Getting the Right Books in Students’ Hands

One of the perks of my job as a literacy coach is to have the opportunity to move between buildings and among classrooms during the first week of school. It is such an invigorating time as students get to know where their lockers are (and how to operate those darn locks), as teachers stand ready in the doorway to answer questions and to greet students warmly, and as reading and writing communities are being built “brick by brick”.

IMG_9850.JPGOne of thliteracy-building activities our students experienced within the first five days of school was the chance to hold books in their hands and to think about what they like to read and what to put on their “to read” list. There were book tastings, book passes, speed dating with books, book gallery walks, and books talks taking place all over! There were read alouds starting on day one and #classroombookaday routines starting from the get-go.I’m so proud that it is obvious that our teachers value reading and know that children need to find books that are right for them.

A goal for me this year is to challenge teachers to think about what books are on their IMG_9834.JPGbookshelves and are being shared with students in order to support ALL students finding books that are right for them. I was privileged to attend NerdcampMI this summer and to hear from so many authors, teachers, and librarians who were champions for children and for diverse and inclusive book titles in our school libraries and classrooms. I wish that I could channel Laurie Halse Anderson or Jason Reynolds or Jillian Heise or Kathy Burnette or Mr. Schu and rally support and enthusiasm for inclusive books.

I think that teachers are starting to think about what types of texts they surround students with. I think that Rudine Sims Bishop’s “Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors” message has been shared (and if you haven’t read her work, you should!). I think it is still a work in progress for some of us. I think we need all the support we can get which leads me to some suggestions for teachers and educators:

  • READ – as much as you can, as many different genres as you can
  • Find the support you need – share titles with colleagues and teammates, ask for recommendations, set a reading goal for yourself, turn off the TV and put down the phone (yep, I said it!)
  • Get into the Twitterverse – #weneeddiversebooks, #buildyourstack, #pb10for10, #DisruptTexts, #DiversityJedi, @jasonreynolds83, @halseanderson, @jarredamato, @angiecthomas, @SaraKAhmed, @Tolerance_org, @debreese, @MrSchureads and that’s just to name a few!
  • Ask yourself some tough questions and encourage others to do the same:
    • Do the books in my classroom library represent ALL of my students?
    • Are there any voices missing from my bookshelves or any voices that overpower all the others?
    • Are there any voices missing from the whole class texts that I teach? Are all the shared text voices the same?
    • How diverse is my own professional development?
    • Are the mentor texts I use for writing representative of many different voices?

Little of what I’ve shared is original thinking, but I feel like I could talk about the importance of getting books into students’ hands for hours including being sure that all students find books that speak to them or that will make a difference in their life one day. 

So, teachers, keep hosting book tastings and speed-dating and asking students to create “to-read” lists! But, also take a look at what books make it into those piles and onto those shelves – we owe it to our learners to do that.

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For more comprehensive thinking about diversity and inclusiveness in classroom libraries, please visit:

We Need Diverse Books

NCTE Build Your Stack

Jillian Heise’s website

Article from EdWeek


**Thanks to Jen Hamilton (KMS) and Katie Estepp (DMS) for inviting me in to watch their students and take pictures. Also thanks to Stephanie Stinemetz for posting pics on Twitter of the book stacks in the 8th-grade classrooms at Davis!



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