Thursday, June 27, 2013

My classroom library is a car dealership, by Mike Winchell


Although yet another school year just ended—my fourteenth year teaching—I find myself rather excited to get next year started. Wow, it’s weird typing that. Don't get me wrong; I’m ready to relax and enjoy a well-deserved break this summer, but I’m itching to start the new school year at the same time. There are reasons, though, for my feeling of rejuvenation. See, I’m moving into a new classroom that has a new SMART Board, a great location in the building, enough space for any creative activity (I’ve been stuck in a room with a giant pillar in the middle that had essentially cut the room in half), and enough computers and laptops for every student. I have always said that if I ever had enough computers for all students that I would try going completely digital. I plan on doing just that, with perhaps 90% of my activities and assignment done digitally (assignments emailed, dropped in our shared drive, and handed in via web resources). And then there is something else I’m super psyched about: my classroom library.


I, like many ELA teachers, have my students read independently (on a monthly basis). And like many teachers, I allow my students to choose their own books. There is no required genre, no required book length, no reading level or reading range, nothing that might restrict them in choice. The point is for them to be inspired to be lifelong readers by allowing them to choose and enjoy their own books. There’s something to be said about students owning their own selections when it comes to reading. When you allow them to choose on their own, there’s an intrinsic motivation that comes with the choice.


This is not to say I don’t help, or sometimes guide, students to help them find books that are right for them in terms of reading level, or help them find books that might be of interest. The school librarian and I always offer suggestions, and we utilize the state-of-the-art school library to give students an extensive selection. Our library is outstanding! This said, I still enjoy having my own classroom library that is stocked with some classics, along with a ton of new MG and YA page-turners. It allows for a better student-teacher/reader-reader discussion when I can highlight  a bunch of recommended books and even pick them up, turn to a page, and say, “Read this!” It’s like a car salesman standing inside a huge dealership full of shiny rides, offering multiple test drives, and then pointing out all the bells and whistles of each car. "These books are priced to sell, folks! Just sign and drive!"

This leads me to a question for you all: what 1-2 books would you say are, without-question, must-haves for any middle-school classroom library? And why?

* * To help round out my classroom library, I have turned to many of my writer friends and asked if they’d like to donate a book to add to my "dealership." So if you are a writer or publisher and want to donate a copy of your book(s) for my classroom library, feel free to email me: mswinchell@hotmail.com. I am toying around with the idea of starting a kids-only review blog (with my school librarian) and having our students give honest-to-goodness reviews (no “good-things-only” reviews for us…just honest opinions from kids). If you’re game to throw yours in the dealership for a kid-driven test drive, go ahead and email me. **

21 comments:

  1. That sounds like an awesome classroom! Congrats!

    Middle grade huh...

    The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

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    1. Graveyard Book. Awesome choice.

      I hate to admit I have not read Dark is Rising. Based on your comment, I assume I need to read it. I will add it to my TBR pile, which is topped off by...

      FML, in bookstores now, and in my hands.

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    2. The Dark is Rising series was one of the best of my childhood. Better than Chronicles of Narnia, I think, because it didn't beat you over the head with the religious themes.

      Whoa! Hope you like it! *Spoilers* Nobody dies!

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  2. Horowitz's Stormbreaker and Ally Carter's I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You. A lot of kids who never even thought they'd like spy books get hooked after reading those. But there are so many good MG books out there!

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  3. Yes, you are right. There are so many great MG books. I love your choices. You cover the boy and girl demographic with your 2 selections, and I absolutely love Horowitz and the Alex Rider series. He writes what boys crave in a books, and I wish more publishers would recognoze that it is so, so important to give the kids what they want...if we want to create lifelong readers.

    I would feel confident allowing you to stock my classroom library!

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  4. You sound like you run your classroom how I used to. I'm such a big believer in not trashing anyone's reading choices. With that in mind, I love graphic novels like the Bone series and I still love Diary of a Wimpy Kid and I love Planet Tad even more. Kimberley Griffiths Little has such a way with MG voice and I've read some YA like Rules for Disappearing that my 16 y.o. devoured (but doesn't have anything offensive in it, really, that younger kids couldn't read). I've never been a reader of these, but kids seem to love Rick Riordan and James Patterson (mine did, anyway). I usually had some short story anthology available with Poe or O. Henry, too, for kids who liked that. And, last but certainly not least, I think every library should have Harry Potter and The Hunger Games.

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  5. Graphic novels are something I had to embrace in my classroom with the growth of their popularity. I had a policy long ago that stated no graphic-reliant literature (comic books) would could toward independent reading, but with the surge of graphic novels, I was in danger of taking "choice" away and pushing kids away from reading. I had to adjust my expectations and embrace graphic novels as literature, and once I did, I learned to appreciate the storytelling involved.

    Great choices, by the way. You alluded to one of my top 2 must-haves: Riordan, LIGHTNING THIEF. I have sort of a man-crush on Riordan.

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  6. Wow this is a tough question. I would second Shaun's notion of The Graveyard Book, especially for reluctant boys. Going by my own daughter, who is suddenly "too old for MG," Shannon Messenger's Keeper series seems to be pretty popular for girls.

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  7. Thanks, Matt. Haven't read the KEEPER books yet. The only problem I'd say with reluctant readers and those books would be the length. It is so hard to push a book to reluctant readers that, although good, is incredibly long. My dedicated readers, no problem. In keeping with my car salesman analogy, it's like trying to sell a bus to a new driver who barely knows how to operate a vehicle.

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    1. That does make sense. And it LOOKS even longer than it is, which doesn't help.

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  8. That's funny. Makes me think of HUGO CABRET book, with looks huge, but is only due to the MANY amazing drawings. The book is only around 25K words, but is 533 pages. Turns kids off unless a teacher or librarian is there to say, "Wait, give it a chance. See..."

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  9. It's wonderful to hear from a teacher who is so enthusiastic about teaching and encouraging reading!

    My MG book suggestions: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli and Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos is another good one, especially for reluctant readers because it's so hilarious!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

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  10. Love MANIAC MAGEE. Haven't read DEAD END... yet. Not sure why, but will have to.

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  11. ...tough question, (and very nice to meet you ;), I'd go with Gaiman's MG novels. Even the least interested will surely pay attention.

    El

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  12. Nice to meet you too, Elliot. Gaiman is always a good choice. GRAVEYARD BOOK was an instant classic in my opinion. I've been able to sell it to more than a few students.

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  13. Love this post. I am convinced that we are clones. Gary Schmidt, must have for boys!

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  14. Clones? Which is the original? You know, I've never read a Gary Schmidt book and don't believe I have one in my library. Which do you recommend I start with?

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  15. Kids seem to like The Wednesday Wars the best. It's fast paced, the voice is perfect, and it's hilarious with an emotional appeal. Get em with heart and humor.

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    1. I will grab that one then. Thanks.

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  16. Mike, you might be slightly older than me, so that makes you the original. Darn!!!

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!