Living Bookshelves

Like many of my book loving friends, I own lots of books. I think of them very much as “living bookshelves” because the books don’t just sit there. I read them, my daughters read them, I lend them, I teach with them, I share them with students, and sometimes I just sit near them for inspiration. I used to have them organized so that I when I would teach certain subjects, it was relatively easy to grab them by genre. This didn’t last though. Because when they are “living” bookshelves, things get moved around for very good reasons (or because it’s and hour before teaching and I remember a book that I know one particular student will enjoy).

Work in Progress

Work in Progress

So I decided to reorganize my shelves, but how? Should I try and organize them again by genre – this is completely driven by the children’s literature course that I am currently teaching. We spend about half the semester using genres to help us divide and organize our study. Except that I don’t just use them to teach children’s literature.semester I’m going to be teaching a language arts methods course. I’ve taught it before and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to incorporate children’s literature into the course as a way to model for students the connections across their children’s literature and subject area course work.

so many stacks of books...

so many stacks of books…

And what about when my family and friends ask to borrow books? Sometimes they don’t ask, but i discover a book that makes me think of my eldest daughter who loves mysteries and wants to be a writer. Or I read a book with a fabulously non-stereotypical female character that my friend Jon may want to read to include in his course next semester. Or I’m participating in a #titletalk and want to find a book that would match a description someone is asking for. You get the idea.

So what to do? While I was sitting on the floor surrounded by piles of books and staring at the wall of shelves, my husband asked me an interesting question.

Which children’s literature hat are you wearing right now? Your teacher hat, librarian hat, or reader hat?

First of all, I love that he knows me and my work well enough to ask this question. It actually relates to my interdisciplinary dissertation. Interestingly, I ended up organizing them with what I think of as “my librarian hat”. There are is a shelf just for poetry, shelves for non-fiction, informational, and biography. Historical fiction picture books, graphic novels, and “transition readers” are separated for very practical purposes – I don’t have many of any of them and often need to pull them quickly for examples. The rest of the picture books, young adult books, and “chapter books”* are arranged alphabetical by author’s last name.

*I don’t really like the term “chapter books” but there isn’t another one that I like better.

As I was shelving them and thinking about teaching and recommending books, I was reminded of something. If I am going to effectively make recommendations to my students and also thoughtfully select books for instruction, I must know the books on my shelves – and more. There are definitely books on my shelves that I haven’t read yet. And there are books that aren’t on my shelves that I will recommend.

When I am clear about the purpose or goal when looking for a book (e.g.fostering reading engagement, literacy instruction, content area instruction, etc.) AND when I know my students (or friends, colleagues, etc.) AND when I know the books that are available (and where to find them) — that is when I am most effective as a teacher and children’s literature specialist. That’s what makes my bookshelves live.




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