The Rule, Not the Exception

My mind is racing today with too many thoughts to narrow down. I’m thinking about presidential debates, the summer essays I need to grade, unit calendars I need to finalize, books I want to read and write about, when I’m going to get our grocery shopping done, etc. Yep, racing.

But for some reason I can’t get my mind off the fact that so many of my students year after year don’t like reading and/or don’t consider themselves “readers.” I can’t get my mind off the fact that my classroom library is an oddity to them. I can’t stop thinking about the fact that many high school English teachers don’t offer regular independent sustained silent reading time (I say independent because I’m referring to student choice in the reading). I keep thinking about high school English classrooms WITHOUT classroom libraries. Schools without teachers willing to develop classroom libraries.

I know books are expensive and that we spend so much out of our pockets already, but isn’t literacy and creating life-long readers worth the money spent on books? If we value education and preach the importance of reading, shouldn’t we be making time in class to read? And if we’re making time for our students to read, shouldn’t we be modeling the behavior we wish to see by reading ourselves? I’ll be honest, one of the reasons I was looking forward to a new school year was because I knew I’d have time to read during the day! I’ve heard stories of administrators not understanding classroom time being used for independent reading. What can be done to help these administrators understand and see the importance of time dedicated to reading? If you’ve ever wondered what students think of classroom libraries, I wrote a post about this back in January.

With literacy advocates like Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Pernille Ripp and so many others, why are we still missing the mark? When I started teaching, I was fortunate to have a stellar college professor who advocated for classroom libraries, read alouds, SSR time, etc. I didn’t know about Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle, but when I discovered both of them, it reaffirmed what I was already doing as a teacher and what I knew was right. I know that literacy leaders across the country provide professional development throughout the year, but I’m beginning to wonder if those leaders are preaching to the choir and not reaching the teachers who don’t make time for independent reading or creating classroom libraries. If that’s the case, how do we reach teachers who aren’t doing this? How do we invite these teachers into our classrooms and start making positive changes? How do we make this an inviting experience and not one that puts others on the defensive?

I’m in my tenth year of teaching and I’ve long worried about making waves and coming across as “preachy.” I certainly don’t want to offend anyone. But it’s high time we start having some conversations about developing readers and creating reading communities in our middle school and high school classrooms. These conversations need to extend beyond the teachers who are already putting these practices into motion. It would be excellent and empowering if more teachers could learn from each other on a regular basis. If you’ve created a classroom library and advocate for SSR time in your classroom, you should be leading other teachers in your department and in your district. Attending a workshop or conference is a great place to start, but the conversation needs to continue once we’re back in our classrooms. My classroom and classrooms like mine should be the rule, not the exception. Students should walk into English classrooms EXPECTING to see classroom libraries and EXPECTING time to read during class. It shouldn’t be shocking to see classroom walls lined with books.

If you’ve found a way to reach more people about this matter, I’d love to hear from you. If you’ve been wanting to move forward with a classroom library and/or SSR time, I’d love to hear from you as well. Let’s start a conversation and see what positive changes we can make together!

School Year Reading Reflection

I know many book bloggers reflect on their reading life at the end of the calendar year, which I do as well, but as a teacher I like to also reflect on my school year reading. It helps me plan my summer reading so I can work on filling in any gaps I may have had over the school year. I don’t like to plan my summer reading too much, however, because it’s my time to truly dig into my reading pile and relax. Plus, I don’t know what my new group of students will need in terms of reading, but it’s still good for me to always be mindful about my reading choices.

During the 2015-2016 school year I read 56 books which is an increase from last year. I’m sure most of that has to do with Jack being older and I made a concerted effort to listen to more audiobooks this school year. For this post, I’m going to break down my reading life by different categories and some books will be listed more than once depending on the category. It’s important to remember that one book can appeal to a variety of readers for different reasons.

School Year Reading

Historical Fiction/Historical Novels (10 novels read): This school year I tried genre binges which I can tell REALLY helped me diversify my reading since I tend to read mostly contemporary realistic fiction. Through this process I discovered a real interest in reading historical novels.

  • Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
  • A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen
  • Jackaby by William Ritter
  • Girl at War by Sara Novic
  • Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackmon Lowry
  • The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
  • American Ace by Marilyn Nelson
  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  • Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm
  • Tomboy by Liz Prince

Fantasy (Roughly 8 novels read): Another binge reading genre for me was fantasy novels mostly because of my fantasy panel at ALAN this past year. I always enjoy reading fantasy, but I’ve noticed that a fantasy novel isn’t always the first one I grab from my TBR pile when choosing a book. I really need to work on that because I sometimes feel like I’m always recommending the same fantasy novels to my students.

  • Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
  • The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
  • The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente
  • Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (I reread this as a read aloud/paranormal fantasy)
  • Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins (one of my classes wanted me to read the sequel as a read aloud)
  • Jackaby by William Ritter (this has paranormal elements)
  • The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough (I go back and forth about whether to qualify this as fantasy)
  • Arrows by Melissa Gorzelancyzk (maybe paranormal because of the whole Cupid thing)

Mystery/Thriller (8 novels read): My students this year, maybe more than previous years, love and often requested more mystery titles. This category is tough for me to break down because so many books can be viewed as mystery depending on the plot and the reader.

  • The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • Jackaby by William Ritter
  • A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen
  • The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle
  • The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
  • Dreamers Often Lie by Jacqueline West
  • Perry’s Killer Playlist by Joe Schreiber

Science Fiction (3 novels read): I simply don’t read enough of this genre. I would love some current (2015-2016) sci-fi recommendations!

  • Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin
  • Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood
  • We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

Racially Diverse Characters (10 novels read): I’m really trying to expand my knowledge of books with racially diverse characters because even though the district where I teach is not racially diverse, I don’t want a “white-washed” classroom library. And I know my students don’t want that either; they want broader perspectives than their own. This is still an area of improvement, however.

  • Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt (this also works as a loose Romeo & Juliet retelling)
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
  • The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
  • The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell
  • The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
  • Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blockmon Lowry
  • American Ace by Marilyn Nelson
  • Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle
  • Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins (features racially diverse characters in some of the short stories)

LGBTQ Characters (5 novels read): I’ve been working on this area of my reading life for years now. Within the last few years I can tell that it’s making a difference because more and more of my students are openly requesting more of these titles and sharing them once they’ve read them. Also, for the purpose of this post I’m only listing books that feature an LGBTQ main character.

  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  • Look Both Ways by Alison Cherry
  • We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
  • Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley
  • Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins (features multiple LGBTQ short stories)

More Than One Point of View (13 novels read): My students love books written with more than one point of view.

  • Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt
  • The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (occasionally see the serial killer’s POV)
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  • The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
  • Violent Ends edited by Shaun David Hutchinson
  • The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
  • The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
  • Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake
  • Arrows by Melissa Gorzelancyzk
  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord
  • Unrivaled by Alyson Noel
  • Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Graphic Novels/Illustrated Novels (3 novels read): I really enjoy reading graphic novels, but I know I don’t read enough of them during the school year.

  • Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm
  • Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blockmon Lowry
  • Tomboy by Liz Prince

Romance (22 novels read): Not all of these are strictly romance, but many of them feature romantic storylines.

  • Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen (this one isn’t as romantic as her others, but there’s still an element there)
  • Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt
  • Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
  • The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West
  • The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
  • Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone (I like that this one applies more as dealing with mental illness)
  • Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
  • Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  • The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
  • This Raging Light by Estelle Laure
  • Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger
  • Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake
  • Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom
  • Arrows by Melissa Gorzelancyzk
  • Dreamers Often Lie by Jacqueline West
  • Look Both Ways by Alison Cherry
  • The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord
  • Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins
  • Unrivaled by Alyson Noel

Some other areas of reading/genres/categories I want to read more of are memoirs, books dealing with mental illness, books featuring characters with disabilities, and more books dealing with sexual violence/rape culture. I read a couple books this school year with characters in poverty and I’d like to read more like those. I also noticed that I only read one novel in verse this school year, which is really unusual for me.

What I’m Reading Next: The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

Last year a student named Ari was in my Literature & Composition I Honors class. She is an avid reader, borrowed some of my books over the summer, and even though she isn’t in any of my classes this year she still stops in on a regular basis to borrow and/or discuss books. This morning before school began she brought back The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord (Lord’s second novel) and told me she loved it.

22429350Ari recently read and enjoyed When We Collided after I recommended it, which is why she wanted to read The Start of Me and You next. It didn’t take much prompting on my part to find out why she loved Lord’s sophomore release. She was smiling from ear to ear as she explained to me that she felt like she was the character. That even though she can’t relate with Paige’s grief, everything else about Paige was just like her. She found herself within the pages of this novel and she loved it. Ari told me all about how she spent the majority of her Memorial Day tearing through this story.

One of her favorite aspects of The Start of Me and You is that Paige didn’t need to rely on a love interest to help her find herself or solve her conflict(s). In fact, once we were done discussing the novel and how amazing it is to find ourselves within the pages of books, she asked me if I could recommend any books with similar characters/situations to Paige. I admitted that might be difficult for me since I haven’t read it yet, but I did my best and she chose a novel by Sarah Ockler.

So with that much enthusiasm and joy, how could I not instantly start reading The Start of Me and You? I’ve read both of Emery Lord’s other books and loved them. But it’s more than that. I love how Donalyn Miller says that students will read the books we (teachers) bless, but it ends up being even more powerful when we (teachers) read the books that students bless. And that’s why tonight I’m diving into a novel that Ari blessed.

Which books have you read and loved that students recommended? I’d love to read about it!


Trending Books

Jack’s playing and distracted at the moment, so I’m taking advantage of it to write a quick post. I’m trying my best to carve out more blogging and reading time at this point in my crazy school year.

Anyway, as always I’ve been working hard to draw my students’ attention to more books. I’ve been keeping up with my daily book talks, which has been a huge help in this process. Earlier in the school year I decided to use my display book case for student recommendations. I encouraged students to place a book they’ve enjoyed on the shelf along with a notecard with a brief recommendation. It didn’t go as well as I hoped. I mostly had to specifically ask students to place something there because for some reason they weren’t doing it on their own. I grew tired of seeing the shelf which quickly became wallpaper in my room, so I decided to change it a couple weeks ago.

My students often read the same books as friends pass one book to another. They also often ask me what other students are reading. So I decided to use my display shelf to feature “trending books” in my classroom. It’s already been much more successful than when it featured student recommendations; I’ve already switched out many of the books because they’re so often borrowed by students.

During state testing a couple weeks ago, our media specialist was in my classroom and saw my display. It made her think about an area in the library that is rarely, if ever, used. She talked to me about it and she’s going to make that space a trending books area as well. I’m excited to see how hers turns out!

How do you draw attention to books in your classroom? I’d love to see your pictures or hear about your spaces!

So far Everything, Everything, Things We Know By Heart, Perfect Chemistry, The Serpent King, Legend, and Ghosts of Heaven have continued to be popular choices. Which books have been trending in your classroom or library?


