Books for BANGO gets international attention at Mississippi

Kids in Coon Rapids elementary schools get a kick out of reading – in fact, they get prizes.

Every year Coon Rapids Lions Club members visit every Coon Rapids elementary school to call a rousing game of Books for BANGO.

This is a game of chance, played much like bingo with each student using a card bearing rows of letters in unique sequence.

Coon Rapids Lion Bill Guthrie calls Emma Strouse (second from right) a Books for BANGO winner and directs her to the book table to choose her prize.Photo by Sue Austreng
Coon Rapids Lion Bill Guthrie calls Emma Strouse (second from right) a Books for BANGO winner and directs her to the book table to choose her prize. Photo by Sue Austreng

The caller calls out the letter printed on a randomly-drawn flashcard and students place a token on that letter where it appears on their playing card.

When a student’s tokens line up horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, that student is a winner.

The prize? A brand new book.

But perhaps the bigger prize is a love of reading.

Just ask Diana Wyvell, Coon Rapids Lions Club Books for BANGO chairwoman.

“I hated to read in school, but these kids love to get their books,” Wyvell said.

“They are so proud of their books and they bring them home and read with brothers and sisters, mom and dad. They are so happy to have their very own book.”

Lions International was so impressed with the Coon Rapids Lions Club Books for BANGO program that it sent a film crew out to Mississippi Elementary School Feb. 22 to witness students’ excitement and get the game on film.

“Literacy is the main thing for Lions and International was impressed with how we reach 4,000 (students) every year. It shows that we care, that reading is important,” Wyvell said.

The Lions International Books for BANGO film will be used in Lions’ promotional videos and will be featured at Lions functions all over the world, including the Lions International convention, taking place this summer in Hamburg, Germany, said Coon Rapids Lions Club member Lyle Goff.

Lions Club International President Wayne Madden had earlier challenged the world’s Lions to participate in a reading action program with the intent to increase literacy and access to learning resources through service projects, according to Goff.

Coon Rapids Lions have been playing Books for BANGO with Coon Rapids kids for 17 years, Wyvell said.

Wyvell joined the Lions club “because of this program,” she said.

“It’s all for the kids and it affects so many,” Wyvell said. “They are so excited to read, so proud of their books – and we just wanted to reach everybody,”

In addition to all seven Coon Rapids elementary schools, Coon Rapids Lions play Books for BANGO at Lincoln Elementary School in Anoka and at University Avenue Elementary School in Blaine, too, she said.

The books given as Books for BANGO prizes are purchased with money donated to the schools by the Coon Rapids Lions Club. And each student wins a book because when the Lions club member calls Books for BANGO letters, he doesn’t stop calling until each student is a winner.

“Each student – every single one of them – goes home with a book,” said Wyvell.

“Kids love it. They get so excited on BANGO day and they go home with a brand new book. It’s pretty cool,” said Mississippi Principal Mark Hansen as second-graders filed in to the gymnasium for their turn to play.

The Coon Rapids Lions Club, established in 1954, is a local community service organization whose members are part of the International Association of Lions Clubs, the largest service organization in the world, with a worldwide membership of over 1.4 million members in over 45,000 clubs located in over 200 countries or geographical regions.

To learn more about the Coon Rapids Lions, visit

Sue Austreng is at [email protected]