Seeking Bookroom Advice

Our school guided reading leveled bookroom needs some love. And I need some advice on where to start. How do we make the bookroom work for our teachers, rather than making our teachers work for the bookroom?

We began a major overhaul of our bookroom in 2009 as we began our schoolwide transition from SFA. We were asked not to get rid of the SFA resources we had at our advantage, so we kept everything. (SFA sets usually include 30 copies of a book and a teacher’s guide)

Here’s a (novice) video I put together to give staff a tour of the resources available.


So that was good. But then it became apparent that having 30 copies of each SFA text was a little excessive. Because if six boxes were full of Level M texts, we might not suspect that we actually only have 20 different titles.

We’re trying to weed out extra copies we have, but we’re starting from a rough starting point. This month, when I entered the bookroom, there were six paper boxes of donated book sets (woot woot) stacked up inside the doorway.

Items donated to the school bookroom; transferred to the “bookroom annex” to be processed.
Book sets to be processed.
Book sets to be processed.

PISH POSH, you say. USE SKILL GROUPS, then you won’t need all these pesky sets of texts! Yes, perhaps one day. Sometimes. But for now, we’re meeting teachers where they are, and where we are is at guided reading groups.


Surprise! Bookshelf is broken. Didn't realize until months(?) later...
Surprise! Bookshelf is broken. Didn’t realize until months(?) later…
Book sets tossed on top of a filing cabinet.
Book sets tossed on top of a filing cabinet.
Entire buckets of books taken out of bookroom without being checked out.
Entire buckets of books taken out of bookroom without being checked out.

What should we do? I understand that people are busy, so I know why things might not be left in fantastic condition. But WAT DO?

Ms. Koyama’s Classroom Library

This summer I undertook an enormous project with an inspirational, equity-focused, growth-mindset colleague. We labeled, organized, catalogued, and PIMPED OUT all the books in her classroom library.

I say “all.” When I say “all” I mean “on the way to all.” She has a bazillion books, many acquired from a retired teacher, and we’ve still got a dozen or so boxes that we’re continuing to process.

This is me with Ms. Emily Koyama, taking a break from crazy room setup at the end of the summer. Emily inherited a mess of a room, through no fault of its most recent inhabitants (the talented and much-missed Shauna Iseri and Bree Howle). She was hired three days before students came to Wildwood in September 2011 and signed a one-year temporary contract, so she wasn’t really at liberty to clear out the room.

So she had books. They were everywhere. And yet nowhere at the same time, because they weren’t effectively getting into kids’ hands.

Emily is a strong woman. She isn’t afraid of big change. Or big projects. Or insanity. So this summer, we decided to give her library a makeover.

First we needed to know which books were hers. We put her name in every book. All of them. Hundreds of them. We recruited students. We returned missing library books to the school library (oops) and borrowed books to their rightful owners (oops).

We had a bajillion piles. Here’s what Emily’s room looked like. Sort of. A visual for the tl;dr crowd.

We had an assembly line.

1. Books lived here when they weren’t ready for any of the following steps because they needed their hardcover dust jackets laminated. We’re poor. We didn’t have book covers. So we laminated them. And then taped them on.

2. Here were the books that needed old owner’s name crossed out and Ms. Koyama’s name added. Neatly. Legibly. Kids get super excited to help and before long, you can’t read anything. Or spine labels are stuck on the wrong side and the books are taped closed. So, as always, setting expectations and creating exemplars is critical.

3. Books stayed here until one of us could find the AR level. Now. Before you scream at me, Wildwood uses AR. Although I admit that it’s a flawed system, I see NO PROBLEM in giving kids ONE tool to help them zero in on POTENTIAL good-fit books.

4. Books that were already leveled and taped (or didn’t have an AR level) waited here for Emily to enter the ISBNs into Booksource.

5. Books sat on a table off to the side while they waited for AR tape.

6. After everything was labeled and catalogued, I sorted the books by genre, series, or author.

Finally, we made book basket labels, numbered the backs of the books so they matched their corresponding baskets, and straightened everything up!

One wall of books.
Closeup of book buckets.

For a more detailed(!) account of setting up a classroom library, check out my sweet five-part series, culminating in a tour.

Classroom Library Instructional Series
Part 1: Supplies
Part 2: Getting Started
Part 3: Filling the Shelves
Part 4: Library Upkeep
Part 5: Adding to Your Collection

Classroom Library Tour

Oh, also, I just rediscovered this tip video for library book sales.

Phew. What have you found that works in your classroom library streamlining process?