Successful Book Talks

I set a teacher resolution for myself this semester. My goal is to book talk a different book every day and every class period for the rest of the semester. I started out the school year book talking a book every Tuesday, but because we’re on a block schedule I was only drawing attention to a specific book for my A day and B day classes twice a month (we meet every other day). Also, I have an expansive class library and too many books sit on the shelves unread. I can remedy that with an occasional book pass, but that can take up an entire class period, which I don’t have time to do on a regular basis. I can, however, make time for a couple minute book talk each day.

After our read aloud I choose a book to tell my class about before we start SSR. Sometimes I choose them ahead of time for the day, and other times I get distracted and find a book on the fly. Lately I’ve been asking my students what type of book they’d like to hear about. My freshmen want endless mysteries, which has been difficult because so many of my favorites are already checked out and I haven’t read as many mysteries as I apparently need to. Another class told me that I haven’t book talked enough dystopian. One of my senior classes said they like it when I choose which book because they know I’m choosing ones that they’ll enjoy and they trust my opinion. It’s been a really fun process these past weeks. I’m bummed that once May hits I won’t be able to book talk anything to my seniors since our entire class period will be dedicated to Senior Exit Presentations, but at least I know they’re hearing about great books until then.

In this post I’m going to focus on which books have been successful, meaning which books have been borrowed after the book talk. If you’d like to see the books I’ve highlighted this semester, you can follow the Pinterest board I created for this to help me keep track. I’ve been focusing on a lot of backlist titles because they’re new to my students even though it’s maybe been years since I’ve read them. It’s also my hope that even though I’m featuring a different book in every class, the word will spread to other students/classes about the books they’re picking up and reading.

If you need some tips on how to do a book talk or some ideas to make yours more successful, I suggest reading Erica Beaton’s post. I’ve taken a few ideas from her post to improve my own, particularly the idea to ask my class a question to pique their interest (the emotional hook).

I’m only featuring a handful or so of the successful book talks simply because I’m short on time. I’d love to know what your book talk strategies are and which books have been picked up after a book talk.


Swim the Fly by Don Calame (Goodreads): I book talked Swim the Fly earlier this week in one of my freshmen classes because they requested a book with humor. I hooked them when I admitted that I enjoy dumb humor/bathroom humor, which is embarrassing to admit. I referenced movies with that type of humor like Step Brothers (they love that movie) and said girls appreciate that type of humor like in Bridesmaids for example. One of my boys borrowed it right away, especially after hearing another boy in class state how much he loves this series of books.

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (Goodreads): I have a class of seniors this year that love edgy books, so I hoped The Spectacular Now would be a winner for that group. It helped that I showed them the movie trailer after I finished my talk. One of my seniors who keeps bouncing from book to book decided to read this, and so far she’s been sticking with it.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis (Goodreads): I think I won over my students when I said they’ll read about characters being cryogenically frozen. It also helped that this book is written from two points of view, which I know my students enjoy.

Positive: A Memoir by Paige Rawl (Goodreads): Honestly, this book wasn’t for me because I was listening to it via audio and Paige Rawl was narrating it; she is not a stellar narrator. But I know it’s a good book for my students to read. One of my seniors borrowed it and came into my room the following day to tell me how quickly she’s reading it and how much she loves it. She said she isn’t a big reader, but Positive has her hooked.

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg (Goodreads): I don’t know exactly what piqued my students’ interest when I book talked this, but it hit a nerve because at least four or five freshmen from that class have read it. I think they liked the idea of reinventing oneself, reading from a gay teen’s point of view, and that I focused on how much I loved the writing.

If I Lie by Corrine Jackson (Goodreads): I can’t remember if I originally book talked If I Lie in a senior or freshman class, but it has been extremely popular in both classes. One of my seniors kept talking in our class about how much she loved it and how she was reading more outside of school than she ever has before. What I loved the most about this is that another girl in her group (my students sit in groups of six) started recommending books for her to read next. Which leads me to my next book…

A Matter of Heart by Amy Fellner Dominy (Goodreads): A senior was reading this last semester and she loved it so she recommended it to the student who was reading If I Lie. I book talked A Matter of Heart with my freshmen and it wasn’t picked up right away, but I could tell they were interested. That was confirmed when one of my girls in that class borrowed it after she finished reading the book she was in the middle of reading. She read it quickly and loved it. The girls have enjoyed the love story and the swimming/heart problems storyline.

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (Goodreads): Many of my students love mysteries,  Criminal Minds, and the I Hunt Killers trilogy, so book talking The Naturals was an instant winner. One of my senior boys borrowed this right after I finished my book talk and has been speeding through it. I need to buy the other two ASAP.

Book Talks Collage

Is “getting along fine” good enough?

On May 29th, 2012 I wrote a blog post about creating and managing my classroom library. I had previously received a number of requests to post something of the like so I finally took the time to do so. Since that day it has been one of my most popular blog posts; it’s been pinned over 7,000 times! I’m certainly not an expert on managing a class library and need to make some changes (Booksource, anyone?), but I offer a good starting point for those who wish to begin a class library or want to improve their system.

A few months ago a student teacher found that post and left a comment that still concerns me.

I’m currently in a teaching program and I would love to have a class library, but I’m a little intimidated by the prospect. At this point, I’m just not sure whether it’s worth the time it would take to keep and maintain. I think it could be very useful for building healthy relationships with students and I like your ideas around having students be responsible for some of the upkeep. What other benefits have you seen to your library? Part of me just wants to have a library to have an excuse to buy and read more books and maybe that’s a good enough reason. I think it will also revolve around my school’s expectations for student reading. If my school ends up having SSR, I can’t see going without a library, but my current mentor teacher doesn’t really have a class library and he gets along fine. Thank you for detailing some of the nuts and bolts of your library. That helps my thought process a lot.

