So Many Books and Only $25 to Spend

My parents gave me a $25 Amazon gift card for Christmas this year and it’s already burning a hole in my pocket. That doesn’t buy too many books (I plan on spending a little of my own money as well), so narrowing down my list of books I want to buy is really difficult! I need you to weigh in and help me make my decision.

I’m trying to avoid buying doubles of books I already own, even though there are a number of those I need for my classroom. Right now I want to bring in more new and exciting books for my kids to read (and for me to read too!). I posted about this on Facebook and received so many fabulous recommendations! Part of me is wondering which books will receive Printz nods next month as well, but I know I can wait a little while and buy those once they’re actually announced.

My freshmen and seniors this year have similar reading preferences; they love mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, and realistic fiction. I want to get a mix that suits all of those needs, but it’s made even more difficult when there are so many good ones in each genre!

Here are some of the titles I’m seriously considering. I’m including the summary in case any of these are new to you (many of them are new to me), so you can help me decide!

The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier (Goodreads):

Keri has been struggling to run her family bakery since her mother passed away.  Now the father she barely knew—the Lord of Nimmira—has died, and ancient magic has decreed that she will take his place as the new Lady. The position has never been so dangerous: the mists that hide Nimmira from its vicious, land-hungry neighbors have failed, and Keri’s people are visible to strangers for the first time since the mists were put in place generations ago.

At the same time, three half-brothers with their own eyes on the crown make life within the House just as dangerous as the world outside. But Keri has three people to guide her: her mysterious Timekeeper, clever Bookkeeper, and steadfast Doorkeeper. Together they must find a way to repair the boundary before her neighbors realize just how vulnerable Nimmira is.

Wrecked by Maria Padian (Goodreads):

Everyone on campus has a different version of what happened that night.

Haley saw Jenny return from the party, shell-shocked.

Richard heard Jordan brag about the cute freshman he hooked up with.

When Jenny accuses Jordan of rape, Haley and Richard are pushed to opposite sides of the school’s investigation. Now conflicting versions of the story may make bringing the truth to light nearly impossible—especially when reputations, relationships, and whole futures are riding on the verdict.




When the Moon Was Ours by Anne-Marie McLemore (Goodreads):

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.



This Is Our Story by Ashley Elston (Goodreads):

Five went in. Four came out.

No one knows what happened that morning at River Point. Five boys went hunting. Four came back. The boys won’t say who fired the shot that killed their friend; the evidence shows it could have been any one of them.

Kate Marino’s senior year internship at the district attorney’s office isn’t exactly glamorous—more like an excuse to leave school early that looks good on college applications. Then the DA hands her boss, Mr. Stone, the biggest case her small town of Belle Terre has ever seen. The River Point Boys are all anyone can talk about. Despite their damning toxicology reports the morning of the accident, the DA wants the boys’ case swept under the rug. He owes his political office to their powerful families.

Kate won’t let that happen. Digging up secrets without revealing her own is a dangerous line to walk; Kate has her own reasons for seeking justice for Grant. As investigates with Stone, the aging prosecutor relying on Kate to see and hear what he cannot, she realizes that nothing about the case—or the boys—is what it seems. Grant wasn’t who she thought he was, and neither is Stone’s prime suspect. As Kate gets dangerously close to the truth, it becomes clear that the early morning accident might not have been an accident at all—and if Kate doesn’t uncover the true killer, more than one life could be on the line…including her own.

Dark Energy by Robison Wells (Goodreads):


Five days ago, a massive UFO crashed in the Midwest, killing thousands of people. Since then, nothing–or no one–has come out.


If it were up to Alice, she’d be watching all of this on the news from Miami, Florida. Instead, she’s the newest student at a boarding school not far from the crash site–because her dad is the director of special projects for NASA, and if anything’s a special project, it’s this.


A shell-shocked country is waiting, glued to televisions and computer screens, for a sign of what the future holds. But when the aliens emerge, they’re nothing like what Alice expected. And only one thing is clear: Nothing will ever be the same again.

Code of Honor by Alan Gratz (Goodreads):

Live by the code. Die by the code?

Kamran Smith has it all. He’s the star of the football team, dates the most popular girl, and can’t wait to enlist in the army like his big brother, Darius. Although Kamran’s mother is from Iran, Kamran has always felt 100% American. Accepted.

