Well-Worn and Well-Loved: Ten Classic Professional Books I Cannot Live Without

One wall in my “office” is filled with professional books.  From floor to ceiling, the shelves are filled with the books that have helped me learn to teach thoughtfully. I have been reading professional books throughout my career. I have hundreds and hundreds of books that have impacted my thinking. I have been lucky to learn from amazing people over the years and I learn something new every time I revisit an old favorite.

In the last several years, I have noticed I’ve purchased fewer professional books. I am reading more professionally, but much of my professional reading is online. So in a cleaning frenzy a few weeks ago, I decided to weed out some of my oldest professional books.   I have been teaching for twenty-five years so I figured I could weed almost every book published before 2000 to keep my professional library current.  I have so many books and so many that I read years and years ago, I figured that this would be an easy job.

But, the job was not so easy.  While browsing the shelves, certain books triggered a feeling of transformation-books that changed who I was as a teacher   Below are ten classics that I could not part with, even though they were all published prior to the year 2000. Even though I have newer editions of most off the titles, it was the original reading that made a difference for me.  These classics set the stage for what we understand about literacy learning and teaching.  So many of my big understandings come from these foundational books. These are the books that reground me, reenergize me and remind me of all the reasons I became a teacher to begin with.

This is in no way a conclusive list.  But it is an important one to me. Consider this my “oldies” playlist of professional books—the learning that is playing around in my head every time I work with children.


 Writing: Teachers and Children at Work by Donald Graves was one of the first books that took teachers inside classrooms to let us know what was possible. I didn’t read this until I graduated from college but Graves’ work was the work that created huge changes in classroom writing programs.  It was a great time to start teaching and this book laid the groundwork for my thinking about writing process.


I had been teaching 1st grade for three years when I asked to be moved to 4th grade.  I was excited about the change and had heard about the book (first edition) In the Middle by Nancie Atwell and was excited about the whole idea of workshop. The summer before I started teaching 4th grade, I was pregnant with our first daughter. My husband had a summer job delivering pizzas. I remember laying on the couch with a bag of Doritos and reading In the Middle over and over.  That summer, I created a vision of an intermediate workshop classroom all because of this book.


I was able to attend the Teacher’s College Writing Project and learn from Lucy Calkins for ten days in 1991. But I was a total fan by the time I attended, having read everything she wrote cover to cover, over and over again. Lucy’s work helped us listen to children and to be thoughtful about everything we did.  The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins was packed with new thinking.


Ralph Peterson was a huge influence for me. His book Grand Conversations was one that helped me see the power of books and student conversations. It was one of the first books that helped me to see what could happen if students were in charge of their own understandings and conversations. It was a short book, but packed with thinking about the importance of talk and ownership.


I learned a great deal from the staff at The Manhattan New School. I learned through visits, workshops and their writing. The schoolwas amazing and the staff was generous in sharing all that they learned.  A book that changed my teaching was Shelley Harwayne’s Lasting Impressions: Weaving Literature Into the Writing Workshop.  I have always been a huge children’s literature person and this book helped me see the power of children’s literature for writers.



 What a Writer Needs by Ralph Fletcher is a book that opened up so many possibilities for me as a teacher of writing. The ways that Fletcher showed us, as readers, how to look at text with a writer’s eye was key to what we do today.  This was the first book that that helped me “read like a writer”.



The work of Howard Gardner and Harvard’s Project Zero has been instrumental in who I am as a teacher today. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. As with all of Gardner’s work, this book taught me strategies for getting to know the whole child and to build on each child’s strengths.



A Workshop of the Possible: Nurturing Children’s Creative Development by Ruth Shagoury Hubbard is one of my favorite books ever. It takes a look at the creative process with young children and takes us into a classroom where children’s thinking is the key to the way in which the community works.  I learned how much you could learn and how much better you can teach if you really listen to children and their thinking.


In the Company of Children by Joanne HIndley was another book from the staff at the Manhattan New School that showed us the daily life in a workshop classroom. In this book, Hindley shared the routines and structures that made her reading and writing workshops so successful. This was one of the first books I read that focused solely on those transitional readers in Grades 3 and 4.


 Living the Questions by Brenda Power and Ruth Shagory taught me to teach, as with questions in mind and that the research I did in my classroom mattered. This book help to make clear for me that a research-based stance to teaching was important for me.


So, .  I wasn’t totally successful at weeding my shelves.  But the process was an enlightening one. I could see, on one wall, the influences of my teaching life. I could see the power of professional reading and the power of learning from others.  My professional reading over the last 25 years has definitely impacted my practice.

Franki Sibberson is an elementary media specialist in Dublin, Ohio. She blogs at A Year of Reading (http://readingyear.blogspot.com)