Monday, November 23, 2015

Reading in the Wild: Curating a Classroom Library

While at the IRC this fall, I was lucky to hear Donalyn Miller speak with many of my wonderful District 100 friends and literacy groupies.  I read her book, The Book Whisperer, years ago and LOVED it!  Miller, along with Penny Kittle, Richard Allington, Christopher Lehman, and Kelly Gallagher are a few of my reading heroes! They all really understand the importance of creating life long readers.

After the conference, I was invited to participate in the book study of Miller's new book, Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits, with some of the phenomenal reading teachers throughout my district. So, first, thank you for including me in this awesome, unique and informative experience! Next, welcome to the blogging book study party! I hope you enjoy the ride!

I was given a smaller section of this book focusing on curating a classroom library. I was excited for this section (not just because it was a bit shorter than others!) because my classroom library is something I am constantly working to perfect.  I learned a lot from Miller through this vignette, but also felt validated.  It's reassuring when you realize you're using the same library app as the Book Whisperer!

Miller starts off this vignette with a line from Lemony Snicket: 

Call me Disney obsessed, but this quote immediately reminded me of Belle from Beauty and the Beast.  When Belle enters her local library, and again when she sees the library at the Beast's house, she dives right in! Searching through the books, making a mess, falling in love, one book at a time. When people love books, the surround themselves with them. For years after college, when I couldn't afford a proper book shelf, I piled books from the floor as high as I could reach - playing a delicate game of Jenga every time I went to grab one.  Starting off with this quote, Miller reminds her readers that reading is about a love of books, and like most love stories, it isn't always pretty. 

She continues by sharing another piece of sage advice - Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science. I'm not going to lie; I've never heard of this dude before, but he seems very wise!  

Miller continues by explaining why a classroom library is so important for students. Some may argue that students have access to public libraries and school libraries.  Without mentioning that both public and school libraries are under attack and constantly being neglected, Miller focuses on the research of the 2005 National Assessment of Education Progress Report. This report states that students with access to well designed classroom libraries "interact more with books, spend more time reading, demonstrate more positive attitudes toward reading, and exhibit higher levels of reading achievement." 

She goes on to quote Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen:

"Children must have easy--literally fingertip--access to books that provide engaging, successful reading experiences throughout the calendar year if we want them to read in volume."

And isn't that what we all want? For our students to read, and read, and read! But we can't put obstacles in front of them.  Personally, many of my students already have so many hurtles blocking them.  Some have to babysit after school, while others live in crowded, loud homes, not conducive to quiet, alone, reading time. 

 For those newer teachers, or those just beginning to create their own classroom library, Miller continues by discussing a few factors we must keep in mind when building our libraries. She believes they must include a range of titles, genres and topics so students with a variety of interests and abilities can all find something.  One warning she gives is to not only rely on award winning titles. While some may be good for your kiddos, others may be outdated. If they lack "kid appeal", they don't belong in your library.  Personally, her advice reminds me of the good old "good on paper" rule - the book may have a lot of great awards, but if kids aren't interested, you won't get them to read it!

The next section of Miller's vignette brings the students into the mix.  She introduces her students to her library by creating a "book frenzy" in which she invites them to go into the library and choose a book they might like to read. She helps those who need more guidance finding a book, and lets others browse freely. This gives them time to explore, but also shows them that Miller is serious about giving them choices about what they read.  This opportunity also helps students realize that this is THEIR library too, and they are free to wander and find the books they want to read.  Kids can't feel like they are part of the reading community unless they have a book in their hands!

But if you are even slightly type A, like myself, the idea of having your students shuffling through your meticulously organized library might make you just a smidgen anxious.  And even worse, the idea of losing your precious books may even bring you to tears! But have no fear! Miller and I use the same amazing app to keep our libraries organized and our minds at ease.  The Classroom Organizer app from Booksource is amazing (!!! You can scan in books, check out titles to your kiddos, and even get a weekly "Overdue" list emailed to you.  It is easy to use and a huge time saver!  You can also enlist a library assistant to take on these responsibilities.  I posted a "job opening" on our school's digital platform and received numerous responses for this position.  I'll let you know who gets the job soon!
Once you have your library organized, it's a great idea to set up rules to keep things running smoothly.  To make kids feel like they have a voice in this process, you can develop the rules together.  Miller shares her list from a previous year in the book, but I found many other similar lists such as the ones on the left.  If students help make the rules, and commit to taking care of the library, you start off on a great foot!
There are many ways to organize your library, but Miller organizes hers by genre - and so do I!  Personally, I feel like it is less intimidating to approach a bin or two of books of a genre you know you like or are familiar with, rather than staring at an endless row of books on shelves that reach the ceiling.  This technique also lends itself to a great lesson about genres. The first year I set up my library, I spread all of my books out on my tables and had my students sort through them.  They created all of the genres that still exist in my library.  Over the years, I have added more genres and many more bins. But it was a fun experiment!  Miller uses picture books, short stories, articles, and poems at the beginning of the year to expose her students to a variety of genres. Depending on how well your students understand genres, you may want to do something similar.

The last section of Miller's vignette discusses a term I was previously unfamiliar with - MUSTIE. No, this does not refer to that musty smell my grandparent's house had for years and years.  These are books that don't belong in your library.

MUSTIE is short stands for:

M = Misleading (nonfiction books that contain factually inaccurate or outdated info)
U = Ugly (books with stains, torn pages, split bindings, or funny smells)
S = Superseded (That Guinness Book of World Records circa 1999 - get rid of it!)
T = Trivial (books you bought for particular students' niche interests that are regularly untouched)
I = Irrelevant (They were once totally chic, now they're totally geek!)
E = Elsewhere (older books no one reads anymore that a student can still find elsewhere)

Now you are presented with the question - What do I do with these MUSTIE books???  I know it might be hard, but throwing away or donating these books will honestly benefit your students.  Miller sums it up well by saying, "We cannot offer our students meaningful book access with damaged, outdated, or uninteresting materials."

Don't worry - you're not alone. I will be cleaning out my MUSTIE books soon. Miller has inspired me!

I hope you will continue to follow our book study. The next post will be up November 25th on Leah's blog at

Thanks for joining me on my never-ending reading journey! I'll leave you with one last lovely, library quote:


  1. Thanks for sharing this. Your passion for developing readers in palpable in your voice.

  2. What a well-written post, Rachel! The MUSTIE tip is one to live by, for sure. I know I don't want to read "ugly" books either. :) I'm so glad you're part of the #D100bloggerPD Crew. Your post has inspired me to start clearing my shelves!
    Literacy Loving Gals

  3. Rachel your post is delightful! It highlights the most important tips in organizing a classroom library-make it student-friendly.

  4. Not sure why my comment didn't show up before, but I love your post! Love all the fun artwork/pics you added! I had the hardest time handing over my library to Britt! But I can still visit it! LOL