Sibert Challenge

All this chatter about the various ALA challenges going on in 2012 made me long for a few more nonfiction books on my to-read list. And although the Sibert Informational Medal hasn’t been around for that long, I realized I’ve read woefully few of the winners and honor recipients.

So I present to you this year’s Sibert Challenge, which you can find on Twitter as #nerdibert.

I’m not quite sure how to facilitate something like this, so I suppose I should ask you to please post any links to your versions of the challenge in the comments section. Here’s the complete list of award recipients, taken from the ALA site. For now, I’ll say that I’ll attempt to read them chronologically. If I’ve read a book, I’ve linked it to my Goodreads review.

  • Winner: Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for El Dorado. Written by Marc Aronson.
  • Honor: Blizzard! The Storm That Changed America. Written by Jim Murphy.
  • Honor: The Longitude Prize. Written by Joan Dash. Illustrated by Dusan Petricic.
  • Honor: My Season with Penguins: An Antarctic Journal. Written by Sophie Webb.
  • Honor: Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned. Written by Judd Winick.

  • Winner: Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850. Written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.
  • Honor: Brooklyn Bridge. Written by Lynn Curlee.
  • Honor: Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps. Written by Andrea Warren.
  • Honor: Vincent van Gogh. Written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.

  • Winner: The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler. Written by James Cross Giblin.
  • Honor: Action Jackson. Written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker.
  • Honor: Hole in My Life. Written by Jack Gantos.
  • Honor: Six Days in October: The Stock Market Crash of 1929. 
    Written by Karen Blumenthal.
  • Honor: When Marian Sang. Written by Pam Munoz Ryan. Illustrated by Brian Selznick.

  • Winner: The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights. Written by Russell Freedman.
  • Honor: Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing.  Written by James Rumford, translated into Cherokee by Anna Sixkiller.
  • Honor: The Tarantula Scientist. Written by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop.
  • Honor: Walt Whitman: Words for America. Written by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Brian Selznick.

  • Winner: Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mysteries of the H.L. Hunley. Written by Sally M. Walker.
  • Honor: Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow. Written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

  • Winner: Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon. Written by Catherine Thimmesh.
  • Honor: Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement. Written by Ann Bausum.
  • Honor: Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea. Written by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop.
  • Honor: To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel. Written by Siena Cherson Siegel, artwork by Mark Siegel.

  • Winner: The Wall: Growing Up behind the Iron Curtain. Written by Peter Sís.
  • Honor: Lightship. Written and illustrated by Brian Floca.
  • Honor: Nic Bishop Spiders. Written and photographed by Nic Bishop.

  • Winner: Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot. Written by Sy Montgomery.
  • Honor: Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring. Written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca.
  • Honor: Lafayette and the American Revolution. Written by Russell Freedman.


  • Recipients to be announced January 23, 2012!

Must-Have Books for Classroom Libraries

After seeing a search term directed to my site looking for must-have classroom library books, I realized I’ve never put together any sort of list of this type. This is in no way a comprehensive list, but just my thoughts today.

Books to NEVER BUY FULL-PRICED. They are at every Goodwill imaginable.

  • Any Newbery award-winning book published after 1950 and before 2000.
  • The Chalk Box Kid
  • Poppy, by Avi (unless you’re looking for a class set)
  • Junie B. Jones books
  • Magic Tree House books
  • Captain Underpants
Books that are always checked out of my classroom library.
  • Guinness Book of World Records
  • Books of lists
  • Books of facts
  • Scary stories (either the series or just scary books in general)
  • Any graphic novel ever written.
  • Book adaptations of movies or TV shows.
  • Anything we’ve just done as a read aloud (Moral: BOOK TALK EVERYTHING)

Books that are new-ish and you might not have heard of before.

Not to go all hipster cat on you, but unless you obsessively follow book blogs and tweets, you might want to check out these pretty great books you probably haven’t read yet. (Why not?!?! They’re so amazing! It’s OK, I know you’re busy.)

  • Sidekicks, by Dan Santant
  • Books in the Squish or Babymouse series, by Jennifer and Matthew Holm
  • The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
  • Marty McGuire, by Kate Messner
  • Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick

Author Studies

These aren’t necessarily going to go on your shelves for students to check out and read independently, but these authors make for GREAT shared reading and read aloud texts. They have the added benefit of often being under-checked-out in school libraries, so an author study can boost their circulation. I’ve starred authors whose books are often available at library book sales and thrift stores.