When I first read this I had to stop and process it because I didn’t know where to start. First, I’m thankful that this pre-service teacher reached out to me and that I *hopefully* helped. These lines worried me the most:

I think it will also revolve around my school’s expectations for student reading. If my school ends up having SSR, I can’t see going without a library, but my current mentor teacher doesn’t really have a class library and he gets along fine.

Teachers should have classroom libraries regardless of a school’s stance on SSR and their expectations for student reading. I started teaching in a district that didn’t have any kind of stance on SSR or student reading, but I went in with a very fluid reading philosophy. I’ve posted before about how influential my classes with Dr. Steffel were; she’s the reason I began a classroom library and why I read aloud to my students every day. I began student teaching with the understanding that a teacher who reads what her students are reading is a teacher who will connect with her students. Students need to see their teachers, especially their English teachers, reading every day. If we expect them to become lifelong readers and find value in reading, then we need to show them that we are reading and valuing reading as well.

I know it’s not always easy to accomplish, but making time for SSR is a must in every English classroom. Even if it’s once a week or every other day, it needs to be done. Too many students only read when they’re in school. It is our job to provide them with time to read independently and to provide them with books to read. It’s not easy or cheap managing a classroom library, but it’s too important not to do. It’s also the reason why I provided tips in that blog post for providing books for the classroom without breaking the bank. I don’t know anyone who started a class library with hundreds of books; it’s a slow and steady and exciting worthwhile process. But having that classroom library, even a small classroom library, allowed me instant access to books to recommend to my students and provide for them during SSR. Those recommendations created an invaluable rapport with my students. I read the books I add to my classroom library, often while my students are reading during SSR, so that I know which books to recommend to certain students.

I could go on about this for much longer, but I think it’s more powerful to read what my past and current students think about classroom libraries and teachers who read/recommend books. This post isn’t here to pat myself on the back, but to inspire/motivate/encourage teachers and pre-service teachers to provide independent reading time and classroom libraries for their students. I know teachers can and have been “getting along fine” without providing time to read and without providing a classroom library, but is that really enough? Are our students “getting along fine” without it? Can’t we do better than “fine”? Don’t our students deserve better than that?

Fifty eight of my current students responded to a poll I created about my classroom library.

  1. Do you borrow books from my classroom library? 
  2. Does my classroom library benefit students? Explain your answer.

    –Yes because there are a variety of books that every student can relate to. There are so many different genres and we can use your help to find a book.
    –Yes more options of books to choose from, we can’t always go to you if we wan’t to talk about a book or wan’t a recommendation also a lot of students read the same books from the class room so we can talk with each other about a book we’re reading.
    –Yes because it offers books that are new and may be unheard of or books hat people want to read.
    –Yes, it seems like there’s a better variety and a more comfortable atmosphere to check out books
    –Yes because it offers a variety of books with insight from the teacher on the book.

    –Definitely. I used to read a little bit here and there but your library has really gotten me back into reading. Usually I wouldn’t sit at home reading, but now I just get wrapped up in these great books.

    –Yes, it broadens our horizons and opens us up to new genres
    –I do think that the classroom library benefits students because it is easy access to books. I feel that I have no time to go to the library to actually check out a book in between class or in the morning. So have the library every other day is very helpful for me.
    –Yes. It’s gives you more opportunities to find books you would have never tried before.
    –Yes, it makes class time fun, and it makes reading not a chore.
    –Yes, it opens my eyes to different books.
    –Yes, of course it does! I personally think it’s because your classroom is a comfortable place to be that feels like home AND a library in one. It also saves students the trouble from having to go to the library every time they want a book to read.

    –Yes it does benefit me because it allows me to read and finish a book at my own pace without worrying about having to renew my book every 2 weeks.
    –Yes, I think it builds a relationship with you because we can relate. It makes it easier to get access to books, therefore if you didn’t have a classroom library I most likely wouldn’t read as much as I do.
    –The library very much benefits students because it gives them an opportunity to choose a book in the classroom without having to go down to the actual library, and they have something they can discuss with their teacher. It brings students closer on a common ground to make them feel comfortable.
  3. Did your English teacher last year have a classroom library? (I have seniors & freshmen and have never taught juniors)

I also reached out to my former students on Facebook who have graduated. I asked them about their experience with my classroom library and having time to read. Here are some of their responses:

Chloe–“Before your class I didn’t read much at all, especially not for leisure. Once I was in the class, that changed completely! You reading aloud to the class was a nice change from the usual English class I had been in, and it inspired me, and many students, to read in our free time. Having the extensive and up-to-date library in the classroom made it easy to find something I enjoyed. Having other students reading and giving their opinions helped make it an awesome environment for finding a great book as well. You took the time to get to know all of our tastes in books, and would make recommendations, which I personally loved because I always loved the books you suggested! I read more in your class than I had my whole life! When you left many of us talked about how awesome it was wanting to read and being encouraged to do so! I haven’t had a class like that since. I loved having book talks and discussing the topics we were reading, and I really believe having that environment has made a positive impact!”

Cortney–“Having you as a teacher is what started my love of reading. Before you being my teacher I had never read a book for fun before. What sparked my interest in reading is how you would read a book out loud to the entire class, I would look forward to your class so i could hear the next chapter. I then decided to take your young adult literature class and loved it! You introduced me to books I could relate too and that I enjoyed reading! Your classroom liberty was amazing because every book on your shelf was “pre-approved” to be a good story. If it weren’t for your class I definitely wouldn’t be the reader I am today!”

