Sunday Reflections: Tuesday Crying

I keep thinking about Tuesday afternoon in my classroom. I feel like I should share it. But it feels strange to centre a blog post around a lot of crying. And it is the crying that is significant. There was a lot of crying on Tuesday afternoon in our room. The crying was full of sadness. Some stemmed from grief. Some was about pain – pain from remembering, pain from missing, pain from past and present hurts. It was about loss. Loss of place. Of people. Of security.

Some of the crying was just because there was so much crying. Because we are connected. We are wired to feel, to care, to absorb the pain and emotions of those around us. At one point, at least half the class was shedding tears. In one child it was a single tear rolling down a cheek. In another, little sniffles. In others, full out sobbing with dripping noses and wails.  We all shared in these tears and it was incredible. Incredible and necessary and full of promise. I continue to be in awe of all of that crying.

How can I begin to explain?

It began with a read aloud.

In the days before Remembrance Day, I planned numerous read alouds about war, peace, voice and hope. Remembrance Day was not what it was in my childhood where war was definitely long ago and maybe far away. Today, many of our lives have very recently been touched by war and conflict. I have refugee children sitting in my classroom. I teach students whose families were forced to flee their home countries because of politics, safety and war. Students in my room have experienced recent loss. They have listened to bombs. They have lived in camps waiting for safe passage. They have been part of making a new home in a new place.

So when I read a book about a child living in a war torn place where peace did not exist, I knew it was an invitation. An invitation to wonder. To talk. To share stories. Those things might happen. It was at least an invitation to listen. I was prepared for any of it as in not really being prepared at all. I was just open. What might happen would not be unexpected but I had no idea what to expect. I just knew I had an important book to share.

A Child’s Garden: A Story of Hope by Michael Foreman (2008) remains one of my favourite titles to share in this context. It is gentle and honest. It doesn’t hide from how hard war is for a child as it portrays a fierce commitment to a hope for a different future.

How do we talk about war and conflict with children? How do we honour peace? Sometimes all we need is a place to start and this book provides that place.

One child broke down in the final pages. She apologized for not holding things in. This book had made her remember her own family’s recent experience with war. We assured her that it was absolutely okay to cry. I had her come and sit beside me and helped her share a little bit of her story with her classmates. By this time, others were also crying. Some children uncovered their own sadness and many tears erupted. Many of us were crying together for many reasons, some with nothing at all to do with the story.

We made space for all of these tears. It is significant in so many ways to sit and cry unabashedly in your classroom surrounded by a class community. The room grew more quiet and still and we honoured all of this crying.

We gathered in a circle and held hands. I asked a child to turn off the overhead lights. We sat together while many children cried. Many watched and absorbed. Nobody needed to tell a specific story. Nobody was told to stop. In letting ourselves be in those emotions, without hushing, consoling and being asked to move on, out little circle of crying became safe and beautiful. Snippets of stories were told. The listening was intense. There was room also not to tell but just to be. Keeping everything in often hurts more than letting it out. A big cry in a quiet room surrounded by others who are present with you is a pretty beautiful thing.

I sat with my students as witness. I looked at each one in the eyes and smiled. I held little hands. I nodded. I knew it was my role to shift the energy eventually, to help us move to what was next. But I didn’t feel the need to rush it. I didn’t let a room full of crying children and contagious tears scare me. I gave it time. I didn’t swoop in to fix or fuss or brush tears away. To stop emotions is to say there is no place for those things here. And there is big space.

Aren’t we lucky?” I said instead.

Aren’t we lucky we can feel so safe? We can cry here and remember sad things together. We are lucky that we care about each other. That we are all here. That we want to know each other’s stories. We are safe here.”

Then I guided.

Stand up.”

“Let’s go.”

“Flick on the lights.”

“Get in line.”

“Open the door.”

We walked down the hall in a large mass. Some still sniffling. Someone brought along our now mostly empty tissue box. We went to the gym and raced around. Did silly stretches. Played a familiar game that let us run and shoot and shout and cheer. And laugh.

Eventually, we headed back upstairs to our room to have ice cream cake. It was somebody’s birthday. What perfect, perfect timing. Apple juice. Cake. Birthday songs and wishes. More giggles.

At the end of the day, many chocolate smeared faces beamed at me. I got a lot of squishy hugs. One child whispered, “Can we read more books like that? It helped me remember my country.”

