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Back to Basics: Classroom Libraries and the Very Critical Work of Getting Better Books Into Kids’ Ha

I’ve been a teacher, a staff developer at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, a coach, a reading specialist and an independent literacy consultant. I’ve seen a lot of libraries- specialized libraries, school libraries, classroom libraries, neighborhood libraries- a lot of libraries. And I pretty much love them all. I always have.

When I was in high school, growing up in New Haven, friends and I would relish the opportunity to enter Yale’s libraries. From Cross Campus (now Bass) to Sterling Memorial to Beinecke- these libraries were places we went to take in quiet and beauty and communities of learners. Every library was unique and inspiring. Yale wasn’t especially inviting of local high school students, but we were able to access their libraries. And they were exquisite.

As a coach at a small, progressive school in the Bronx I’m in charge of ordering classroom libraries each spring. One thing I’ve worked hard to do is identify an area of need across the school and target a portion of our money each year to filling that need. Three years ago I invested heavily in starting a guided reading library for teachers across K-8.

Last year I made an intentional effort to diversify our classroom libraries so the books children hold include people and places that represent their own lives. This year I leaned on Bank Street College of Education’s booklist “From Refugees to Voting Rights, Books to Inspire a Just, Inclusive Society” to expand the kinds of books we offer to our students. And every year I purchase and replace graphic novels across K-8. Graphic novels, like no others, fly out of bins and often don’t get returned. When my colleagues express frustration I remind them of Richard Allington’s sage advice: worry less about losing books to children and more about losing children to illiteracy.

Still, I have to be honest: even with this intentionality I am failing. When I walk through my school (and many schools I consult in) classroom libraries are in poor shape. Too many are filled only with leveled books and too many are sparse. Did you know the recommended number of books in a classroom library is 750 books? Most libraries begin fresh(er) in September but by this point in the year are unattended and uninspiring. So I’m working harder to support my teachers: I’m buying fresh new bins, printing up new sets of labels and expanding where I look for titles. I recently sent my middle school teachers Teen Vogue’s “10 Diverse Books by YA Authors of Color to Read in 2017.” They were so excited to get current titles into their rooms. I’m paying closer attention on social media- so many of my colleagues post incredible book lists that I’m clicking on and ordering from.

It’s not easy to do it all. Teaching is vast and for most of us, reading is one part of a very long and complex day. And it is true that budgets pose an issue for many schools. Still, this is what I want: for all kids in all classrooms to have the chance to wonder and relish in their books. I want their libraries to be... exquisite.

Looking to expand your library purchasing? Check out these lists and sites:

Bank Street College of Education’s Booklist

Teen Vogue's Booklist

The New York Public Library’s Booklist “From Snowy Days to Scientists: Books Featuring Kids and Families of Color”

Edutopia's Booklist "Young Adult Novels That Teach a Growth Mindset"

Wilbooks (affordable books for Pre K-2nd grade classrooms)


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