Alyssa–“I was never a reader until your class. I had you for English my freshman year and I also loved how you read to the class. This made me want to take your young adult lit. class. Honestly I haven’t stopped reading since your class.”

Zach–“I think the great part about your style of teaching and reading is you challenge the students to find books on their own that they may in turn love. While also attempting to have them read books they don’t normally read. You’ve also chosen to continue reading more and more books throughout all your teaching years, allowing you to keep up with current books and readings. It’s encouraging to see a teacher preaching what she teaches with her readings, and challenging students to do the same. I never would’ve started reading YAL novels without your classroom, and they’ve become some of my favorite books. (Beautiful Creatures, Wake, Fade, Gone, etc). Some, like Boy Toy and Hush Hush, have easily ranked my favorite of all time. Keep doing what you do, it works!”

Hannah–“Hi Mrs. Andersen! I’d be happy to help with your blog post in any way I can. You were the only teacher I ever had with any type of substantial classroom library (a few others had a few dozen books but nothing compared to yours), and you always knew exactly the type of books to recommend to each student based on their tastes and how to get us out of reading slumps (I’m still not sure how you always knew exactly what everyone would like).”

Caroline–“Not being much of a reader I wasn’t sure about taking this class [my YA Lit class] when I first walked in. Yet it quickly became one of my favorite classes. It really opened my eyes to how mesmerizing a story could be; how much emotion can be put into it. One of my favorite ways of finding a book to read was when we all had to read a book for a few minutes and then pass it along to read the beginning of another one. I think this helped each of us learn which genre of books we wanted to do our projects on. I loved having someone to recommend books to me whenever I didn’t know what to read next. Since taking this class I have collected my own small library worth of novels. I would recommend this class to anyone, even if they don’t believe reading is for them.”

Tristan–“I loved having access to so many different books at all times! I loved having suggestions from you and other students. I read a lot of books that I wouldn’t have found out about otherwise because it’s hard to go to the bookstore and know what books are actually worth the read. Also just being surrounded by so many books is inspiring and made me want to read that much more. I miss it all the time!”

It is my sincere hope that all teachers, especially English teachers, will create classroom libraries and provide SSR time. I’m working tirelessly to help spread this idea to teachers wherever I go. I’d love to hear from you if you’re also providing SSR time and/or a classroom library. Teachers and pre-service teachers read my blog and could benefit from your experiences as well.

Some images of my classroom library from within the last three years:

Book Passes Lead to Reading

On the second day of every school year I utilize a book pass to expose my students to a wide variety of books. It’s one of my favorite days of the school year because there’s a mix of excitement and uncertainty, but it always leads to reading. This year, after facilitating this session about creating a community of readers in the high school classroom, five other teachers in my building facilitated book passes this week!

This year I have my desks in groups of six since I have 35 desks in my classroom; it’s the easiest way to make them all fit and still feel like we have room to move around. So I had my students stay in their groups and pass the books within their groups. I gathered a wide range of genres, authors, and past class favorites for my students to choose from. Each student chose a book, wrote down the title and author, and then began reading for three minutes. I kept time on my phone and when it ended they wrote down Yes, No, or Maybe in regards to whether that book is of interest to them. Then they passed their book to the right and on the cycle went. Once or twice between passes I asked if anyone found a “Yes” book and allowed them to share that title and why they want to read it. We cycled through about seven books during each class this week.

Before the end of class I stop the book pass so students can put the books away, and more importantly, check out any book(s) they discovered and want to read. A few of my senior classes this year seemed a little apprehensive about checking out any books they found, but most of my classes had long lines of students waiting to check out their books. As I looked at the pages of books checked out, I decided it would be fun to write a post including which books my students chose to kick off their reading year.

Building a Community of Readers in the High School Classroom

This past week my high school held a professional development summit with two other neighboring high schools. It was a fun way to kick off the school year since teachers had the opportunity to learn from and present to other teachers throughout the day. My friends, Lindsay Grady and Amanda Canterbury and I ran a two part session about the importance of a reading community in the high school classroom.

Lindsay, Amanda, and I are voracious YA readers and love fostering a love of reading in our students. It was my principal who suggested that I put something together for the summit; it was just the nudge I needed to make an inkling of an idea blossom into something more. I had been thinking about creating a PD session that was interactive and revolved around reading, but I wasn’t sure how or where to make that happen. Once my principal mentioned the summit, I knew I wanted Lindsay and Amanda working with me.

Lindsay's Read AloudSince each session ran for 50 minutes, we decided to run it in two parts. The first part would be the why we do what we do and the second part would be the how we do what we do. We focused on read alouds, book talks, a book pass, independent reading projects, and sustained silent reading (SSR). During the first part we explained what each of these are and tips/tricks/books to use. When we moved into the second session the teachers experienced a read aloud, book talks and a book pass. It was relaxed and really fun. Lindsay read aloud the first twelve pages of Stolen by Lucy Christopher, which will definitely hook readers. Amanda book talked Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby and shared why it made her cry. I book talked All the Rage by Courtney Summers and read the first five pages when Romy provides readers with a powerful flashback. We also shared pictures of our classroom libraries, book displays, and different projects students have created in response to reading. The three of us also made sure to express the importance of CHOICE; our students wouldn’t be nearly as excited about reading without choice.Amanda's Book Talk

As the three of us worked on creating this session, I couldn’t help but think about how powerful it would be if the attending teachers could leave with books to add to their classrooms. I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and reach out to a few publishers for help. I’ve requested books from publishers, but I have never requested enough books to hand out to a large group before. I didn’t know what to expect and I felt awkward sending the emails. My friends, YA publishers are awesome and generous. Thanks to their overwhelming kindness, the teachers who attended our session left with roughly 10 books each! At one point this summer, I think I had close to 400 books in my basement.

