“A good library will never be too neat, or too dusty, because somebody will always be in it, taking books off the shelves and staying up late reading them.” -Lemony Snicket
I once came across a quote by Lemony Snicket that read, “A good library will never be too neat, or too dusty, because somebody will always be in it, taking books off the shelves and staying up late reading them.” The visual that instantly formed in my head was a classroom library. Never too neat, never too dusty, somebody will always be in it…taking books off the shelves. Those words danced in my head as I envisioned the classroom library that I hoped to curate for the children in my room.
In my school district that is situated right outside of Columbus, Ohio we are provided with an initial classroom library. This initial library is selected by a group of teachers who create a list of books that would be appropriate respective grade levels. I consider this initial library just a start. The list…while a start, wasn’t created specifically for the readers in my room. In my mind classroom libraries are built each year based off the children that are living in it each year.
As I browse my current collection of books I can see the many children reflected from past and current years. I add books all the time. In the past I’ve used donations, written grants, always my own funds, and each year my entire classroom budget that is provided by the school strictly goes to buying books for the year.
Buying books happens all throughout the school year as I get to know the children in my class. Choosing books to add to our classroom library largely depends on the identities of readers that sit in front of me. The stories that they tell me about themselves and bring into our classroom space guide the book selection process. I look to see if the children’s interests, race, religion, gender, family structure, language, ability, national origin, personality type, socio-economic experience, and ethnicity are represented in the books that are currently in our library and add books based on the stories that will increase the mirrors and windows for the readers in the room. Rudine Sims Bishop forever changed me as she taught me about mirrors and windows in books for children. I believe classroom libraries should be filled with mirrors and windows.
“A library is never too neat.” With the number of books coming in and out of our classroom library our system for housing books is simple. I currently teach third graders but to be honest our system was the same when I taught first and second grade students. We have baskets for realistic stories. Both picture books and chapter books are in these baskets. These stories the children say are everyday children stories. We have baskets for series books. Where they are early chapter books series or picture books series. Students know if a book is in a series where they should go to find it. There are baskets for “animal fantasy” books as one of my students lovely named those baskets. These are books with animals who exhibit human features. And there are baskets for fantasy, poetry, non-fiction, biographies, and author sets.
This system has made it simple for students for search for books and put them away. The simplistic approach has ensured that the classroom library is never too neat but many students are always in it searching and finding books the need to read all throughout the day.
Book displays have been a great compliment to housing books in baskets. The organized baskets allow students easy and quick access but displays also get them excited about new additions. I use book displays around the room to show case new books. We talk about them and think about where they would go in the classroom library when it’s time to put them in baskets.
Oftentimes I use books off the displays for our classroom book-a-day and random book talks. Classroom book-a-day started by Jillian Heise, a school librarian, has been a perfect way to get children excited about books. It’s a time of the day where I read a book for the shear enjoyment of reading the book. Also, doing quick book talks randomly throughout the day has been a fun and easy way that I’ve gotten children excited about books. Children have come to expect classroom book-a-day and my random book talks each day and they often tell me they have gotten ideas for their next book to read because of them.
“Taking books off the shelves and staying up late reading them.” That’s the goal, right? Children taking books off the shelves and reading them. To achieve this goal in my mind it is not finding the perfect balance of older or newer books, only have popular authors, or only selecting award winning books. It is knowing the identities of the children in front of you. It’s matching books to readers who are reading them.
A book that was written twenty years ago that never won an award can do that just as a brand-new book that is the top seller can also do that. It is my job as an educator to be an avid reader of books for children. I need to know books well and be responsive to the identities of the readers in my room. To get children taking books off shelves and reading them I need to provide the books that reflect who my students are and their interests each and every year.
My classroom library was built and will be curated from the vast identities of children who have entered through the doors of our classroom. The books tell their stories. Reflect their interests. Have touched their hearts and have hopefully changed their human experience.