After this article was published, The Daily Herald was informed that Justin Lee, a third grader at Montgomery Catholic Preparatory School in Montgomery, Alabama, set the national record for Accelerated Reader points in May, making Bothell’s Willem Wolters the runner-up. Justin earned 2,718 AR points in the 2020-2021 school year.
BOTHELL — Willem Wolters is the top Accelerated Reader in the U.S. — and he’s only 9 years old.
Willem, a fourth grader at Cedar Wood Elementary School in Bothell, has earned a record 2,145 AR points.
The record to beat was 2,018 Accelerated Reader points. Florida’s Cayden Christensen grossed them in the 2019-2020 school year. He was then a fifth grader at Gulf Breeze Elementary School.
“My teacher encouraged me to beat the national record,” Willem said. “We felt like it was in reach when we did the math. We figured, hey, with these many points per week, we can do it.”
Accelerated Reader is a website designed to help improve, or “accelerate,” students’ reading skills.
Here’s how it works: Students read a book and then take a quiz on what it was about. Each book has a point value. Point values are based on length and reading level. The better students do on the book quiz, the more points they earn. If they score poorly, they’ll receive none.
As a reference, “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen is worth seven AR points, “The Maze Runner” by James Dashner is 15 points and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” by J.K. Rowling is worth 32.
Just how many points did Willem gross per week? With 36 weeks in the school year, that’s about 56 points per week. It helped him to set goals of about 50 points per week rather than focus on the more than 2,000 total.
“It was pretty hard at first, but then I started picking up the pace,” said Willem, who reads at least one book a day. “It feels really cool knowing that you’ve set the national record.”
Willem was recognized for earning the most Accelerated Reader points ever in the U.S. on June 17. His teacher and the school librarian surprised him at home — with all 25 of his classmates in on the secret — while they were on Zoom.
The fourth grader also was honored with a National Accelerated Reader Record Award that puts his total at 2,145 points.
But Willem hasn’t stop reading. After all, the 2020-2021 school year doesn’t end in the Everett School District until Monday.
“I’m so proud of him; I hope he’s proud of himself,” said Willem’s mom, Marisa Wolters. “I’m proud, not because he made the national record, but because he set a big goal and didn’t give up. I’m a proud mama.”
Willem is enrolled in the school district’s Highly Capable Program, in which students are provided differentiated instruction based on their interests. He read 380 books this school year — but he didn’t read them just to earn points. Willem reads because he loves books.
He likes to curl up on the living room couch with a good book and a good dog — Boomer, the family beagle. But he’s also been caught reading while going up or down the stairs. Or sitting on a park bench with a book instead of running around on the playground. Or over a plate of apple pancakes at the breakfast table.
“The hard part is when he goes, ‘Mom, I’m almost out of books!” Wolters said, adding that Willem does most of his reading before bedtime. “So I’m, ‘Oh, I’ve got to order more from the library.’” She has the Mill Creek Library’s number saved on her phone.
Willem set the Accelerated Reader record at Cedar Wood last school year with 1,546 points. His goal was to make 2,000 points this time, until he Googled the national record.
“He’s a good kid,” said John Pappas, Willem’s teacher. “He lets (his peers) feel valued, he’s a leader in the class and hardworking. He’s also a kid that is very goal-oriented. He has a good vision of himself and what he wants to accomplish.
“If he sets a goal, whatever it takes, he’s going to accomplish it.”
Willem’s career total — from kindergarten to fourth grade — is 4,373 AR points. He learned to read when he was 30 months old.
Students can choose a book to read from an Accelerated Reader list of more than 210,000 titles. Willem checks out library books meant for students in the fourth through seventh grades. He does a celebratory dance when he finishes a book.
As the school librarian, Mark Smith hosts a Sasquatch Book Club via Zoom for fourth and fifth graders at Cedar Wood. They’ll have hot chocolate as they discuss themes, list their likes and dislikes, and rank the books they’ve read.
Willem and his mom read “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank together (17 AR points). They talked about World War II when they finished. Then Willem will recommend books he’s read to his brother Ryker, who is a first grader at Cedar Wood. He recently gave Ryker “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney (three points).
“Willem has saved AR ribbons that he earned from his old school, Woodside Elementary, and has given them to his little brother,” Wolters said. “It’s sweet seeing how Willem has an almost teacher-like approach and really encourages his brother.”
Willem gets book recommendations from the school librarian, his teacher, his classmates. They all signed a congratulatory banner.
“I told the kids, we have someone being recognized, but this is a team effort,” Pappas said, adding that his class set a new national record by earning 12,000 AR points. “It represents all of us. We all worked hard.”
Willem’s AR award will be displayed at the Cedar Wood library, from which many of the books he read were loaned.
His favorite book from this year? That’s “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan. His favorite author? Easily Stuart Gibbs, whose books include the “Spy School,” “Funjungle” and “The Last Musketeer” series.
He wants to reread his favorite books from the 2020-2021 school year this summer. In addition to “The Lightning Thief,” Willem will read “Spy School” by Stuart Gibbs, “The Unwanteds” by Lisa McMann and “Ban This Book” by Alan Gratz.
“’The Lightning Thief’ is my all-time favorite,” Willem said. “It’s because it’s about Greek mythology, it’s really funny and it also gives a lot of information about it.”
When he isn’t reading, Willem plays select soccer with Washington Rush. Sometimes he even reads while practicing with a soccer ball. He likes to do art. Willem drew a few portraits of Mr. Pappas. He also likes to play video games. Minecraft is his favorite right now.
What’s next? Willem said he’ll have to meet or beat his record in the 2021-2022 school year. His goal for next year is to earn 2,500 points.
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; email@example.com; @sarabruestle.