I stood in a most perfect bookstore in the Memphis airport one evening smelling the strong scent of Bar-B-Q that permeates the place as I waited for my flight.
Under maple bookshelves lit softly by spotlights, I came upon a collection of animal books, not just The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and A Dog’s Purpose by Bruce Cameron, but Cassius: The True Story of a Courageous Police Dog by Gordon Thorburn, which explores the scenting capabilities of police dogs that help solve crimes.
There were books about training birds, the history of zoos, and endangered species. I could imagine current students who would enjoy each title. This was an intriguing collection placed directly across from classics recommended by those who work in the store. There was a shelf of new fiction, one of psychology and self-discovery, and a section for business books.
The store went on and on. You know: a book for anyone who might wander through this place. It’s hard not to pick lovely books up, hard not to stuff my suitcase even fuller. (I did, in fact.)
But I also twirled around the room for a moment and imagined clearing out the center shelves in the store and putting in tables, writing notebooks, and students. My classroom should be such a celebration of reading. We need a book for every reader, recommended by readers, shelved by interests and inviting browsing.
When I speak to teachers about leading readers they want this place, and I want it for them. Many have contacted me after bargaining with their principals and colleagues to set up classroom libraries and support independent reading.
Jason BreMiller wrote, “I was skeptical at first at the thought of my students really digging deep to explore books and to create their own reading lives. But what I've found, to my great happiness, is that they have; they do. The bulk of my students have thrown themselves into their independent reading projects with verve, as if they've been waiting for this opportunity all along. For many, it's returned them to a time in their lives when the simple power and joy of stories was alive for them. They give Book Talks and listen attentively to each others' reading experiences. They write reflectively about how their books move them. Freed from the imposition of having to read books they haven't chosen, they bring a refreshing bout of honesty to their thoughts about these books. Mostly, though, they've read books – a cause for celebration both amongst the students and their growing list of texts-finished, and for me, their teacher, who has observed from afar the unconscious, often-subtle (but clear-as-day!) literacy benefits they've made by reading more than they have ever read before. Many of my students consider themselves readers now, and have built a momentum that will propel them into a life of reading.”
Kristina Peterson wrote, “I left your class (UNH summer school) armed with great ideas and a ton of passion and shared it all with my principal who gave me $300 for books. With that, a lot of my own money and a ton of book suggestions from you, I created a classroom library. It's no surprise that my kids are reading like crazy. Even my study hall kids who see the books are taking advantage of it. Recently, two other teachers decided to jump on board. So, together (armed with my reading rate charts and student essays) we approached our principal who agreed to give us EACH a THOUSAND dollars towards a classroom library for next year!”
My heart expands with stories like these.
But the truth is, as budgets have shrunk, books and libraries and school librarians have been cut in far too many schools. Books can have an incredible effect on children’s lives, yet there’s only one book for every 300 kids living in underserved communities in the U.S. (RIF)
I believe every child in America needs access to books that will keep them turning pages, racing to the end, discovering new ideas and learning to understand the diversity in our world.
I believe all children deserve books they can and will want to read and teachers that will guide them to improve as readers.
We need access to books from every corner of the world and from every field of study. Students should have access to all the current award winners in literature and to the wide range of genres they will read in the future. Every classroom should have hundreds of books to inspire curiosity, hope, and vision for the future.