Yes! Yes we can. Yes we will. Yes we have. (See the list below for titles that I shared later in the week or have in the pile for next week and moving forward).

“I like how that book was so sad. That’s why it was my favourite,” one child explained to me on Friday as he wrote about the books. I asked him why he loved a such a sad book so much. “It let me remember, ” he explained.

So that is our work for this next while. Remembering. Telling and hearing stories. Feeling all the emotions. We have decided to make our exploration of this question: What is peace? the theme of our year.

The little one who was first so moved by this story shared these words in her Reader Response book on Friday.

I liked A Child’s Garden because I remember my country. And I finally take every thing in my heart and share it. I really liked that everyone was caring about my country. My dream and my wish is to go to my country and see everyone. I hope that war is going to finish.

“I finally take everything in my heart and share it.”


This is everything. All that crying in our classroom on Tuesday allowed for this. A lot of crying changed our room. I feel so absolutely blessed and honoured to do this work. To learn from the children I share my days with. To be a part of a classroom community that is safe. That cares. That can sit in the dark and cry together. That has decided to begin answering one of the most important questions that can ever be asked: What is peace?

This little paper was passed to me Friday. It is the beginning of the thinking and wondering that I hope will fill our room.

Here is a list of more titles we will be reading together as a class. This is a beginning. We will find others as our inquiry, thinking and questions lead us other places.

My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo

The Journey by Fransesca Sanna 

Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey written by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes and illustrated by Sue Cornelison

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margariet Ruurs Artwork by Nizar Ali Badr

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood

Why?  by Nikolai Popov

Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin

peaceSami and the Time of the Troubles by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland and illustrated by Ted Lewin


Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 5: Sourcing

On the last day of summer before school begins tomorrow, this post is a reminder that those “done” libraries might not be completely done.

In my room, books now reside on shelves like this:

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 5: Sourcing

Instead of all over the room like this:

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 5: Sourcing

But still, things aren’t done. Now, I am sourcing. Ideas. Book lists. Wisdom. Experience. Preferences. So that as the year rolls out, I can add titles to our classroom library that my students will love.

How do I do this? A few ways . . .

Any kids who come into my vicinity get asked What are some of your favourite books? (if they are Grade 3 age-ish) Do you remember the books you loved a few years ago? (when they are a little older) If I am lucky enough to have children visit my library (usually the children of other teachers in the school) I drag them into my classroom and prompt: Look carefully at this library, it’s for a Grade 3 class. What do you think is missing? Are there books you think shouldn’t be here? What books would you be excited to read?  I spy on children at the bookstore and the library that look about Grade 3 age. What do they gravitate towards. What makes it into a pile? What is pulled off the shelf? Child opinion? It’s golden!

I also ask colleagues – teachers, literacy coaches, teacher librarians – those I know in person and those I know on line – about books their students love. I give lists of series and ask if these were read in Grade 3 classrooms. This helped me move some titles out of my library that my Grade 4s and 5s read. Some things I moved out and then moved back. Asking questions helps me learn from the experiences of others. What’s popular? What is constantly read? What books do kids ask for again and again?

I wander through bookstores and get the opinion of my favourite booksellers. What’s selling? What are kids this age often looking for? I love visiting bookstores with a friend who is a teacher librarian – we trade recommendations and I snap pictures as we talk. Later I look up titles and series we talked about and read reviews.

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 5: Sourcing Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 5: SourcingSummer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 5: Sourcing

I also zoom in when other teachers tweet photos of their classroom libraries or share photos on their blogs. Are they teaching a Grade 2-4 age range? What books are in the bins, on the shelves and best yet, in students’ hands?

Another great source? The lovely organized book shelves of my friend’s Goodreads accounts. Many of us organize our books on book shelves so I check out those shelves titled Great for Grade 3, Transitional chapter books, Classroom Favourites, etc. I have scrolled through all of the posts about transitional chapter books that Alyson Beecher and Michele Knot post. These #Road2Reading challenge posts are a fantastic source for those teachers teaching primary classrooms! My reading community is my primary source for new titles. I read lots of blogs and pay attention on twitter to relevant books being discussed. Certain hashtags are really worth following: #IMWAYR, #nfpb2017, #titletalk, #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

Sometimes, I am looking for very specific books. Right now, I am paying attention to what is getting Caldecott buzz so I can begin to put together my Mock Caldecott list. Often, I come across books I love while at the bookstore but I also pay attention to what is tagged on Caldecott lists on Goodreads and love checking out the list that Margie Culver keeps adding to: Mock Caldecott 2018. Margie’s blog Librarian’s Quest  is an incredible source for book titles.

