I’ve been teaching middle school English for over 20 years and like other veteran educators have seen movements start, end, get repackaged, and begin again with renewed vigor. One of the things I know for sure: nothing beats recreational reading.
It’s one thing to know this and another to know and apply classroom practices fostering a genuine love of books. Having a robust classroom library is a must, not a luxury. Yes, I’m lucky to be in a school with a fantastic library. Even luckier to have a supportive, energetic librarian. But having books right there to put in the hands of a reader at the right moment? That’s where the magic happens.
The magic of hearing a girl tell me after reading Linda Sue Park‘s A Single Shard, “This book was so great. I’ve never read about a character from Korea like me.” The magic of having self-professed haters of books arguing over who gets to read Kwame Alexander‘s Booked first. The magic of reshelving a book that didn’t work and pulling three or four others that just might.
It’s taken me years to build my classroom library, and I’ve used all the tricks other teachers do: Scholastic warehouse sales and bonus points, donations from students at the end of the year, pitches to our parents’ organization for funding. My library takes constant maintenance, too. Every year’s students are different. Last year, my readers could not get enough graphic novels. This year, realistic fiction reigns king. Even though Kiera Cass‘s Selection was replaced mid-way through last year, it’s time to replace it again. Loved books show their wear quickly, evidence that having these books makes a difference.
Chances are, I don’t need to sell you on the value of reading. We know wide reading improves vocabulary and test scores and all sorts of other great academic things. What we also know is that reading quality fiction improves students’ empathy (a subject for a future post). Reading makes people better.
In Ascension Parish, where I began my teaching career, classroom libraries are about to serve an even more elevated function. Three flooded schools will make a new home for themselves in the River Parish Community College. Because they will not have a library, teachers will be completely reliant on their classroom collections.
In my home parish, Brookstown Middle School took on 5 feet of water. 15 teachers lost their classroom libraries. Their 300 students will join those at Scotlandville Middle School, and along with flexibility and patience, those students and teachers will need books. They need Matt de la Pena and Jacqueline Woodson, Laurie Halse Anderson and Sharon Flake. They need voices that mirror their experiences, voices that give them windows into a world beyond their own.
For this to happen, they need you. Please consider shopping from the Amazon Wish Lists included on this site. Librarians are ready to accept donations, and teachers are gearing up for the new challenges that await.