As I write this, it’s about three weeks before school starts. I walk into my freshly painted room. The smell is a little overwhelming and the walls look bright. My classroom library has been smushed into the middle of the room. Sigh. This was probably done to make sure paint splatters didn’t damage any of the books. Trying to find a positive spin, I remind myself that for the umpteenth time I plan on tweaking how my classroom library is organized, so I start moving book tubs around.
My current plan to reorganize my library started formulating in my head last spring with a simple comment from one of my boys. “You know Mr. K., it would be a lot easier to find some of the books I like if you had smaller categories for realistic fiction.” When I asked Jeremy to explain what he meant, he told me that the fantasy tubs were organized well — by author, series and other interesting categories. In contrast, the realistic fiction tubs just said “realistic fiction.” Since it was the last week of school, I took the easy way out and said, “Thanks, I will think about that for next year.” That conversation started me on the path to this year’s classroom library reorganization.
When thinking about organizing a classroom library there are multiple strategies to use. Tubs, displays, and shelves with bookends can all work, but for me the idea of using strategically placed tubs has become a staple. What Jeremy inadvertently pointed out to me was that realistic fiction tubs were not well-organized. I also noticed that nearly every tub that contained fantasy books had the word “fantasy” written on them (why hadn’t I done that with other genres?). This school year I changed things to make it even easier for boys like Jeremy to find books on their own.
For the past 15 years I have worked really hard to create a classroom environment that hooks boys into a reading life. How we organize classroom libraries is a key component in how we welcome our boy readers into the club. I have learned through some massive failures, small successes, and comments like Jeremy’s some key design principles for ensuring that books on the shelves or in the tubs find their way into boys’ hands.
Display heavily read or brand new books in their own tubs.
The last three to four years I have had several tubs for books labeled “Hot Books.” I place books in these tubs that get very positive reactions from all students. The “Hot Books” tubs are also set apart from the rest of the classroom library. Based on feedback I received from last year’s class, I am placing all books published this year in a different tub. One of my boys thought brand-new books should get special treatment. Of course this means I will be starting a 2014 tub in January, but I think the buzz it will get will be worth it.
Creating a special space for both heavily read and brand-new books is appealing to boys, and reminds me of my addiction to gadgetry. I love brand-new tech toys. I can’t buy them all, but I still covet them. When the boys discover new books in the room that fit their tastes, they crave the idea of being the first one to read it. When I slid the last book of the The Kane Chronicles in the Rick Riordan tub this past spring, the discovery was followed by a feeding frenzy that was delightfully alarming.
Create author tubs with direct appeal to boys.
This advice seems simple, but it also includes making an investment in fiction that you might not necessarily like. For example, I love humorous books but I am not a big fan of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. As a reader the series lost interest for me after the first book. That said, my Jeff Kinney tub is stuffed at the beginning of the year and I am sure that I will be adding the next book in the series to my Scholastic order when it comes out. Other authors besides Kinney and Riordan that appeal to boys are Tom Angleberger, Gordon Korman, Mike Lupica, Gary Paulsen, Eoin Colfer, Roald Dahl, and Andrew Clements. I also think authors like Matthew Cody, Chris Rylander and Brian Selznick will someday have a tub, but unfortunately they haven’t published enough books yet. I am a big fan of seeing students get hooked on an author. If I can make it a little easier for the boys to find the authors who hook them, I will. An interesting side effect of this organizational plan is most of my girls seem to like it too. Many of the authors also I listed as “boy” authors have big appeal for girls.
Find, honor, and store complex picture books or graphic novels in appealing ways.
There are too many great picture book authors and graphic novels to list in this article. If you highlight picture books and graphic novels in your classroom library, you will be helping boys in your room who may struggle with the leap into longer fiction. I have picture book tubs with authors and illustrators like Chris Van Alsburg, Dan Santat, David Wiesner and David Wisniewski. I also have a display bookshelf in the front of the room that I use to feature 15-20 picture books. I rotate these regularly, making sure there are at least a few titles that mesh with the interests of the boys. Graphic novels have an important spot in my classroom library as well.
Create a place to advertise nonfiction in your room.
One good thing about the Common Core is we are now expected to work with more nonfiction. While I have become increasingly reliant on great nonfiction websites like Wonderopolis and Dogo News for current and well-written nonfiction for middle grade students, I still have a special bookshelf for just nonfiction. The books are primarily housed in tubs, but on the top of the shelf I display books with covers out to entice readers. Many of our boys are nonfiction junkies. I can’t imagine a classroom that doesn’t honor this favorite form of reading.
I am certain that this time next year I will be tweaking something about my classroom library. I will never be completely happy with the library design, because I am constantly looking for ways to make navigating a classroom library easier. The tips I shared have worked well for all of my students, even though this new intentional planning has been with boys in mind. When you are thinking about your classroom library, ask yourself if you have enough books that will appeal to boys. Then ask yourself if these books are displayed or stored in a way that boys will not be aimlessly trolling through your collection. It may take some time on your part, but you will be happy you took that time to make your classroom library more appealing to boys.