Titles That Have Legs by Katherine Sokolowski and Donalyn Miller
Curating classroom libraries demands that we offer students books that stretch their imaginations and thinking, broaden their reading experiences, and engage them with reading. While we continually add new titles to our fifth grade classroom libraries, there’s a core list of books that we replace every school year because the books become so worn our students can’t read them, or they grow legs and wander away. In optimistic moments, we hope these books find new homes on our students’ bookshelves. These titles have certainly found homes in their hearts. As Richard Allington says, “If you aren’t replacing part of your library collection every year, you are buying the wrong books.” Clearly we are doing something right! Here are some of the titles or series that we replace most in our classroom libraries:
Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan
Truly, we could just put __________ by Rick Riordan here. If he writes it, students read it. No, they devour it. These books have been taped together countless times to make them last through just one more reading. Action packed and filled with humor, our students love them. We love the lessons they learn about Greek Mythology along the way.
Olympians graphic novel series by George O’Connor
Do you see how thrilled Sam is in this photo? This is the reaction in Donalyn’s classroom when a rarely-sighted copy of George O’Connor’s Olympians graphic novels surfaces from someone’s backpack. Because of our students’ obsession with everything Greek Mythology (Thank you, again, Mr. Riordan), and any book in graphic novel form, these books disappear the day we bring them to class. These six books: Zeus, Athena, Hades, Hera, Poseidon, and the newly-released Aphrodite are so popular that we wish they had supernatural regeneration powers.
Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger
Look out! This is a rare classroom library shelf sighting of all four books in Tom Angleberger’s beloved series. We blame the Force when these books disappear to galaxies (or students’ homes) far far away. The Origami Yoda books are such classroom library mainstays that it’s hard to believe the first book appeared only four years ago. What did we do without it? Combining Star Wars references, origami, and relatable middle school stories and characters, this series has done more to engage our students with reading than any other. Kids are already lining up for the next installment, Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue, which releases March 4th.
Amulet graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi
The Amulet series is a clear favorite in our classrooms. The spines are broken, covers torn off, pages missing, but students insist we keep them for “extras.” Wise idea since these fantasy graphic novels have trouble returning to the classroom. Follow the story of Emily and Navin as they venture in to new worlds to save those they love. Be prepared for shouts of frustration as students wait for the next installment – number six is due out this year.
Babymouse graphic novel series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
We don’t care what Felicia Furrypaws says, Babymouse has legions of fans. She might be a mouse, but our students connect to the daydreaming heroine, her out-of-control whiskers, crazy locker, and mean girl encounters. We predict that the eighteenth installment, Happy Birthday, Babymouse! will be more popular than cupcakes in our classrooms (and disappear just as fast). Colby Sharp proclaims that real men read Babymouse, and real kids read her, too.
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
The boy who lived will live forever in our classroom libraries. Fifteen years after it was first released, Harry Potter continues to draw readers in our classrooms. Katherine picks up random copies at garage sales because the volumes in her class library disappear faster than you can say, “Evanesco!” Students can’t get enough of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Their only complaint is that they want more. Don’t we all?
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
We have to love Sharon Creech for getting our students to fall in love with poetry. Our students connect to Jack and his belief that he cannot write poetry. They watch him grow and learn as he talks to his teacher, Miss Stretchberry, in his journal. This slim volume seems to “disappear” each year. We like to imagine students rereading it, writing their own poems, and finding their own mentor poets just like Jack found Mr. Walter Dean Myers.
Bone graphic novel series by Jeff Smith
When students first began talking about this series, it didn’t make sense. Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone? Throw in some rat creatures, kind humans, confusion that splits up the Bone cousins, a journey home, and you get a great series. While we’ve had the complete set at various times in our classrooms, this is one that seems to need almost constant replacements.
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Every year, we introduce a new crop of readers to Paulsen’s beloved survival story. A perennial favorite, Hatchet has everything young readers want in a book–action, suspense, and great writing. We won’t tell you whether or not Brian survives his wilderness adventure, but endless copies of this book seem lost in the woods.
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
The cover immediately draws you in, braces on a smiley face? But it’s Raina’s story that keeps our students captivated. Raina’s based-on-a-true-story ordeal with dental work is legendary, but that’s only one storyline in the book. Our students identify with Raina’s friendship struggles and awkwardness. They draw strength from her when Raina finally realizes she should stand up to those who put her down. When another copy of Smile disappears, we know that someone needs to keep it. Our students are still learning how to speak up, and Raina’s story helps them find their voices.
Knuckleheads: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing Up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka
When our students complain that memoirs are boring, we bring out Knuckleheads. Read aloud one chapter–“Crossing Swords” is a fan favorite–and students will beg to read the rest. Somehow, wrapping this book in tape to hold it together adds to its rakish charm. Our students love those Scieszka boys and their hilarious mishaps.
We could go on and on, but it’s hard to lay hands on our students’ most-beloved titles long enough to write about them!
Building our classroom libraries, we often feel like Sisyphus trying to get that boulder up the hill–an impossible task. Replacing books that have legs or simply fall apart from repeated readings costs money, but connecting our students to books they love reading is priceless. When a student comes to us with a taped-beyond-reasonable copy of The Popularity Papers–falling apart in her hands–we have to smile. Is there anything more special than a well-loved book?
We may grumble about the books we replace, but we wouldn’t want it any other way.
May our shelves remain empty from August to June.
How about your classroom and school libraries? Which books disappear–spurring you to hang Wanted posters and offer rewards? (Don’t laugh, we have done this!) Which books are held together with hope, prayer, and a roll of masking tape? Please share the books that walk away from your libraries in the comments. We can all benefit!
Donalyn Miller is a fifth grade teacher in Fort Worth, TX. She is the author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy co-founder, Colby Sharp), and facilitates the Twitter reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks, her website at http://www.bookwhisperer.com, or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.
Katherine Sokolowski has taught for fifteen years and currently teaches fifth grade in Monticello, Illinois. She is passionate about reading both in her classroom and also with her two sons. You can find her online at http://readwriteandreflect.blogspot.com/ and on Twitter as @katsok.