  • Tomie DePaloa
  • Steve Jenkins
  • Gail Gibbons*
  • Gerald McDermott
  • William Steig*
  • Kevin Henkes
  • Jan Brett*
  • Patricia Polacco (I honestly always had some reservations because although she’s awesome, I also thought she was a little cheesy, but I haven’t found a single student or teacher who doesn’t like her)

Feel free to add any other titles in the comments!

New Books for our Classroom Library

I’ll admit that I’ve neglected our classroom library as I’ve been chipping away at all the books that need to be processed for the school bookroom. But the boxes of unused books are just killing me, and so I decided I’d spend a good chunk of time this weekend knocking some of these books out.

This is usually my home base when I process books. I use Toby’s iMac instead of my laptop because I scrunch over less. Plus, I can queue for random dungeons in World of Warcraft.

Stack of books and book pockets. And WOW hidden behind GoodReads.

I try to add books to our library as soon as I receive them, but lately we’ve added a ton of new books. You can see I also enjoy eating pizza and drinking fizzy water while I work.

Books from Wildwood, Mrs. Burn, and Ms. Willard

This doesn’t even really put a dent in all the books I need to go through. My parents are still sending me old books from my childhood.

OMG BOOKS!!! (and my math frameworks binders... I TOLD you I didn't lose them, Ms. Stock!)

After I’ve entered the books into LibraryThing, figured out their AR levels, and made sure they have book pockets and book cards, I set them out in the hallway to be whisked away to school.

Sound book to send back to the science center, books with no AR level, books that need AR tape.

I’m looking to go into Wildwood tomorrow to spruce up our classroom and get these books into book boxes so students can check them out first thing Tuesday morning.

Remember that tomorrow is really supposed to be a day “ON,” rather than a day off, so consider participating in a local service project. I’ll be serving in a public elementary school classroom, and you should totally join me! :) Oh, speaking of public schools, did you notice the Glee folks thanked public school teachers in their acceptance speech?


Classroom Library: Adding to Your Collection

JUST DISCOVERED: This AMAZING classroom library. From Troy, Michigan! My socks! They have been knocked off!

Who wouldn't want to select a good-fit book from this collection?

To view previous posts in this series, click below.

Classroom Library Part 1: Supplies
Classroom Library Part 2: Getting Started
Classroom Library Part 3: Filling the Shelves
Classroom Library Part 4: Library Upkeep

Your classroom library is awesome. Your kids are taking great care of it. How can you add new books without having the whole system fall apart?

Keep your supplies ready and nearby. I have a bucket (and you KNOW by now that it’s a Sterilite Ultra basket) that I keep filled with extra pockets, index cards, labels, and pens. The only extra step I need to make outside of the classroom when adding books is steal down to the library to borrow some AR tape.

Lolrus knows the value of a bucket.
Lolrus knows the value of a bucket.

Add quality books. Chances are, you have a lot of books. Unless you’re a brand new teacher, in which case you should get thee with all possible haste to a library book sale! So now that you’re past just filling the shelves, make sure you’re adding quality books. New books, unusual books, books you don’t have at the school library. Non-fiction books. Almanacs and books of facts. The vast number of children’s literature blogs is truly insane, so I just started reading Betsy Bird’s fantastic Fuse #8 Production and added from there.

Talk with your students about new additions. We’ve been reading a lot of recently published books checked out from the Seattle Public Library this year. The day before the ALA Awards are announced, we’ll hold a Mock Caldecott and I’ll buy the top three books to add to our classroom library.

Don’t be afraid to edit. Even with the best treatment, books get worn. Series become less popular. Non-fiction books become dated. You start to realize that the books you snapped up for crazy-cheap your first year of teaching haven’t been checked out since… your first year of teaching, if ever. Pass them on! If I pull a book from our classroom library, I cross out my name from the inside (but keep the pocket and card, of course) and put it in our staff room. If it doesn’t find a new home in a month, I take the books to Goodwill or the Seattle Public Library. Yes, I probably could sell the books on Craigslist or Amazon Marketplace, but I’d rather support the aforementioned nonprofits.

Please feel free to share and use this information as you see fit. If you’re able to take a moment to leave a comment, though, it completely makes my day and my students usually squeal with delight.


Library book sales

In a few days, I’ll be sharing some of the best ways to add new books to your classroom library.

Hands down one of the cheapest (and most charitable) options is to pay a visit to your local Friends of the Public Library book sale. Some public library systems sell books by weight, some have a flat rate, and some even have a “Better Books” section where you can find brand new or nearly-new titles.