And then everything implodes.

Darius is accused of being a terrorist. Kamran refuses to believe it. But Darius has been filmed making threats against his country, hinting at an upcoming deadly attack. Suddenly, everyone in Kamran’s life turns against him and his family.

Kamran knows it’s up to him to clear his brother’s name. In a race against time, Kamran must piece together a series of clues and codes that will lead him to Darius—and the truth.

But is it a truth Kamran is ready to face? And is he putting his own life at risk?

Acclaimed author Alan Gratz (Prisoner B-3087) takes readers on a heart-pounding, nonstop adventure through underground intelligence bunkers and dangerous terrorist cells, weaving a gripping tale about the War on Terror—and the bond between brothers.

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:

Creating and Managing a Classroom Library

The end of my fifth year of teaching is fast approaching (June 12th!) which means it’s time to reflect, relax, and read.  It’s also that time of year when I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I get all (or most) of my books back and realize how much more my library has grown.  A week or so ago one of my Twitter followers suggested that I write a post about how I manage my class library which really made the wheels start turning.  My class library has grown SO MUCH since my first year of teaching, to the point that I’ve had to buy more book shelves.  Thinking about this, I grabbed my phone and started taking pictures so I could put this post together.

I want to note that I am by no means some kind of classroom library expert (if there is such a thing), nor do I think my way of doing things is the best.  Through Twitter conversations and other blog posts, I’ve discovered lots of ways that I’d like to improve my library and my system, but for right now my system is alright.


I decided to create a class library when I took my college Young Adult Lit class.  That may have been the first class I decided to keep all of my books and not sell them back!  After that, word got around to my family and friends that I was a Y.A. reading machine, so many of my friends and family bought me books as a graduation present.  I devoured those and then spent a big chunk of my summer job money at the book store buying more books and searching through the shelves at used book stores for more.  I started teaching the fall after I graduated from college, and I’m pretty sure my class library was made up of maybe 35 books.  I was the only one in my department with a class library, so my students weren’t quite sure what it was all about.  They caught on pretty quick though 🙂

My library before my first day of teaching.

Creating Your Library and Spending:

I’ll admit, creating and managing a class library can be expensive.  It’s just something that I’m willing and excited to spend money on.  Not only am I reading and enjoying the books I’m buying, I’m watching them read and enjoyed by my students countless times over.  If you’re just starting out as a teacher, I recommend creating a library budget for yourself so you don’t over do it or get too overwhelmed.  I also strongly recommend checking out Donors Choose and writing up a project proposal for books.  I’ve created at least three different fundraisers for books and all have been fulfilled.  It takes some effort on your part after writing up the project; you’ll want to spread the word to your family and friends, on Facebook, Twitter, at school, etc.  It’s free for you, and all you need to do after your project is fulfilled is have your students write thank you letters, take some pictures to post on your project page, and write a thank you letter as well.  With each project I created, I ended up with 40+ books added to my class library that I didn’t have to pay for.

Another way to add books to your classroom library is to let students know that they can donate their books.  Some of my students hand them over without my prompting because they won’t read them again.  Others like the idea of helping me out and adding to my classroom.  I can’t remember where this idea came from, I think it was Kelly Gallagher, but now when students donate books I add a label to the inside cover with the student’s name and his/her graduation year.  This way students can see who donated the book whenever they read that copy.  It gives students  a piece of ownership in my classroom.

Student donated book label. You can always write this in w/o a label.


My graphic novels shelf

When it comes to organization, I keep it simple.  For the most part, I have my library organized alphabetically by author’s last name.  That changes with series because I order those according to the series order.  Students are always asking me which order the series is in, and which books comes first, so I keep it that way to help them.  Last year I added colored circle stickers with numbers on them so my students know which book is next in the series.  I bought a pack of green, yellow, and pink dot stickers from Target for less than $2.  One thing I keep in mind is to avoid using the same color stickers next to different series to avoid series confusion.  Most of the time students know the difference in series because of author, cover design, etc., but you never know when someone might get confused.  My graphic novels have their own shelf so they’re easier to find.  My non-fiction titles start right before my fiction titles start (author’s last name starting with “A”).  Eventually I’ll have a separate shelf for non-fiction, but I’m not there yet.  I considered organizing my library according to genre, but my students vastly voted against it.  Most of them said that they like randomly picking a book not knowing if it’s the genre they’re used to or looking for.  For example, one of my freshmen girls reads pretty much only contemporary fiction.  She just finished reading Isla and the Boy Next Door, Bittersweet, and Anna and the French Kiss, so she wanted something similar to those.  I handed her The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer because I knew she wouldn’t pick that herself.  It may not have worked for her, but she came back a couple days later raving about it 🙂

Two series w/stickers

Two series stickered and in order by number in series.