The most important source? My students. The students I haven’t yet met and so these recommendations have yet to happen. I am leaving physical and mental room for what our library will need. Once these children begin to read in my room, I will start to pay attention.

What will this particular group of students need? Love? Grow into?

More early series to build fluency? Chapter books with more complex themes? Nonfiction titles about . . . ? Titles with children who . . . ? Stories about places like . . . .?

This is what I will learn in the next months.

For our library to grow, all of these sources will be considered carefully and considered often.

Wishing everyone a happy reading journey!

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 5: Sourcing

Note: This is the fifth and final post in a series. Missed the previous ones?

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 1: Relocate

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library Step 2: Weed

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 3: Additions

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 4: The details


Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 4: The Details

Why do we have books in our classrooms? So that children have books all around them that they want to read. Each and every reader. Lots and lots of books. But as important as the books? The organization and display. Those readers need to be able to find the books they want to read. While you are thinking about the amazing, diverse and relevant titles that should be in your classroom library, don’t neglect the organization piece. That’s what this post is all about.

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 4: The Details There's a Book for That

Note: This is the fourth post in a series. Missed the previous ones?

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 1: Relocate

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library Step 2: Weed

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 3: Additions

The most important thing to know here? There is not one magical organization system. What works in my classroom might not work in yours. It won’t match your class environment. Your space. Your books. Or your readers. So my systems are merely suggestions. Don’t get obsessed with tape colours or types of stickers. Instead, think about key things: display, rotation, access, organization, tours, systems.

During the summer, I have time to get to those bins of books that need to be labelled, think about book display and work on other organizational tasks.

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 4: The Details There's a Book for That

First let’s get some important things established.

  • I have blogged about classroom libraries before and I stand tallest behind these words:

No, I don’t level the books in my library but yes, I know how to find the right books for the right readers when difficulty level is an issue. Students are readers and they need to feel like there are lots of possibilities, not lots of limits.

This means a few things

  1. You need to know your books.
  2. You need to know your readers.
  3. You need to watch your readers because they will grow and change and develop new interests and new needs.
  4. Your classroom library needs to grow and change along with your readers and/or have places for your readers to grow into.
  • Books need to be organized. So that your students can access them. So that you can find them. Finding a book on a shelf with no systems is about luck and it takes time. Locating a book on a shelf with a system gives readers the gift of more reading time.
  • Systems must be taught (more on this below)
  • New books need to go through a process before they become part of the library (more on this too below)
  • It’s okay to have a classroom collection and a read aloud collection (that you rotate through the classroom collection so students have access)
  • Putting systems into place takes time but setting up systems so that everything has a place saves time later!

Some questions I think about that might be helpful for you to ask yourself:

  • Are there specific areas of the classroom library for all the different kinds of books (fiction, nonfiction, graphics and comics, picture books, chapter books, other formats like magazines, etc.)?
  • Do students know how the classroom library works?
  • Can students put books back properly? And if not, what system is in place for this?
  • Is there a place in your classroom for new books to be housed before they are labelled, etc.?
  • What kinds of display spaces do you have available? Outward display is key! Where is there space for this in the room?
  • Can books rotate through display shelves or specific bins?
  • Where will students keep books they are reading? What are the systems and guidelines around this?
  • Who gets to read the newest acquisitions? How does this work?
  • Can students take books home? What kind of expectations does this involve?

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 4: The Details There's a Book for That

Below are my answers to the questions above. I have included these not because these are the “correct” answers but simply to give you some potential ideas or to start your thinking:

  • Are there specific areas of the classroom library for all the different kinds of books (fiction, nonfiction, graphics and comics, picture books, chapter books, other formats like magazines, etc.)? I have spread shelves around the classroom so that everywhere you look, there are books! I have a graphic and comics shelf, a nonfiction picture book shelf and a set of shelves for fiction (chapter books and picture books) I also have bins of picture books in 2 other shelf areas of the library. In the photo below (taken in the fall of 2016) you can see that fiction shelves begin at the bottom with picture books and as you go up the shelves, the books typically become longer and more complex. I simply tell students that the books on higher shelves might take longer to read. 