Here, I’ll share the step-by-step process I go through in preparing for a trip to a library book sale. If you live in the Seattle area, you can find out more about the SPL’s epic book sales here.

Last winter, Seattle was named the most literate city in the country, and despite suffering from the abysmal funding of its library system, it has some amazing things to offer.

Things like bags of books for crazy cheap. You must go.

One other tip, and I’m not really sure if this is totally legit. Last year, we went on the Friends’ preview night, where you’re limited to 25 books. We, of course, couldn’t limit ourselves to 25 books. But when another patron heard of our plight and saw we were from a school, she gave us her voucher, because she hadn’t bought all 25. Score! I obviously wanted to stay the rest of the evening and poach more voucher cards, but I was denied.


Classroom Library: Library Upkeep

To view previous posts in this series, click below.

Classroom Library Part 1: Supplies
Classroom Library Part 2: Getting Started
Classroom Library Part 3: Filling the Shelves

Hopefully this hasn’t been a terribly painful process, but we can probably all agree that it has been a pretty significant amount of work. So I think we can also agree that after having invested the time and energy into setting up a fantastic classroom library, you probably want it to stay that way. Here are some ideas that have worked for our class.

Love your library. At the beginning of the year, all my bookshelves are covered with butcher paper or fabric. After we discuss classroom library expectations (I think there’s a primary literacy book for teachers that talks about a “proper treatment of books” lesson), we unveil one bookshelf at a time, talking about the books students will find there.

Let your students try out new books. Even if you know they’re way above their level. Even if you’ve done the “pick a just-right book” lesson a dozen times. Let them try out new books, BUT make sure you confer with them pretty quickly afterward and help steer them to a better fit book. You don’t want to stifle their interest in discovering new books!

Maintain high expectations. Wildcat Leaders (self-managers) are allowed to check out two books, and students who bring back their homework regularly are allowed to put a sticky-note in the check out book and bring their book home overnight. One of the reasons why I catalog my books is because my students know

Don’t let checking out descend into chaos. My students know they can check out a classroom library book on Monday morning as soon as they come into the room. If they’d like to check out a book before the following Monday, they can do so at the start of their recess. No exceptions. This might sound strict until you’ve seen 25 children trying to fit into a library corner. Other teachers in our building have students check out new books on the days when they turn in their reading response journal, and still others don’t have a firm policy, although I’m not sure how they manage to stay sane and not lose a million books.

Have a system for repair. My students know that if a book is damaged, they need to check it back in, put a sticky note on the cover explaining what’s wrong, then put it in the Ms. Houghton basket.

Show them the process. My students were flabbergasted when they discovered I bought most of our books with my own money. Their eyes nearly popped out of their heads when they went to the book fair and discovered that a new copy of Steve Jenkin’s Bones cost nearly $20 in hardcover. Just make sure you tell them in a tone meant to inform them, not as a threat to them or a complaint about the hardships of teaching.

Involve your class. Although my class is younger this year, I still have a librarian whose job is to daily comb through the library on his or her way to second recess to make sure books aren’t sticking out in crazy directions. About once a month, or whenever it’s awful outside and a bunch of kids beg to stay in at recess, I have them turn the book buckets around to look at the book bucket numbers to make sure everything’s in its correct bucket.

Keep it fresh. Find out how to expand your library without going insane by viewing our next installment in this series, Adding to Your Collection.

Please feel free to share and use this information as you see fit. If you’re able to take a moment to leave a comment, though, it completely makes my day and my students usually squeal with delight.


Classroom Library: Filling the Shelves

To view previous posts in this series, click below.

Classroom Library Part 1: Supplies
Classroom Library Part 2: Getting Started

Hopefully, you haven’t agonized too much over the last two steps because I don’t want you to have lost steam. THIS is the important part — having plenty of texts at many different levels accessible to all students at all times. So let’s get started!

1. Figure out some kind of sorting system. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Remember how I asked you before how you were going to catalog your books and sort them? If you haven’t decided already, do it now. My books are sorted by genre/series (for fiction), and Dewey decimal number (for non-fiction). I have a few partner reading buckets that are sorted by reading level. Our school also uses Accelerated Reader, so my books are labeled with the schoolwide leveling system as well.

All our math books are in bucket 510. We talk in class about the fact that the Dewey Decimal uses at least three digits, so bucket 030 (books of facts) is different from bucket 30 (Judy Moody books).