Bags of BooksGrocery bags of books lined the front of the room where we presented. We waited until the end of the second session to surprise the teachers with the books and I really wish I would have taken a picture of their faces. They were SO EXCITED when we told them what was in the bags! A few were excited that the books Amanda and I book talked were included. For the rest of the day teachers approached us to thank us or to say that they were disappointed that they missed our session. It’s priceless knowing that those books are going to reach students across three school districts. I’ve tweeted it a few times already, but I’m going to say it again: Thank you, HarperCollins, Little, Brown & Co, St. Martin’s Griffin, and Candlewick Press!!!

Summit Books

I uploaded the presentation we created onto Slideshare and am including the link here if you’d like access to it. Lindsay, Amanda, and I included a link to Penny Kittle’s Book Love Grant and to ALAN’s website. We also have links to class library book recommendations, graphic novel recommendations (after it was requested by an attending teacher), and read aloud recommendations. If part of the presentation doesn’t work or if images are missing, please let me know.

Combining Reading, Discussion, and Technology as Summer Homework

One of my favorite parts of being a teacher is the reflection that’s involved. This past school year was different and challenging since I was on maternity leave at the beginning and wasn’t able to create the same community that I could have had I been there all year. My long-term sub did a fantastic job setting the tone and getting my students excited about reading, but I personally still felt like something was lacking on my end. I didn’t have as much time to make an impact on my students as readers. Thankfully I discovered through my students’  reading reflection essays at the end of the year that I did help some of my students discover a love of reading. Below are two excerpts from those reading reflection essays.

Margaret's response

Renae's response

On top of being on maternity leave for part of the school year, I returned to school  and encountered new technology. Through a millage, our school district has acquired many Chromebooks and is now using Google Apps for Education. I stepped out of my comfort zone and started using Google Classroom with great success. My students and I utilized Docs, Slides, Forms and more this year, but I hadn’t yet tried Groups. After reflecting over the success of Google Classroom and wishing I had more time to build my community of readers, I knew I had to explore ways to bring those elements together in my summer homework assignment for my incoming honors freshmen. I want more of my students to have experiences like the students who wrote the letters pictured above.

I took over the honors freshmen course (Literature and Composition I Honors) this past year, so this was my first opportunity to design the summer homework assignment. In the past, the students were required to read various short stories and write paragraphs analyzing those stories. That’s not my style. I wanted them to have choice in their reading and I knew I wanted them to be familiar with Google Classroom since we’ll be using it this coming school year. I also wanted to find a way to build our reading community before we even met one another on the first day of class.

After reflecting and conferring with my peers, I came up with this (there are two other parts to my summer homework assignment outside of the reading):

Part III–Reading:

Reading throughout the summer will help you avoid “summer setback” and keep you in better academic preparedness for the 2015-2016 school year. Instead of requiring one book for all of us to read I’m expecting you to read widely and read often this summer. Like I noted at the beginning of this assignment, I work diligently to create a community of readers; we’re going to start building that community this summer.

Summer is the perfect time to introduce yourself to new genres and authors. Read a graphic novel like Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge or El Deafo by Cece Bell. Open yourself up to a dystopian series like Legend by Marie Lu or The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Travel back in time with some great historical fiction novels like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. If you have younger siblings or babysit young children read aloud a wonderful picture book like You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown and The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty. Ask your parents to read the novels with you to share the experience and open up discussions. Share books with your friends who are enrolled in the class as well. The opportunities for reading this summer are endless.

To help build our classroom community, I’m requiring you to post about your reading experiences via Google Groups. This summer you will post at least twice about what you’ve been reading and also comment on other students’ posts as well. Your individual posts may be book recommendations, questions about books or what to read, great quotes/passages from a book, etc. The comments you make on other posts should be thoughtful in nature and may also consist of questions, comments, recommendations, etc. I will also be reading widely this summer, so you’ll see my posts, comments, and recommendations as well.

After that, I included the guidelines and the dates that I would like them to post by. Their first post on Google Groups isn’t due until July 16th, but we’ve already had a conversation going about The Book Thief.  The picture below is a screenshot of that discussion (student names have been removed).

The Book Thief Convo

Sure, there are some writing rules we’ll need to address at the beginning of the school year, but this type of discussion excites me. This is what I see/hear happening in my classroom after I establish what a reading community is and get them excited about reading. If this sort of dialogue continues over the summer then I know we’ll have an even more successful school year. I want them to feel comfortable talking about books on the first day of school. Too many students enter my room intimidated by reading; it’s my hope that this will erase that intimidation factor.

In my assignment letter I also included the following resources to help them find books to read:

If you need help finding great books to read this summer consider using the following resources:

The first part of their summer homework assignment is to send me an introductory email. Many of them have mentioned books they enjoy and have asked for book suggestions. I love this part of the assignment because I get to see how well they write formal emails and–more importantly–I can start getting to know them. A few students have asked if it’s required that they read a certain number of books or if they are expected to read the books I specifically mentioned in the assignment. Their replies to those emails are full of relief at knowing they have the freedom to read what they want and as much as they want.

I’m looking forward to what the remainder of the summer brings.

Students’ Thoughts About Book Covers

In 2012 I polled both my Young Adult Literature class and my freshmen classes to learn their opinions about book covers. The results were enlightening. During the spring one of my Facebook “memories that popped up was when I shared those posts; I had forgotten that I polled my students about that. I decided to poll my current freshmen to see what they think, especially if they feel similarly to my students from 2012.