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 4: The Details There's a Book for That

  • Do students know how the classroom library works? I spend a lot of time in the fall helping orient students to the library. We explore particular bins of books to learn about genre. I book talk a large variety of books and explicitly show students where those titles or others like them “live” on the shelves. We learn that book spines have tape or stickers which correspond to genre and that books are grouped by genre on the shelves. This Browse by Genre idea came from this post by the thoughtful Tricia Ebarvia.

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 4: The Details There's a Book for That

  • Can students put books back properly? And if not, what system is in place for this? For those students who struggle with remembering where to return books back on the shelves or for students in a hurry, I have a large bin labelled Book Return and students place books in this bin to be later shelved by keen library helpers or myself. Most students do know where to return books though because of spine or back cover labels. Chapter books have genre labels and stickers on the spine and so books can be placed back with other titles with the same label. Picture books and nonfiction picture books all have back cover stickers that correspond to bin label. With some series, books are housed in a bin with that series labelled on the front. Once this is taught, it is easy for students to navigate.

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 4: The Details There's a Book for That

  • Is there a place in your classroom for new books to be housed before they are labelled, etc.? This is important! I have a few clear plastic bins that I place new books in when I acquire them. I try to tackle these new titles every few weeks – even if I have just 10 minutes and get through just a few books. When the bins fill up, that’s a clear message to me to devote an hour or so to getting those new books out into the collection. Each book is labelled before it becomes part of the classroom library system. My name goes on each book – either in the first few pages with a book label or on the back cover with a simple white sticker.
  • What kinds of display spaces do you have available? Outward display is key! Where is there space for this in the room? The photo below shows a few options. This was taken during our Mock Caldecott unit and all of the picture books we were considering were displayed on magnetic ledges on the whiteboard. I also have three low display shelves (purchased through Scholastic) which hold our #classroombookaday titles and other picture books I read aloud. Two shelves hold fiction titles and one holds nonfiction titles. I have another wire display shelf on the nonfiction shelf which displays nonfiction titles. 

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 4: The Details There's a Book for That

  • Can books rotate through display shelves or specific bins? The display shelves above hold books that I read aloud to my students. When they fill up, I return the books to specific bins in the classroom or to my read aloud collection to make room for more. I also have recently book talked books displayed outwardly on the book shelves or in a basket for students to find.
  • Where will students keep books they are reading? What are the systems and guidelines around this? My students keep books they are currently reading in their book boxes. We have general guidelines that we shouldn’t have more than 3 novels/graphic novels in the box at a time but our book enthusiasm often means the boxes are stuffed. When this happens, we have a book box clean out and add titles to our “Books I Want to Read” lists and find them later on the shelves. With younger students, I had a guideline that we tried to keep no more than 5 books in the box at a time. I teach students to keep books spine out so that we can find books and not to jam picture books that don’t fit into the boxes.

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 4: The Details There's a Book for That

  • Who gets to read the newest acquisitions? How does this work? When I book talk new books, I display them on the ledge of the white board and students who are interested in reading the book add their name to the list. I then make a list adding student names randomly onto a sticky note that is kept on the inside page of the book. Students pass it to the next person on the list when they finish reading the book. Some people do book draws to create even more excitement.  

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 4: The Details There's a Book for That

  • Can students take books home? What kind of expectations does this involve? I don’t allow students to take books home at the beginning of the year while we are learning to care for books and keep them organized. At this point, I encourage students to take books home from our school library and to visit the public library on a regular basis. Mid way through the fall, I do allow books to go home and simply keep track on a notepad. I do have a few guidelines though. Graphic novels don’t go home because there is too much wear and tear. I ask students to only have one book at a time at home. If students can not be responsible about returning books, we have a conversation. I have a few books that didn’t come back in the last week of school but hopefully I will see those titles in September. Our “loose” system worked just fine. If a few books go missing but students are reading avidly, I am perfectly fine with that.

Key things I have learned

  • Scotch tape is your friend. I cover every sticker, label or spine tape with scotch tape to ensure everything stays put!
  • Devote teaching time to learning the systems. It will pay off when you witness your students using the library with ease and keeping things organized.
  • Always be thinking about new creative ways to display books and to work book talks into your daily schedule. Advertise, bless and love these books!
  • Every time you are sure you have it all figured out, you will get a new idea or new inspiration and start thinking about changes . . .