2. Decide how you want to process and add your books. For me, this meant starting fresh — pulling every single book off my shelf and reintroducing them into the library as I processed them. It’s not the most efficient (I still have six boxes of books to catalog), but it helped keep my brain clear (a daunting challenge). You might want to sort your books into different bins first, or you might want to label them first.

3a. If you’re leveling books and/or cataloging books, open several tabs in your browser. Open your cataloging site in one tab, your leveling site (Renaissance Learning, Scholastic, Fountas & Pinnell, probably) in another. Open Pandora in a third so you don’t go crazy.

3b. Get your books in check-out condition. For me, this meant putting a book pocket on the inside title page (many people use the inside front cover because then you don’t block the inside title page, but I find that paperback books are easier to keep open if you put them on the title page). I then wrote the title on an index card and inserted it into the book. I looked up the AR level of my book, entered the book into LibraryThing, and put the book in a stack ready for AR tape and bucket number.

Leveled and ready for check-out!

4. Sort your books. I put AR tape on the top of the spine of the book so the color can be seen when it’s sitting inside a book bucket. I stick a mailing seal to the upper left corner of the back cover of the book, and I write the book bucket number on the back.

AR Tape.

5. Add books to your library. Put your book buckets on your shelves, add your books to them, and admire your handiwork.

6. A word on templates. When I first organized my classroom library, I saved a ton of time by printing my book bucket labels and check-out cards in Microsoft Word (otherwise I would have had to hand-letter cards for my entire classroom set of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle). This also saves time if you have a lot of guided reading book sets. Now, if your printer is fussy or you’re a bit of a technophobe, templates will probably cause you more frustration than joy. If despite this you’re still finicky enough to want ALL your materials typed out, then you’ll want to see the templates I’ll be posting tomorrow in Library Upkeep.

Please feel free to share and use this information as you see fit. If you’re able to take a moment to leave a comment, though, it completely makes my day and my students usually squeal with delight.


Classroom Library: Getting Started

To view previous posts in this series, see below.

Classroom Library Part 1: Supplies

Now that you’ve got all your supplies collected, take a look around your classroom. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when you’re thinking about what your classroom library will look like. That doesn’t mean you need to agonize and ponder endlessly over ideas, but it does mean you want to be intentional with the decisions you make. Some points to think over:

How old are your kids? The kindergarteners in Mrs. Terry’s class wouldn’t have a chance if they wanted to pick out books from the bookshelves in my classroom. And my kids probably wouldn’t give the books on Mrs. Terry’s lowest shelf a second glance. The physical size of your students will impact their browsing patterns. I’ve actually found that books tucked away in a corner get a ton of traffic from my kids because they often like to cuddle themselves up in corners to work independently.

How big are your books? Kindergarten teacher Ms. Nietering uses blue bins from IKEA to store her books, and it has worked out well for her the past few years. If I were to use them on my shelves, there would be a tremendous amount of wasted space. Plus, my kids would have a difficult time seeing the covers of novels. I do have a few blue bins for some of our picture books, but I still prefer the Sterilite Ultra bins I mentioned in the last post.

How much space do you have? Ms. Stock once told me that if she put all her books in buckets, they would overrun her whole room (kind of like in my room, huh? :)). That was probably especially true when she was in our school’s diminutive portable. Her 3rd-5th graders pick their books out from a clearly labeled library nook. She also has the advantage of working with students who are more likely than average to investigate books when only the spines are visible — cover visibility is pretty much the only reason I switched to book buckets.

How big is your budget? If you don’t want to drop a ton on new bookshelves or book buckets, look in your school’s or your district’s surplus collection. Servicable book bins can be found at dollar stores or in the dollar section at Target. I can’t remember the last time Miss Turner bought a bookshelf, but she still has plenty of space to store her classroom library. Our school has a tradition of putting any unwanted furniture in the hallway at the end of the school year, so it’s always nice to go hallway-shopping for a new shelf or two.

How many books do you have? How many do you want? When I started my classroom library, I began with more generalized buckets — Mysteries, Silly Stories, Animals. Then, as I added more books and the buckets became full, I created more series-specific buckets. I added a dog books bucket and a dinosaur books bucket, and I replaced the book bucket labels on the backs of my books whenever I made a change.

How involved will your kids be? A few great texts on classroom libraries highly recommend that your students put together their classroom library at the beginning of the year. Several teachers at our school do this, but I’m a bit of a control freak. Whenever I add new books to our classroom library, though, I do always ask students where they think the books should go.

Next up, Filling the Shelves.

Many thanks to my talented, book-loving colleagues for allowing me to photograph their classroom libraries.