By Julie Hoffman
The classroom library is a fundamental component of the literacy-rich environment we want children to access at school. In essence, if we want our students to become readers, to identify as readers, we need to supply a variety of texts that students can and want to read, and provide time for them to do so. If we know that the time students spend reading independently correlates with reading achievement, then it’s on us to provide volumes of diverse, high-quality materials for them to read (Krashen, 2004). In other words, we need to display the joy and power of reading across our bookshelves.
Which books should be in your classroom library?
Get the books that you love. Nothing sells readers on a book more than seeing someone else excited about it. You can use booktalks, read-alouds (first chapter or a “sweet spot” in the text), trailers, and posters as some of the ways to elevate your favorite texts in the classroom (Layne, 2009).
Get books that students will love. Pay attention to the award-winners. Ask students what they are reading and what they like to read.
Ensure that the books are representative of a global culture. Readers need access to books written by and featuring characters to whom they relate and books written by and featuring characters from different cultures (Sims-Bishop, 1990).
How do you get books for your classroom?
Write a grant proposal. Not all grants are complicated, especially if you’re asking for funds to buy books. Check with your district foundation. Check with local non-profit organizations, community credit unions, and local businesses.
Make use of gently used books. You can build a substantial library quickly and on the cheap by frequenting library sales, garage sales, church bazaars, and secondhand stores.
Create a project on DonorsChoose.org. Through this nonprofit, more than 1.3 billion dollars have been used to fund projects in public schools all over the United States.
Let students and former students contribute to the classroom library. When students outgrow their favorite series, they feel comfort in donating to their favorite teacher so they can still visit the books if they feel the need.
If you teach at a school that receives Title I funds, tap into the bargains at First Book Marketplace. You might also consider joining a book club like Scholastic. Students have the opportunity to purchase books, and you earn points to select books, too.
When you want to purchase books immediately, consider supporting independent bookstores. Some of my favorites are Asé Book Boutique, EyeSeeMe African American Children’s Bookstore, and Anderson’s Bookshop. If you want to find an independent bookstore near you, use the Indie Bookstore Finder.
Your classroom library can be the gateway to a student’s lifelong love of reading. More students will pass through the gate when the books they have access to are inclusive and empowering. What books do you need to add to your classroom library? How will you get them and how will you protect time for students to read?
Dr. Hoffman is a literacy coach for Springfield Public Schools and has taught in urban, rural, suburban, and alternative schools in Illinois for 15 years. She is also an adjunct professor in the Teacher Education Program at University of Illinois Springfield. She earned her doctor of education in literacy from Judson University in 2018. She is a member of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and is an active member of the Illinois Reading Council (IRC), currently serving as president-elect and conference chair. Her research interests include urban education, social and emotional learning, children's literature, and empathy. She is an advocate for the underserved and unheard. She believes that children’s literature is a message of perseverance and hope. Her passion is to help students who have experienced trauma find healing, resilience, and empowerment through their own writing and the writing of others.
Krashen, S. D. (2004). The power of reading: Insights from the research (2nd ed.). Libraries Unlimited.
Layne, S. L. (2009). Igniting a passion for reading. Stenhouse.
Sims Bishop, R. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3).