I asked all of the same questions as I did in my previous poll. I also included the option for them to share which book covers they like and why. In 2012 I printed off a survey and passed it out to my students. This year I created a Google Form and linked it to my students’ Google Classroom page. Out of my 53 freshmen, 49 of them responded (12 boys and 37 girls).

I have graphic breakdowns for the first two questions and I’m including a variety of the responses to the remaining questions.

Book Cover Graphs

What color combination on a book cover draws your attention the most?

“I just need color schemes that represent the theme of the book, as long as it’s accurate I don’t care. For example, a book that has darker themes probably has a darker cover, and books with lighter themes have lighter colors. I would read both, but I like that it gives me an insight to how this book is going to go.”


“The color combination does not effect my thoughts on a book. To me it depends if the book grabs the readers attention.”


“A black and red combination, but I also read just black covers with drawings as well.”


“I’m drawn to really any colors, but some colors are green, puarple, and blue, anything that is attention grabbing as well.”


“Usually I am drawn to brighter colors on the cover of my books. I usually am attracted to them more because they stand out to me.”


“I feel color scheme needs to be related to the mood or the events that will take place within a book. The book needs a good combination that makes it pop out more than the other books around it. One color will not do the trick, unless that is what the book will be like. The cover has to represent the book as a whole, or otherwise I will not be able to get interested in it.”


“Opposite colors (Ex. Black and white, purple and yellow, etc.) or colors that compliment each other”


“Probably clashing colors, something that makes it stand out, such as the black and green cover for Liars Inc..”


“For me, I do not look for a specific color combination. If I like how the cover looks with that color combination I will check it out to see if I would like the book.”


“When looking for a book, I look for simple, white backgrounds with only a few notable words. I am drawn in by a clean look.”


Is font style and placement important to you? Explain.
“No, as long as I can read what it says”


“Yes. When an author’s name is bigger than the title, I will not read the book. If the font is curly and cute, I will assume that the book is sweet and romantic, so I will not read it. I guess I have a lot of expectations from my book covers.”


“Yes, if a title or author is in a spot or font where I cannot see nor read it, or blocks the cover in a certain way, that immediately says “DO NOT READ!” to me.”


“Not really. I will notice if I don’t like it, but it doesn’t really stop be from reading it.”


“Yes, because the font should fit the style of the book, and the placement helps add more reason for someone to want to read it, and tends to draw the reader in.”


“Yes, because if a book covers a dark topic, I don’t want them to have super “pretty” hand writing unless there is a god reason. For example, if a girl is writing a letter in the book, it is okay to have nice hand writing.”


“The font for me should match the tone of the book. For example, if it were a serious book then I would expect the font to e a sharped or jagged edge type of lettering, not a rounded font.”


“YES, I love it when there is a different font for the cover, and it helps show what the book can be about.”


“Font and style is very important to me because it should help show the mood of the book. Font and its style should be adding a great expression to the book or accent the feel of how the novel is.”


“I like certain fonts for the cover. I also like texture, which sounds weird. I love the matte book covers rather then the glossy covers.”


“Font is the most important, “despite the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover” a font can tell you quite a lot about the book like weather or not its an intense horror book with jagged words or a love story with cursive.”


“Yes, its very important. It has to be an interesting font to catch my attention or else I will scan right over that book. I also really don’t like it when the Authors name is bigger than the title because I feel it takes away from the book title/cover.”


Would you feel comfortable reading a book w/a gender-specific feel to it? (Guys reading a book w/a “girly” cover.)
**Note: In every class we have the conversation about books being for every reader, not just certain genders.**


“Yes because I think that either gender can read any type of book if it interests them.”




“Yes, because it doesn’t really matter about the gender or cover. If the book sounds good and is good and you like it, then it’s fine.”


“Totally. It should not matter who the targeted audience was. Maybe that person wants to see life from another point of view…I think it’s completely acceptable, and there should be no bias against it.”


“Yes, I do feel comfortable reading a book with a gender specific feel to it because some of my favorite books have male characters on the cover, and is even about a guy.”


“Yes, one of my favorite books has a more of guy-ish feel when you see the cover. (Divergent)”


“I personally don’t care because I will read any book if it interests me, whether it’s meant to be a “guy” book or a “girl” book. However I do think that a lot of guys care a lot more, so I wish that book covers weren’t as gender specific as they are.”


“Yes, it does not bother me. A book is a book, as long as it is good it would not matter to me.”


“I prefer a guy feel and protagonist because it is more relatable, but I’m fine with both.”


“I don’t mind reading books with the opposite gender, Like Winger, I like see how they feel about things.”


“I feel like for girls it’s not as big of a deal because guy books don’t really seem like they are just for guys. But for some reason people think its “weird” and “gay” for guys to want to read a girly or romance book”

“Yes, I am a girl though and girls usually don’t have a problem with reading “guy books”. I don’t think there is a such thing as a book that only one gender should read, because everyone understands different things and can relate to different things.”

“I don’t think there is such a thing. Girls and guys should be able to read any books that they find interesting.”


“Yes, I like when books are directed to just girls or just boys. It makes it easier to relate to the book when it is directed to your own gender.”


“nah, I stick to mostly to masculine type of books”


“Yes. I have read books of all sorts. I do not believe in “gender specific books” I believe in reading what YOU want to read. If I were to pick up a “manly” book and it wasn’t good, then I wouldn’t read it. But the quality of the book is what matters. Not the gender specific aspect of it.”