Up next? It’s all ready. Or is it? Reaching out . . . Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library Step 5: Sourcing

Stay tuned!

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 3: Additions

I continue working in my classroom library preparing it for the Grade 3 class I will have this fall. Books that have homes have returned to them. Books that had homes may have lost them as I have reorganized. Books yet to have homes are stacked ready to get labels and stickers and then will find a place. Books have been weeded and are in process of finding new spaces or being temporarily stored. What now? I am thinking about what my current library might need.

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 2: Additions

Note: This is the third post in a series. Missed the previous ones?

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 1: Relocate

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library Step 2: Weed

Additions are not simply about a shopping list. Or even a wish list. Additions begin from the noticing. What’s missing? What series do I need to expand? What do I need to be thinking about to best meet the needs of the readers in my classroom? The readers I haven’t even met yet.

I sit in various sections of my classroom and look at the shelves. I am looking with my eyes and I am looking with the potential eyes of future students.

I don’t have #3 of Anna, Banana. When is the next Piper Green title by Ellen Potter going to be released? Do I think this new group will enjoy the Violet Mackerel series?

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 2: AdditionsThe Heidi Hecklebeck series has a number of new titles. Should I be expanding the collection? Of course, I need the next Princess and Black titles! What am I missing?Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 2: AdditionsDo I know when the next Bad Guys title is out? Is the 65th Story Tree House title in soft cover yet? Arnie and the Donut? Will there be another title?

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 2: AdditionsThese kind of noticings are simple. What series has recently been adored and should I expand it? Am I missing specific numbers in a series so that the gaps will frustrate readers wanting the next book?

The next questions are a little more complicated. I am thinking about questions like the following as I put myself in potential reader shoes:

  • If I am a kid who loves fantasy, are there books for me here? What if I am devouring thick chapter books? What if I am just beginning to read novels? What if I want to stick with picture books?
  • If I like a particular kind of picture book, are there chapter books that I might also like? Can I find them easily?
  • Can I find a bunch of funny books to read?
  • If I am a series reader, are there a range of series at a range of levels about a variety of things for me to get lost in?
  • If I find an author I love, are there more books that he/she wrote in the library?
  • What if I want to read about things I might be experiencing? Like friendship struggles? Or having a new sibling? Or my parents breaking up? Feeling lonely? Different? Discriminated against? Can I find books that will help me understand more about myself? Are there books that can act as mirrors for me?
  • Do I need to read about things that have not yet touched my life? Learn more about the world? Learn more about the lives of my peers? My parents? My neighbours? Are there books here that will be windows into other worlds and lives?

Putting my teacher hat back on, I need to think about questions like:

  • Are my organization systems student friendly?
  • Can children navigate the shelves independently (after some initial instruction and practice)?
  • Can students help keep the library organized so that we can all use it with ease?
  • Is there room for a range of readers in each genre?
  • Are there obvious gaps in specific genres?
  • Am I missing books that might have huge kid appeal but might not attract me? Can I make room for those books in our library?
  • Is there a way for children to tell me, “Can we get books about . . . ?”
  • Does my read aloud collection contain books that will allow us to laugh together? Learn together? Cry together? To be inspired? To be incensed? To shake up our thinking? To allow us to view things from new perspectives?
  • Are there books in the library that tell the history of our country? Of neighbouring countries? About the world? What really happened? There needs to be titles about residential schools. About immigration. About racist policies that have changed or persist. Books that allow us to talk about discrimination. Rights. Fear.
  • Do I have a wide range of picture books? Various genres? Lots of diversity? Short reads? Wordless titles? Longer reads? Great books to share together?
  • Does my nonfiction collection contain books about a wide range of topics? Does the organization system make sense? Are there a variety of formats? Expository?Narrative? Fact books? What are the topic gaps?
  • Graphic novels? How will we organize these books? Are popular series missing any titles? What is missing at the Grade 3 level? The graphic/comics shelf below is in process of being organized.

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 2: Additions

All books on the shelf should be invitations to read. The shelves need to call: “Hey you reader, you belong here! Have I got something for you!”

This is just the beginning. The start of some lists, of noting gaps, of wondering what else I might need. Further sourcing and list making will come later.

