Category Archives: ShelfieShare

Imagining Our Ideal Bookshelves

My students are selfie experts; somehow, through practice, they have discovered the perfect angle, the right light, the exact method to fit ten people into one frame—while still managing to make their head look normal-sized.  In those fleeting snapshots, they capture the essence of who they are (or at times who they want to be), if only for a second.

I believe that the books we read can serve as small photographs of our hopes, dreams, desires, and curiosities.  They provide a  snapshot of who we were, who we are, or who we want to become.


Julia’s highly organized ideal shelf

As a final project, my AP Literature and Composition students completed an “ideal bookshelf,” inspired by the book My Ideal Bookshelf and a quick write I completed in Penny Kittle’s summer class two years ago.  The assignment was relatively simple—create your own ideal bookshelf of the books that “represent you—the books that have changed your life, that have made you who you are today, your favorite favorites” (La Force xi).  Since this is an AP Literature class, I added a twist—I wanted students to stock their shelves with books that not only transformed them as a person, but also developed them as a reader.

As each student presented on their shelf, they transformed from self-assured seniors to wide-eyed children who relayed the story of the first book they had ever fallen in love with.  Many of them spoke of how they either found or developed their passion for art,


Max’s science-based book shelf

coaching, theatre, computers, and physics through books they had found over 18 years.  The books they listed did more than just challenge them as readers; these books had the power to inspire, entertain, and heal.  As Claudia wrote about The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, “I have no real idea what is so special about it, but I’m not going to question its magical powers when it does so much good for me.”



What I loved most is how these shelves found life through details; Julia’s shelf held her drawing notebook, Cam’s his favorite cookbook, and Payton’s was adorned with her grandmother’s locket, which she uses as a bookmark.  Some shelves were neat and orderly, perfectly stacked, while others, like Sammie’s were a bit more scattered.  As Sammie put it, “I don’t know what I want to do as a profession; I am still figuring it out.  That partially explains the disarray that is my bookshelf.  I couldn’t decide which would be more practical, stacking or leaning.  The result is a bookshelf with a little bit of both.”


Sammie’s slightly scattered ideal shelf

As my seniors complete the next three weeks and begin the process of preparing for college, I want them to walk away with the writing and analytical skills we’ve honed all year, but more than anything, I want them to remember why they fell in love with reading in the first place.  I want them to question why books are powerful and understand that the universality of a novel’s message can change readers.  I want them to read for knowledge and depth and challenges, but I also want them to accept that not everything needs to be analyzed, dissected or picked apart.  In fact, sometimes we read for escapism, for love, for adventure.  For many, this might be the last English class they take.  Hopefully, it is only the start of a lifetime of reflective reading and ideal bookshelves.




#ShelfieShare – Growing Your Library

FullSizeRender[1]Yesterday was our last real day of school, and it was a busy one.  My students spent our last class periods together sharing their final multigenre writings with one another, clearing out their writing portfolios, and packing up their notebooks.

They also flooded me with classroom library books and sheepish smiles.

“Sorry,” Riley said, as she entered my classroom with a shopping bag full of books.  “I didn’t realize I had like 12 of your books at home.”

“I opened a cabinet and found like 20 of your books!” Emily said.

“If I bring back all your books, can I borrow like five for the summer?” Jordan asked.

“I found The Book Thief and almost just kept it, for the irony,” Hailey explained.

Now that all the books that are usually on kitchen tables, under beds, and piling on nightstands have begun to find their way back onto my bookshelves, things are looking a little crowded:


The five bookshelves in my classroom are mostly full of independent reading books–a class set of literature and grammar books, dictionaries, and book club collections provided by my department find their homes on the bottom shelves, but everything else has been a labor of love to build on my own.

FullSizeRender[4]I began building my library six years ago, and started with anything I could find at Half-Price Books.  I spent $20 a month in the clearance section, netting $1-2 finds that built my sci-fi and YA sections, and used my staff ID to get an extra 10% off.  During the holidays, HPB ran promotions for free $5 or $10 gift cards with the purchase of a $25 gift card, and I took advantage of those aggressively.

Next, I discovered Barnes & Noble‘s very generous 25% teacher discount, and shopped mainly in their clearance section, which was always well stocked with “former bestsellers.”  This was perfect, as a book had been out just long enough to generate buzz among my students.  I became a bit of a regular there, and began to ask the manager if he had any damaged, extra, or reject books he didn’t want.  He obliged, providing me with class sets of The Perks of Being a WallflowerWaiting to Exhale, and Tuesdays with Morrie–totally gratis.  I also got lots of hardcover books that were being replaced by paperback editions, again, for free.

Next, I discovered the generosity of my school’s PTA, which granted teachers up to $100 per year in classroom supplies.  Every year, my $100 was spent at Wal-Mart, Half-Price Books, or any other purveyor of cheap books.

FullSizeRender[3]By the time the summer of 2013 rolled around, my library was in decent shape–I had about 800 books, mostly paperback, mostly YA and general fiction.  I traveled to New Hampshire to take Penny Kittle’s course about informational writing, and fell in love with nonfiction.  I also met my amazing friends Amy, Jackie, Erika, and Emily, who told me about DonorsChoose.  I created, and funded, several projects–especially ones that helped me get lots of nonfiction–right away, which increased the number of books in my library up to about 2,000–all without a dime of my own money.

I also created DonorsChoose projects that were funded every October by U.S. Cellular, a partner of DonorsChoose.  Depending on your state, big businesses or even celebrities may fund your existing projects of up to $1000.  I used this partnership to fund two $1000 grants, growing my library up to about 3,000 books.