“I feel semi-comfortable reading a gender specific (girly) book, but the real deciding factor at that point is how good the book is.”


“No. Books are books. Do we really need to gender stereotype our literature?”


“I don’t mind reading books from diverse points of view. If I only read books from one point of view, I would probably be out of books to read by now.”


Do you prefer to see the character’s “face” or would you rather imagine the character on your own?


“Imagine the characters face and having it not be on the cover.”


“I like to imagine the character on my own.”


“I absolutely hate seeing the characters because I prefer to visually people, not be given a picture of what they look like, leave that up to the description. Objects and symbols provide a better clue into what the book may be about than a “face” would. Objects also make a story seem more authentic and original, rather than “oh look, a person…hmm””


“It really does not matter to me because I end up making my own Image of a character anyway, although a picture may influence my mental image,”


“I prefer both, sometimes when I’m having a tough time imagining the character, I look at the cover, but other times, I prefer to think up what the character looks like.”


“I would rather form my own opinion from the story and imagine it on my own.”


“I would prefer to imagine the “face” on my own because I feel like the sky’s the limit for book characters. I can imagine how I would want the character to look if it were me writing the novel.”


“I like seeing the characters face because if I read a book and someone is described, I always imagine someone I know. Sometimes I don’t like that because it confuses me with thinking, “oh well so and so wouldn’t do that” but then at other times I do, because after the book ends I think of what that person would do.”


“I like to imagine my own characters because I like to put myself into the situation as the characters”


“I like to imagine my own characters, especially if it gets turned into a movie and the actor/actress doesn’t look like the cover model.”


“I like for the author to describe the characters, but I don’t care for pictures.”


“I don’t have a preference, because I don’t pay attention to the models on the book when I imagine the characters.”


“I would rather leave the imagination to the reader because I am a fan of letting the reader piece parts of the story together on their own”


If possible, please provide some examples of book covers that you like and why.
The 5th Wave“The Fifth Wave, because it has colors that contrast with each other, but it didn’t slam it in your face. I also like how they don’t show what the character looks like. That way I can imagine her the way I want. Revived by Cat Patrick, was an amazing book, and had an awesome cover. It had a model on the cover which I don’t normally like, but for this one it covered a lot of her face with the blue paper so it turned out perfect”


“One that I can think of is “Out of My Mind”. It’s a fish jumping out of it’s bowl. not only is it attention grabbing and thought provoking, but when we read the story, it encompassed the main idea of the book theme wise and it was an actual occurrence in the book.”


“I like Sarah Dessen covers because some are bright and fun, when the more somber novels still are exciting to draw you in.”


Between Shades of Gray“I like Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys because the cover is simple with light colors, but has a pop of color with the leaf which attracted me to it. I also like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Sekret by Lindsay Smith because the background is really interesting and the titles are written in an unusual font which makes them unique.”


“I really liked the cover Also Known As by Robin Beckman because it has models who are representing the character and the color is intriguing. I also really like the cover of Gabi a Girl in Pieces cause the Orange is very bright.”


“But I Love Him By: Amanda Grace – This cover has the project that the main character is working on throughout the book. This helps the reader imagine something that’s very hard to explain threw words.”


“I like the book covers: 1.Moonglass- because it shows a beachy, mysterious and intriguing theme. 2.Hunger Games- because you can tell that there is something that occurs in the novel that the main character is involved in.”


“13 Reasons why- I like the cover of this book because obviously it’s the character that died on the front (Hannah Baker) and then when you open up the cover, it’s a map Hannah left Clay after she died so you can follow along in the story and see where Clay goes around his town.”


All the Rage“All the Rage- Because 1.)its creepy 2.)It’s got a blurred image of the character so you’ve got an IDEA of what she looks like, but nothing for certain and 3.) Because the font isn’t all the same, some have little cracks in them, i think the cracks add character to the cover and hints into the plot of the story.”


“Catching Jordan- I really like it because it is foreshadowing that football is going to be a big part of the book.”


“The book cover of brutal youth by Anthony Breznican is one of my favorites. It’s simple, classy, but at the same time sends a message that this is a book with serious issues.”


“Liars Inc., the colors clash well, and picture provides an eerie feeling”


“I Am Not A Serial Killer’s cover because of the striking font. Also the cover of Gone because it is dark and has lots of black with green which comes across as dangerous and mysterious.”


“I LOVE the original book cover for ‘The Book Thief.’ It was the one where Liesel was dancing with death in the black coat. I felt like it represented the novel without being horribly cliché, which is something that gets old when you see a thousand books of cute girls in dresses in fields kissing some boy. The cover for ‘The Book Thief’ was original and interesting.”


“I really like the cover of It’s Kind Of a Funny Story because it is very interesting and shows the book in a very cool way without showing a character.”


Every Day“Everyday: The color scheme (tan, black, white) of the book depicts the story very well along with the floating bodies that A could inhabit.”


“I like the cover of “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer” because it looks so mysterious and interesting”


“I liked the cover of Panic by Lauren Oliver. You do see the face of the main character, but it has a mysterious tone to it.”


“Things We Know by Heart because the hearts on the cover goes from a real human heart to a drawing of a heart.”


“I like the book cover Paper Towns with the pin and map, because in the book there is a part to the cover. I liked this book called 100 Cupboards, because the cover shows the different kinds of cupboards that the book talks about. Also, The Book Thief, with the dominos, because this isn’t in the book, but it has a meaning to the story, that yo can connect yourself at the end of the story.”


“I liked to covers of Grasshopper Jungle (the newer not plain green one), Winger, High and Dry, and Freefall.”



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