Preparing to welcome students back to the library at the start of a new school year is super exciting! As Mr. Lemoncello would say, “There might be balloons!” I see all of the reading classes in our building every three weeks for a full class period in the library. We call this Library Day, and for our first class together this year, more than anything else I could have possibly shared with them, this is what I wanted them to know:
- Where we’re going as readers this year
- How to share their voice as readers
- Who I am as a reader
And this is what I wanted the students to tell me:
- What can I do to support them as readers this year?
Setting the tone that reading is valued here and students reading tastes and voices are valued is top priority to me. This is the foundation of building a reading culture at school.
Wait! What about the rules? What about procedures? Sure, I could have spent our first session droning on about those, complete with a nifty slideshow, but that’s what my librarian thirty years ago in my middle school would have done…sans slideshow. That’s not the library of today looks like. I’m here to support their curiosity and grow their love of reading, not to tell them how many times they can print. That’s boring.
So, where are we going as readers this year? I started out with a giant stack of books. Author Kate Messner writes about sharing books in stacks with kids, and I created a stack that is more like a skyscraper. But, why THIS stack? First, it reminds of where we’ve been together. I’m as sentimental as they come, and it’s my hope that students remember the special times we shared together last year, when Andrew Maraniss, Sarah Weeks, and Mr. Schu visited our school. Including Strong Inside and Save Me a Seat, reminds kids that we met these amazing authors and to keep them on their radar for this year. Including Raymie Nightingale and Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, reminds kids to be passionate about what they love to read and to share it, a la Mr. Schu! The 8th graders met Alan Gratz when they were in 6th grade, so they especially loved hearing about his new book, Refugee. Part of where we’re going is thinking about where we’ve been.
This year brings many new experiences to share together. In addition to our regular lunch time book club, we have a new book club, Project LIT, which provides even more opportunities for kids to connect with books. We’ll be reading Towers Falling, Full Cicada Moon, Refugee, Ghost, and Patina, to name a few. Our focus will be on reading diverse books, exploring a myriad of perspectives, and inviting members of our community to read along and join us for discussion activities.
We love welcoming authors to our school, and connecting with the people who write the books we love. Kids love hearing the stories behind the story and how an idea turned into the book in their hands. Meeting authors not only enriches their reading, but it also helps them grow as writers and creators. I enjoy revealing our author visitors at the beginning of the year so that students have plenty of opportunities to read books by our guests before they arrive. Author visit days are treated like holidays at our school, and watching their faces as they find out who’s coming is priceless! My readers will meet Courtney Stevens, Gwenda Bond, Megan Shepherd, Soman Chainani, Monika Schroeder, Nathan Hale, and Steve Sheinkin! What incredible voices in the children’s and YA book world for students to meet!
Who am I as a reader? I’m also meeting many new students- a whole grade level, as a matter of fact- so I want to introduce myself by showing them who I am as a reader. I want kids to see that I read a variety of books. Am I a sports fan? I am a fan of Perry Wallace, a “hidden figure” in the world of college basketball, who broke barriers of color and race. Do I love horror books? Confession time… I’m a big chicken, but I enjoyed the Shadow House series tremendously, even though I lost a little sleep, as a I was afraid the Larkspur Academy children would show up in my own house. A Dog Like Daisy is there because not only do I love animals, but we have a strong community of local authors, and I love championing their amazing work. Ashes gives me an opportunity to share one of my favorite authors, Laurie Halse Anderson and the conclusion of one of my favorite trilogies, Seeds of America. I want my students to see that I love it all, and I am ready to help them find something they’ll enjoy.
How we share our voices as readers
Students not only see that they are going to get lots of stacks like this shared with them throughout the year, but I invite them to share with each other. I set up grade level Padlets and linked these in our Library Day Google Classrooms. This give students across each grade level a way to connect with each other outside of their reading class, outside of their team. Students began posting immediately, sharing a favorite book of the moment. So far, they’ve shared everything from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Alexander Hamilton! Sharing in ways like this contributes to our culture of reading in a non-threatening way. It’s easy, it’s fun, it incorporates technology, and even the quietest of students can have a voice here. I love hearing from ALL students about the books they are reading.
The directions are:
- Post the name you go by.
- Title/ Author
- Briefly tell why you enjoyed the book (a couple of sentences will do).
- Optional: post an image of the book.
Their posts do get moderated by me, only because that’s our school rule for using Padlet in the classroom. I enjoy seeing additions made to our Padlets even on nights and weekends! The students are enjoying having this vehicle to share, and every library day, I can remind students to check the Padlet for great book suggestions!
How can I support you as a reader this year? Students completed a Google Form in which they tell me about who they are as readers. These questions are inspired by Donalyn Miller’s books. The more I know about their reading habits and preferences, the better prepared I am to help them. This informs my purchases and I can share this information with reading teachers, as we partner together in supporting student literacy.
One of my favorite questions to ask is: How can I help you grow as a reader this year? I love watching students think about how to answer this question. It makes me wonder if a librarian has ever asked them this before? Sure, I get a few “not sure” or “idk,” but the #1 response is: help me find books I’ll enjoy.
ENJOY. That is the key. Because that’s what we all want as readers, and kids are no different.
Here is the survey. Please make a copy of it and then edit as you wish.
Now, how about those rules? Rules and procedures are there for a reason, and sure, it’s important that kids know what to expect in the library. I incorporated these into a 3 minute scavenger hunt. Students used a QR code reader app on their own device, or our I-Pads, and found the 8 QR codes around the room.
Our African Dwarf Frogs reminded students that we have no limit on the amount of books one can check out, and we have no fines.
The fish in our new aquarium reminded them that our computers and printers are for school related work.
The Abraham Lincoln bobblehead figure made them aware of the new library hours.
They also found the locations of the books of our visiting authors, our book club books, and some of our most popular sections, like the graphic novels.
Middle schoolers like to move, so find a way to include your rules and information that encourages movement and exploration. Are they more likely to remember these essentials this way than me covering this in a slideshow format? Yes, without a doubt, and I think Mr. Lemoncello would approve.
So, find your way of greeting students and welcoming them back to the library in an enthusiastic way! This is your chance to show that students are welcome, they matter, and you’re here to inspire, to motivate, to help and to guide, and to set the tone that reading matters. Like the little billboard in the mural on our library wall reminds us about reading, – “It’ll take you places.”