FullSizeRender[2]For my next brainstorm, I began to write letters to local big-box businesses, asking for donations of gift cards to purchase books.  Target, Sam’s Club, Kroger, and Wal-Mart all granted me gift cards, nearly monthly, of up to $50 per month.  Target in particular was wonderful, as their website offers a wide variety of books, especially great nonfiction finds, and free shipping on purchases of $50 or more.

When I finally got an iPhone in October of 2014, I joined Instagram and followed lots of bookish accounts.  Through these book fanatics, I learned about Book Depository, which offers discounted books with free shipping to anywhere in the world; Books-a-Million, which has a wonderful bargain section and an awesome used books market; and the glorious world of GoodReads giveaways, where free ARCs can be won by one and all.

This summer, I’ll take a week of rest, then begin to write book donation request letters, a DonorsChoose grant, and a variety of Morgantown-specific grants.  I’ll focus on replacing lost or stolen books, getting newly-paperback titles, and building shelves I think are a little weak.  I hope you’ll use this slew of resources to build your library, and your readers’ choices, too!

What are your favorite strategies for building your library?

Cinder by Marissa Meyer


“Even in the future, the story begins with Once Upon a Time.”

Are you looking for a good old fashioned dystopian YA series to start your summer?

How about a modernization of a classic fairy tale?

Or, have you been craving a story about a cyborg mechanic, trying to avoid a plague, who’s got secret mental powers, a really crappy stepmother, and is actually a lost princess?

Well, if any or all of those books sound good to you, then look no further–this one will grant all your wishes.  Cinder by Marissa Meyer is book one of the Lunar Chronicles, a series incorporating futuristic versions of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and more.  But it’s not just a book that retells a classic fairy tale–my boy readers love it too, because Cinder is a mechanic who works on androids in a post-WWIII future.  Complete with hovercrafts, bizarre medical technology, and sinister political plots, this story really has it all.

“But if there was one thing she knew from years as a mechanic, it was that some stains never came out.”

As a narrator, Cinder is complex, likable, sarcastic, and the embodiment of different.  In her society, cyborgs are considered less than human, and she battles this stereotype throughout the story.  Still, she responds to her critics with dry humor that made me guffaw as I read, and an unapologetic bent that made me know she’d be a great role model for my students.  Cinder defies convention in every way–a female mechanic, a plain princess, a cyborg in a human society–and yet her bioelectric backbone keeps her standing tall through it all.  I truly fell in love with her character by the heartbreaking, humiliating end of this first book, and immediately ordered the next two on Amazon.

“It is easier to trick others into perceiving you as beautiful if you can convince yourself you are beautiful. But mirrors have an uncanny way of telling the truth.”

Marissa Meyer crafts an incredible, fascinating future in the Lunar Chronicles, and writes with a style and flair that lend personality to the dystopian drama that unfolds in this series.  I highly recommend Cinder and its sequels for the science fiction shelf of your classroom library–scoop it up to enjoy before the magic wears off at midnight!

Shelfie Saturday: Nonfiction #ShelfieShare

shelfieAs a young reader, I was a library-only kinda girl.  I browsed the mystery, fiction, and teen sections looking for distinctive spines–ones that had a pink “Classics” sticker, or an orange “Award-Winner” sticker, or a blue “Librarian’s Choice.”  These little guides led me to Jane Austen, Matthew Quick, and John Grisham, whose spines were not only colorful with library stickers but also well-worn from the hands of readers.

The thing about those spines was that none of them were in the nonfiction section, which loomed large with encyclopedias, reference books, and lots of sections about science, technology, or car repair.  Being a middle schooler who didn’t know about the Dewey Decimal System, I had no idea how to find interesting biographies, beautiful memoirs, or fascinating historical accounts.

Now that I’ve begun to love nonfiction and learn a lot from it, I’ve tried to simplify the search for great true stories in my classroom library.  We have one Nonfiction shelf and two Memoir & Biography shelves.  I try to keep collections, histories, and statistics-into-stories books all together on the Nonfiction shelf, while I move the stories of people’s lives onto the M&B shelves below it.  Sometimes the titles that belong on the Nonfiction shelf wind up on the Award Winners, Unique Teens, or Death & Dying shelves–because I love to mix true and imaginary stories in our library when they share themes.


You can see that our shelf is varied–topics range from sports to how the mind works to humor.  Some authors are dominant–Jon Krakauer, Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink–but others are one-hit wonders whose titles are very popular–Mary Roach, Michael Lewis, Dave Cullen.  Their respective Stiff, Moneyball, and Columbine are three of my library’s most popular titles.

Our nonfiction shelf is also the home of the “Best American” series, which includes topics such as science, travel, and sports writing, but also a collection of simply “essays” from each year.  This series is a fabulous way to find a huge variety of good nonfiction mentor texts when students are doing informational or persuasive writing–there is always something to match any student’s interest.

This shelf is an eye-level shelf for good reason.  Students who wouldn’t normally gravitate toward the nonfiction genre find their eyes caught by interesting covers, titles, or topics–such as Missoula and It’s Not About the Truth, both of which deal with college rape culture, or The Sociopath Next Door, which attracts all my Sherlock fans, or Lost in the Meritocracy, which gives both motivated and disengaged students much to consider.  Once students discover this shelf, they often move toward the Memoir & Biography or Award-Winners shelves, which contain more sophisticated nonfiction structures.

I encourage all teachers of literature to build up their nonfiction shelves–their titles have much to teach our students.

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