116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Before 2020 came to a close, Paloma Bribriesco set an ambitious goal to achieve in 2021: Then age 5, she decided she would read 500 books over the course of the year — 100 for each year she had been alive.
At just 6 years old, Paloma has exceeded her goal by finishing 519 books this year. Along her literary journey, she consumed a variety of stories, from tales of Somali refugees growing up in a refugee camp to non-fiction books about dinosaurs and the environment. Her devotion to reading has impressed her own family and inspired community members to resolve to read more themselves.
What motivated her to take on this challenge? “My love of reading,” she wrote in her reading log.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl
“When Stars Are Scattered” by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (Paloma’s favorite)
“The Cave of Aaaaah! Doom!” by Jaden Kent
“Twisters and Other Terrible Storms” by Will Osborne and Mary Pope Osborne
“Stargazing” by Jen Wang
After overhearing her parents discuss New Year’s resolutions and her mom’s vague mention of wanting to read more, Paloma initially wanted to read 1,000 books.
“By then she was a pretty good reader, but I did some math to make it more realistic,” her mother, Jasmine Hernandez, said.
Hernandez said her daughter is a good reader for her age. She even gets special access at the library in All Saints Catholic School. “You have to go in a specific area for your grade, and I can go to the fifth-grade section,” explained Paloma, a first-grader at the school.
She documented finished books in her journal with check marks. When Paloma grew bored with those, she started a “stamp chart,” replacing the check marks with doodles related to the books she read — she marked her completion of the Magic Tree House book “A Perfect Time For Pandas,” for instance, with a panda doodle. She tracked her overall progress toward her goal by filling in a thermometer drawing.
When she’s not reading, she enjoys doing karate at the Northwest Recreation Center (she has a white belt with a black stripe), swimming and playing soccer in nice weather, baking (most recently, she made popsicles for Christmas) and spending time with family. She also likes the environment, so she documents the natural world as she sees new things on hikes and learns about the earth through her favorite genre, non-fiction.
Paloma often watches the movies adapted from books she’s read. Typically, she takes more of a liking to the movie version, but “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone“ was an exception. She found the movie “too scary,” so she favors the first book in J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy novel series. (Don’t worry, Potter fans: She declared she is “no Slytherin.”)
Books open her world
Paloma parents regularly read to her when she was younger, and from there, she took off and enjoyed doing it on her own.
“Reading is my one kryptonite, too, so it's late at night and she should probably be going to bed, but she just wants to read one more chapter, and I find it very hard to say no,” Hernandez said.
It’s bittersweet for her father, Andrew Bribriesco. He used to love reading to his daughter. They’d each take turns reading a chapter to each other. In the last year or so, she’s become such a voracious reader that she prefers to do it alone.
Anywhere from once to three times a week, Hernandez takes her daughter to the library to pick up a new selection of books, which are kept on a counter by the refrigerator for Paloma to grab anytime.
Hernandez chooses books for her daughter based on her interests — for instance, they might pick books about prairie lands after taking a summertime prairie walk. She also is mindful of representation to expand her daughter’s knowledge base (in November, ahead of the celebration of Thanksgiving, she selected Indigenous stories). And she chooses one Spanish book to keep her practicing the language.
For parents who hope to help their children become good readers, Hernandez considered modeling the behavior to be key.
“Despite not having a lot of time in our lives, we still try to make it a point to read in front of the kids and to read actual books rather than just sit on our phone, and it's amazing how much they model your behavior,” Hernandez said. “Andrew and I, as parents we are reading. That makes Paloma want to read, and her reading actually makes her 2-year-old brother want to read, and so he'll sit there and turn pages and make up a story along with the pictures.”
Bribriesco said Paloma is observant of her parents’ reading behavior, sometimes asking her mom, “Are you still on that book?”
Paloma’s nature journal logs the many state parks and other places she’s visited. But reading “exposes you to more of the world than you would normally see,” Hernandez said. As many places as she’s visited in real life, she said Paloma has “been to so many more places in her books.”
“I’ve even been to …” Paloma trailed off, turning to her mom to ask “What’s the highest mountain in America?” After a few moments, Paloma exclaimed “Denali,” referring to the Alaska mountain. Now they can save money by skipping a real-life trip there, Hernandez joked.
But the knowledge Paloma has absorbed from books has influenced some of the family’s travels. On a trip to Texas, the Bribriescos stopped to see the Giant Eyeball, a 30-foot tall fiberglass sculpture of an eyeball in Dallas — because Paloma read about it. Her father said she read the Alamo in San Antonio was haunted — “Haunted,” Paloma emphasized in a spooky voice — so they visited that as well.
“It really has opened up our world, too,” Bribriesco said.
Hernandez, who is from Chicago, said her parents are from Mexico. Her father never attended school, so her parents prioritized reading and education as she grew up. Now, she is passing on that passion for reading to her children.
“Whenever I look at her and my son, I always think of where I came from, where my parents came from,” Hernandez said, adding that they “are our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” in reference to a popular quote.
Paloma’s near-constant book consumption continues to impress her parents, and they’re proud to see her commitment to reading inspire the community. But Andrew Bribriesco said he didn’t initially grasp the magnitude of her 500-book reading goal until seeing the positive response.
Cedar Rapids Public Library Director Dara Schmidt said in a statement the staff loves to hear stories like Paloma’s.
“This was quite an ambitious goal and such a wonderful achievement,” Schmidt said. “The Library offers several reading programs throughout the year and opportunities for people of all ages to read toward a goal, and to explore new and diverse voices. We encourage everyone to be like Paloma and set your own reading goal for 2022.”
The library offers a Winter Reading Challenge for all ages during January, which Schmidt said is the perfect place to start.
Asked if she thought she’ll read 500 books again next year, Paloma responded, “No, 600.” But her mom interjected: “I think we're going for a different goal. Remember, we talked about it?”
“Right,” Paloma said. “One hundred big books.”
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