requests for new books are already coming in from LCPSK3+ and summer enrichment programs. With your help we anticipate putting 10,000 books into the hands of children this summer.

Giving Trees are a way for local retailers to give their patrons the opportunity to contribute. A five dollar donation will put a book into the hands of a child this summer.  To sponsor a Giving Tree at your business call Maria Zuniga 575 522 3713. Donations can be sent directly to CRA at 3880 Foothills Road, 88011. Volunteers are needed to help with book distribution and storytelling. Visit to learn more and make a contribution on line.