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BiblioNasium: social reading for kids

Logo-emailMy high school readers (and most other serious readers I know) are obsessed with Good Reads. And if they’re not, they are connected on either LibraryThing or Shelfari.

Socially connected readers seek and trust the recommendations and lists of their networks; reviews purchasing and borrowing opportunities, as well as the attractive shelf metaphors, fun quotes, trivia, challenges, and connections to authors.

But because the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) severely restricts what information can be collected from children, these communities are built for people 13 and older.

Marjan Ghara wanted to build a community where the under 13 set could also play.

So she built them a book gymnasium.  BiblioNasium is dedicated to the critical belief that all kids can fall in love with reading and that consistent support and just the right book can ignite the spark.

BiblioNasium – Website Tour from Coach Manzee on Vimeo.

I met Marjan at ISTE and also ALA, where her BiblioNasium was honored as one of AASL’s 25 Best Websites for Teaching and Learning.

mom of two with a tech startup background, Marjan is the founder and CEO of the fun, fabulously rich, growing reading community for children who want to curate and share their reading journeys.   And for the parents, librarians and teachers who want to encourage kids’ journeys, discoveries and connections with books and other readers.

As a parent, Marjan had a hard time finding just the right books to hook her kids, especially her young son, who got through the first, but couldn’t make it through the second Harry Potter.  She wondered, was he the only kid in America who didn’t like Harry Potter?

She treasured the recommendations she got from the librarians in her life–they were spot on relating to both her children’s interest and reading levels.

She wanted to scale those quality recommendations beyond the informal paper list and make them available 24/7 for all interested parents and children.

The goal was to create a gymnasium for readers, a fun space for children to learn and to connect them to the constituents who most influence what they read–their peers, their teachers and librarians, and parents.

Marjan consulted with a team of educators to help her team gain a better understanding of reading levels and a COPPA consultant to assure the platform would be compliant.

When children enter BiblioNasium, theyy are greeted and guided by Coach C. (Chip) Manzee, who functions as their Personal Trainer and Chief Motivator.

Manzee-thumbs-newCoach Manzee can help find your way around the site; suggest fun activities; offer tips; reward reading achievements and encourage kids to be their absolute best. 

Kids select and customize their own animated avatar.  When they login, their newsfeed displays updates about their books and their reading community.  The My Books tab takes them to their personal bookshelf.  There’s a reading log connected to their teacher and/or parents and a built-in calendar.  Kids can choose to select a standard review response from the pull-down menu or craft their own open review for their teacher to see. 

The book search ties into Amazon API and is limited to the 1.4 million titles appropriate for children and teens. 

In addition to books, students can log other reading materials: magazines, newspapers, comic books, blogs, etc.

Students who enjoy working towards tangible goals can earn awards, trophies and badges for their reading.

book search

Once verified, teachers and librarians may set up multiple classes, groups, or sub-groups.  (Marjan plans to add language that addresses librarians specifically and groups other than classes in updates.) Within their groups, students may write reviews connect with friends and their teachers and parents.

teacher menu

set up class lists

Teachers/librarians may set up challenges for their groups or individual students to differentiate their advice, see newsfeeds of student reading logs and their progress on challenges, and run reports for individuals or groups. This enable teachers and librarians to see what a child’s favorites are and customize recommendations for their interests and abilities.

challenge to students

Templates for print and email letters are provided to introduce parents to the site and to invite their permission and participation. Once a parent’s email account is added, he or she can see the classroom’s reading lists, monitor their child’s independent reading and set up family reading challenges. They may give permission to connect their children with friends and classmates in the community. 

Parents may choose to recommend books and set up their own challenges.  

Marjan notes that parent challenges may offer rewards of a more personal nature–a favorite meal, an extra 20 minutes of weekend sleep, a trip to a favorite restaurant.   Every parent knows best how to motivate his or her child.  It’s a good way to get kids to read books already on their shelves at home.

Reaction has been impressive.  My dear friends Shannon Miller and John Schumaker are fans.

Marjan wants the site to respond to the needs of young readers and the folks who love them.

The feedback has been great. It’s filling a niche in the market. People started to discover it. In the last year we registered nearly 28 thousand kids from five continents and saw a million and a half page views.   We’ve truly engaged with users and we try to respond to every suggestion, every Tweet.  We regularly get: “We love your site, but can you add this to it?”

It’s safe. It’s free. It’s fun. It’s cool.

BiblioNasium could help us partner with parents and teachers in better understanding our kids’ reading habits and in encouraging their interests.

The platform will offer the book clubs and lit circles we already run, an attractive boost. Through the library, we might encourage informal sign-ups and create a whole-schoool reading community.

I see it as a tool to challenge and motivate those who aren’t yet committed readers and validate those who are already hooked.  I see it as a tool for discovery, for reading outside the box, for expanding our own knowledge of possible titles.




Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Thank you Joyce for writing about and sharing the mission of BiblioNasium, Where Kids Flex their Reading Muscles!
    We are honored to be partners with librarians and teachers all over the world to engage, excite and encourage children to become stronger readers.

  2. Reading together regularly offers your child the background knowledge essential to understanding written content, once the progress beyond decoding simple books.

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