I don’t have endless book buying dollars so lists will remain wishes and over time, hopefully I will fill the gaps as I add to the collection. There needs to be room for the interests, passions and needs of this new class. I am repeating this again – this classroom library is fluid not fixed and will reflect the readers in the room. So there is a big unknown still to come as I get to know my new students. The most important additions I make to the library will happen when I begin to know these children.

But I need to know directions. What might be next? This allows me to find treasures here and there when I visit bookstores or sift through a box of books that a neighbour is giving away. I keep lists and notes about series in this little notebook and throw it in my bag when I remember.

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 2: Additions

My lists have begun.

Up next? How does everything stay organized as it moves into the library? I explain bins, labels, shelves and systems in this next post: Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library Step 4: The Details

Stay tuned!

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 2: Weed

My classroom library is “in process” right now. It is mid-transformation – from a Grade 4 and 5 classroom library to a Grade 3 classroom library. This is a definite process. The shelves go from full to empty, to temporary stacks and piles to full again before I pull it all apart.

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 2: Weed There's a Book for ThatNote: This is the second post in a series. Missed the first one? Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 1: Relocate

I have been going through novels genre by genre and removing books that might not fit this group of readers. Graphic novels teeter in various piles with imagined labels: perfect for primary, too mature, maybe/not sure/appropriatish.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know what this group of readers will need. I can only make an educated guess. I could be mostly right. I could be very wrong. My library is always fluid not fixed. Books line the shelves or get removed from the shelves according to the needs and interests of my readers. I learned this lesson in a big way two years ago. I was going from teaching a Grade 3 and 4 class to a Grade 2 and 3 class. I switched out some books and let many remain, thinking that the books in the collection would meet the needs of the readers. I was so off! So very, very off. Within about three weeks, I binned up a chunk of the library. I wrote about it in this post. My developing readers weren’t ready for many of the titles I thought they might be ready for and it was taking away from their ability to find books they could read and wanted to read. Some of my thinking at the time:

This wasn’t about taking books away. It was about removing titles that are currently not relevant and are actually, distracting. I left about 7/8 of the books still out. There are a lot of books. But now, we can focus on surrounding ourselves with books that we can read or might grow into in the near future. Some people thought this made me sad. Only very briefly. Until I thought about it: I love books because I love that they are read by readers. I adore the readers (and the readers to be) and these readers are my priority. These books will be back. When we’re ready.

I hadn’t messed up in terms of choosing relevant, age appropriate titles for Grade 2s and 3s. I messed up because I put together a library for imagined readers and I hadn’t yet met the readers I would be working with that year. I didn’t know the needs and interests of this particular group of children. And they were the most important readers I would know that year because they were my students. Our classroom library needed to be all about them.

And so, this work I am doing now is tentative. I am making best guesses. I am placing some books away in easy to pull back out bins. I have a stack of bins ready to be filled up if need be once the readers enter the room. This is the weeding for now stage. I hardly feel like I am finishing anything.

I am sifting through books. Pulling out. Putting aside.

Out means books will go to a new space, a new home, or retire. I give these books to other classrooms, to students, to other teachers I might know. Some titles are not up to being passed on. They have been loved enough and are worn out and need to be discarded. I have very few books that I am pulling out of my collection this summer. When I moved schools a year ago, I did this very thoroughly. I was not about to pack any book I wasn’t fully committed to keeping in the collection.

Putting aside – this is all about temporary storage. I am looking at books that might not be right for these readers coming in September. These titles are placed in baskets and bins for now. Maybe I will go reaching for them for one particular reader. Maybe, I will pull titles to lend to my students from last year. These books are kept close but out of the way.

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 2: Weed There's a Book for ThatSome sections of my library now seem like they might be right. I think . . .

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 2: Weed There's a Book for That

In answering the question: Will I keep it in the collection? I am thinking about

  • Are the themes too mature for my learners?
  • Are the story lines possibly too complex?
  • Is the book better suited to a younger classroom?
  • Is the title or series outdated?
  • Do I think this is a book or series students still want to read? I have a few stacks of series I am not so sure about. (like this stack here)

  • Are the books a format I want to introduce before I make it available? (i.e. novels in verse)
  • Are the characters vastly different from the age of my students? I struggle with this one – are my seven and eight year olds going to be wanting to read about middle school themes like crushes and dating? This is tricky.
  • Does a book or series just not feel like a fit for reasons I can’t quite explain?