Check-out System:

Check-out sheets

This is an area of my class library that I really want to improve, especially now that I have so many books (near 1,000).  For the past few years I’ve had a binder with check-out sheets that require the student’s name, the author, the title, and the check-out and return dates.  Last year many of my students were complaining because they could never find the sheet where they checked out their book.  This year I bought a larger binder and dividers to mark my four classes, plus an additional spot for my students that aren’t in my class anymore.  Each tab is labeled with the hour.  This has been much better for my students; there’s been less confusion and complaining.  I’d love to use an online resource, but I think I’d need a laptop or something in my room because I’d have students in charge of maintaining it.  Right now, though, this is working well enough.  Once a student checks out a book, I initial the spot.  When the book is returned, I check it off and initial it again.  This is a way for me to remember later that the student returned that book.  It’s an easy system that I introduce to my classes at the beginning of every new trimester.  The binder stays in one spot on my class-length bookshelf near my desk.

An important part of my check-out system is keeping my books labeled.  Every time I add a new book to my library, I grab a black Sharpie marker and write my last name across the top of the pages and along the outside of the pages.  The picture I included shows two different books with my name across the top and along the side.  If my books goes missing in school and someone else finds it, they’ll know it’s mine.  I keep a Word doc of all the books I put in my classroom as well.

I always label my books with my last name.

Sometimes though, books go missing.  Most times it’s because a student forgot to check out my book when he/she borrowed it.  When I notice a book’s missing and not checked out, I add it to my list of missing books on the board.  At this time of year I’m a little more serious about keeping up the list in hopes that all of them will be returned.  I’ve even given extra credit when a student finds one of my books or tells her friend that I need her to return it (if she’s finished).  Sometimes I don’t get them all back, and I figure of all things to go missing from my room, I’m glad it’s a book.

“Missing Books” list

Displays & Misc.:

When Borders was closing I took advantage of their sales and bought two of their shelves.  I’m pretty sure that I need to start adding books to those shelves now, but all this year they’ve served as display shelves.  I’ve used them to display newly added books, banned books during Banned Books Week (always a class favorite), student recommendations, and recently I’ve displayed books by genre.  The student rec shelves were popular because one a student would finish a book, I’d ask him/her to pick a colored note card and write a quick blurb about their thoughts.  Then I’d laminate the cards (to avoid bending/tearing), tape it to the shelf, and then place the book there for other students to read.  Even though most of my students didn’t want my entire library organized by genre, many of them often ask for specific types of books (funny, mystery, sports, etc.) which is why I’ve created this display.  So far, it’s been quite popular and has drawn quite a bit of interest, especially since the covers are face out.  I’ve also taped student rec cards with pictures of the covers on top of my shelf so students can choose books that way as well.

Last summer I was perusing the Target dollar aisle and found some cute plastic bottle bins in pink, black, and white (the colors of my classroom).  I bought them to use as additional book displays, which sit on my long bookshelf.  I’ve displayed them by theme, holiday, etc.  I just tape a note card to the outside of the bins so my students know what type of books they’re featuring.

My class library this year, along with plastic bin displays along the top.

If you ever receive or win swag (bookmarks, stickers, buttons), I recommend finding a place for it in your classroom.  I have a wicker basket behind my desk next to one of my shelves full of swag that my students know they can pull from whenever they want or need a bookmark.

Basket of swag!

I hope this is helpful to those who have classroom libraries or plan on creating one!  It’s been a work in progress, and continues to be, but I love my class library.  The books on my shelves and the displays in my room add a sense of warmth to my classroom.  My students don’t like this time of year when I start taking things down because my room ends up looking so bare.

My Library  Today:
*The pictures are a little off. There are four sections of shelves.**

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