Three years ago, my first attempt at a classroom library was a collection of titles that I’d read during and after college. Well-loved copies of books like A Farewell to Arms, Pride and Prejudice, and Mrs. Dalloway sat along side more contemporary fiction I read for pleasure when I had the time, titles like A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Time Traveler’s Wife. As an English major and general book nerd, it was a lot of books! That was also the year I was teaching AP Lit, so many of those “English major” titles were going to come in handy with the independent reading I was planning on having my seniors do.
But I soon realized that while many of these titles were great for AP Lit students, they weren’t so great for my other classes, especially my ninth graders. I suspected that some, if not several, students were Spark-noting and Schmooping through their independent reading. As one student admitted in a reflection on her middle school reading, “I picked a book I didn’t know anything about, read a little of the first part, and then Sparknoted the rest to do a project.” Here’s another student: “Given a choice between reading and helping my mom clean the house,” another student once said, “I’d rather clean the house.”
The more I thought about it—and the more I read the work of Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Donalyn Miller, and others—the more I realized how important it was to surround students with titles that would speak to them.
So my challenge was clear: how could I build a classroom library that could inspire an independent reading life?