I am working at this stage here and there over days as it involves a lot of thinking and decision making. Sometimes, it is much easier to go shopping at Ikea 🙂

As I look through my books, I am also thinking about what my library might be missing. This is what’s next: Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library Step 3: Additions

Stay tuned!


Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 1: Relocate

So this section of my classroom library looks ready to go.

Don’t you think?

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 1: RelocateUnfortunately, it isn’t. This mostly fiction area is all set up for Grades 4 and 5 and in September, I have a class full of Grade 3 readers walking in the door.

Add that to the regular summer tasks that happen in the classroom library and I have some work ahead!

This is Part 1 of a blog series about maintaining a classroom library and all of the summer tasks that might be involved. I am using my classroom library as an example but I hope that these reminders will be helpful and/or applicable to your own classroom library.

It all starts with returning items to where they belong and deciding if that is where they are going to stay.

These empty shelves are where all of our picture books that I read aloud rested. All of these (fiction and nonfiction) needed to be returned to their spots on my read aloud shelf. Other books from around the room from book boxes and display shelves also need to find a place.

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 1: RelocateLet the sorting begin!

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 1: Relocate

Returning to a place on the read aloud shelf. Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 1: Relocate

As I returned books, I realized I was out of space (there may have been some new books acquired over the year . . . ) and so some of my read aloud titles were put in yet more piles to be relabelled and moved into the classroom collection.

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 1: Relocate

Every book has a home, even if it is getting a new home, each one has a home. This means, organization, space and thinking about how books are used in the classroom.

I differentiate between a read aloud collection and a classroom collection of books (more on this below)

Here are some things to think about:

  • Do you want a place for a read aloud collection where the books are rotated into the classroom for students to access?
  • Do you need a place for mentor texts for writing inspiration?
  • Do you want to have some books organized by theme? For both fiction and nonfiction?
  • What about the general collection of books? How is this organized? Think about picture books (fiction and nonfiction) graphic titles and chapter books.
  • What kind of shelf space do you have? Do you need? Can you source?
  • Do you have space for a read aloud/theme books collection? Can you easily access it?
  • Do you want to/need to rotate books in and out of your classroom collection?

This is my system and works for my collection of books. In order to make something work for your collection of books, you will need to sort books into sections of your room so that all books have a place and you have easy access.

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 1: Relocate

In my read aloud collection I have:

  1. Some shelves filled with bins of books organized by theme. Some of these themes include:
  • Death and Grief
  • Peace and War
  • Mindfulness
  • Emotions
  • Hope
  • Kindness/Generosity
  • Place
  • History
  • Discrimination
  • Refugee experience
  • Moving
  • Relationship
  • Friendship
  • Bully/Bullied/Bystander
  • Literacy (reading)
  • Literacy (writing)
  • Poetry
  1. A tall read aloud shelf divided into fiction books (organized alphabetically by author) and nonfiction books (organized by topic) My nonfiction topics are here along with book lists which I update a few times a year.
  2. Some bins of teaching books which hold Reading Power themed titles and mentor texts for writing (again organized by themes like word choice).

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 1: Relocate

In my picture book collection (in bins or on shelves around the room), books are also organized into themes (and all have coordinating stickers on the back that match the bin) At this point, my bin/shelf  titles include:

  • Rhyme and Repetition
  • Fairy Tale/Myth/Legends
  • Realistic Fiction
  • Poetry
  • Humour
  • Animal Stories
  • Buddy Reading Bin
  • Favourite Authors (which keeps expanding)
  • Picture Book Fiction (for when they don’t fit in another bin!)

I am in the process of changing my nonfiction bins again . . . So more on these later.

I also have a shelf for graphics and comics. Chapter books are organized by genre and series.

At this stage of organizing (the mostly putting all of the books back stage) I am thinking about these things:

  • Does this book belong in the general access or read aloud collection?  Will it get lost in a bin and never looked at? Is this a book that my current students are likely to discover on their own? Is this a book that I want to read for #classroombookaday?
  • Is this a book that needs to be weeded out? Why? Is it beyond the normal wear and tear? Is it damaged? Is it never looked at?
  • What books have I forgotten about? Should I keep a list of a future theme for #classroombookaday? Do I see a book that will inspire a future art project? A science lesson? Is this a must read title?
  • What seems to be missing from the collection? Do the picture books in the classroom represent our learners? Are they windows into other experiences? Do chapter books and transitional titles include enough diverse titles? What’s missing?

