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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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. **