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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.

Dumpster Diving for a Book Shelf

shelfieMy husband called, “Hey, there’s a book shelf by the dumpster. Do you want it?”

Funny that he asked. I know he knew I’d say yes.

I put the tall black shelf by the door to my room, which was pretty much the only open spot. But most of my classroom library sat cozy on the opposite side of the room. I did not know what books to put on this new shelf.

It sat empty waiting for three months.

There’s nothing quite so unsettling as an empty shelf in a bibliophile’s classroom, but my husband made me promise not to buy any more books. This is hard.

Finally, I got smart and labeled the shelves “1st period Suggests You Read,” “2nd Period Suggests You Read,” etc.

Slowly, I started moving books that students talked about, the ones they told me they liked. Then I Favorites book shelvesnoticed that a few students started returning their books to these shelves, and after we did Speed Dating with a Book a few weeks ago — we put all of our to-read-next titles on these shelves.

Now, instead of having most of our book choices on the bright green wall across the room, students walk past this shelf as they come and go.

Pretty good deal for a dumpster find.

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

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