This is the easy stage in many ways. Piling. Relocating. Thinking. Musing. List making. I am now moving on to the weeding and the temporary storage stage as titles that are more suited for my Grade 4s and 5s need to be somewhere else when my Grade 3s arrive. A temporary somewhere else as some may make their way back into the collection for specific readers I haven’t yet met.

Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 1: RelocateStay tuned for Part 2: Summer Maintenance in the Classroom Library. Step 2: Weed

Please share any questions or ideas in the comments!

Process: Slice of Life

Yesterday was my first “summer” work day back in my classroom. Living so close to my school, I can go in and putter around for a few hours here and there or dedicate entire days to getting specific tasks done. I wandered around the room yesterday transforming it from its fairly tidy end of June state to a complete pulled apart mess.

This is always the beginning for me – making it look much worse before it gets much better. I watered and repotted plants, leaving some stranded on tables waiting for a larger pot or a perfect new spot or both. Some surfaces got wiped down. Unsorted papers were stuffed in a few places waiting for a dedicated day, an empty recycling bin and a very strong coffee. Some furniture was shifted. Needing a second or third look before finding a “new year, new spot”. Again waiting. I need to clear some surfaces and clear out completely for a few days when the building engineers do the summer deep clean. Then I can come back in and again pull things apart before putting them back together.

Every year. The same process. Pulling it apart. Settling on the new. Organization. Systems. Flow. This process needs to happen each year. Shake it up. Smooth it out. Wonder and shift.

It happens with my classroom library as well. Every summer the shake up happens. I take my carefully organized library, turn it on its head and put it back ready for a new group of learners. To honour that writing too is a process, today’s slice is all about these classroom library tasks. Not the details but the beginning of the details. I have been thinking about doing a blog series about the maintenance of the classroom library that needs to happen each year. Today my writing is the skeleton of that series. The very beginning. The just ideas stage. The lists and tasks are both my schedule to follow and the beginning of a series of posts. I think. Process: Slice of Life

How does a blog post or a blog series happen? Just like many pieces of writing. Shaking it out. Sorting and shifting. Making a mess. Lining it up. Flushing it out.

This slice is not a finished piece. It is the beginning of the process. Lists. Ideas. Thinking on the page.

Here we go.

Classroom Library: Summer tasks Maintenance

  1. Returning displaced (why is it where it is) materials: class collection, read aloud collection. What’s changing? Weed as go (not so much weed out but moving to new places) Talk about different collections and reasons for organization (bins, labels, stickers, areas)
  2. Weeding – What goes? (less this year because of major work done last year) What changes? More dramatic this year because of grade level change. Beginning the list of “holes”/what’s missing? How are other titles stored? Can I have a lending library? Where? How? (Are number 1 and 2 two posts or one?)
  3. What gets added? Books not yet labelled (deciding what part of collection they will go into) Reorganizing to make space. How do I store books that don’t immediately get put into the collection. Book talk bins. Bins not yet labelled.
  4. The big organization is full of the little tasks – genre labels, systems, switching out bins and baskets. What materials does this involve? (stickers, labels, etc.) Location, location, location. Big shelves. Little people. Literally accessing the books. Stools?
  5. What is missing? Wish lists. The beginning of the noticing.  Diversity? Who are my readers? Will the books provide windows and mirrors?
  6. Bookstore visits. What am I looking for? What am I purchasing? What remains on the wish list. Priorities (definite gaps, Mock Caldecott titles, expanding nonfiction collection)
  7. Seeking out help. What titles specific to this grade level are must have titles? Importance of reading community. Blogs. Goodreads. Direct questions on twitter. Continued thinking about future readers (this links to #5) #7 and #6 should be switched.
  8. The ongoing piece of things. Is this separate post? Woven within? The lists I keep as I complete all of these tasks. Ideas of books for specific themes? To complement units and inquiry. Possible directions. Art ideas. Read alouds?

My intent with this series is to talk about what’s involved in maintaining a classroom library that meets the needs of its readers. It is work! Fun work but work.

Feedback? If you are reading this post, I would love some feedback. Would this be an interesting series for classroom teachers to read? Should I write it? What would you be particularly interested in reading about? Questions? Ideas?

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.