Books Matter

I love books. There is something about them. The smell, the heft, the feel. . .The way kids respond. Because for all their complaints, most kids, most high schoolers, like books. Books matter. So my classroom is filled with books. So filled with books, it has become the smallest regular classroom in the building. Two walls are completely lined with bookshelves, full and sometimes overflowing with books.
A lot of high school teachers walk in my room and see chaos, clutter, color. My students tend to have a different reaction. Each year, they say my room feels warm, welcoming, comfortable. Even kids I don’t have wander in and wonder aloud why more rooms aren’t like mine.
Now, I freely admit I over do it. I collect books. If a book is cheap and readable, I buy it. It doesn’t matter if I have room. And I don’t keep proper track of who I loan what either. Every year, a handful of graduating Seniors bring me books they’ve had since freshman year.
Sometimes, other teachers give me books. Sometimes, students do. No matter the source, I never say no. If I get books I can’t use, I find them another home.
I wish books lived in every classroom, especially every English classroom. But I also understand why most teachers don’t want to bother. Books can cause clutter and distraction. The standard high school curriculum leaves little room for free reading, for reading for pleasure.
I wish books lived in every classroom Click To Tweet
This week, I again received books from another teacher, three huge boxes of trade books. For the moment, they are sitting in the corner of my room. I haven’t had time to investigate the contents. Usually, I sort through for the volumes I don’t have or titles I know kids will read. Those books that are too young, too grown up, or generally unpopular move on to another new home. They go to a local thrift store. This is fitting, as that is where most of my books come from anyway.
Last Friday, a member of the Debate team came by before school. She looked at the boxes and noticed one of the Harry Potter books, number 5, I think. Immediately, she asked about it. I told her she could take it. And she basically jumped out of her skin.
I invited her to dig through the boxes for other books she wanted. She dug out two more Harry Potter books. After I approved of her choices, she stopped and asked, “Wait, am I borrowing these or can I have them?”
“They’re yours,” I responded. I thought she was excited before, I was wrong. That girl practically did cartwheels down the hall. She was so excited. She told me she had already read all of them, but she wanted her own copy.
It might surprise you how often such things happen. Despite my belief in the power of books, it still surprises me: how often random kids peruse my shelves and ask to borrow books; how often reading happens when given an opportunity; how many kids want to read, to talk about books, to enjoy stories, when they can choose the book.
Books are a good thing. My obsession with books makes me an oddball. Books cause clutter, and chaos, and color. But if even one kid reads a book they wouldn’t have otherwise, it’s worth it. It doesn’t matter what you teach or whether you have time for free reading in your classroom. It doesn’t matter if only a few kids investigate the books.
Books are a good thing. Click To Tweet
A few years ago, “literacy rich environments” was a buzzword. It has disappeared, in favor of flexible seating and Starbucks style. Maybe the assumption is that books are already available in abundance. Maybe the assumption is that books are part of any coffee shop. Maybe literacy richness is still a thing in elementary classrooms, just not so much in high schools. I don’t know. What I do know is that everyday experience tells me clearly that books matter. That students enjoy classrooms filled with reading materials. That reading and the joy of reading is contagious.
It is messy and it isn’t in the curriculum, but I love books and so do my students. I always think of the movie Ants: every teacher will benefit if they try to “be the bookworm.” Together we can build a network of little libraries that inspire students to read something other than Twitter once in awhile.

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