Your 2020 Classroom Library: creating equity and belonging in your classroom and on your bookshelves

Jun 29, 2020

A classroom library is a special place, and each book on its shelves should be chosen carefully with intent and purpose.

Not long ago, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) began an initiative to both encourage professional growth + development and build classroom libraries. Hence, 'Build Your Stack' was born.

Lucky for our learners, it also happens to be an excellent opportunity to build *diversity* in our bookshelves as well.

(For any given student, when they view our text selections, these should call to them: 'Yes, you can sit here.' And while this has *always* been a need, it needs to become a priority.)

Every summer, I skip my happy self to Barnes & Noble and get lost on the shelves. I arrive back home with a gang of new books to fill my summer, color my year, and build my classroom library. A longstanding ritual, and my own version of Build Your Stack, I suppose.

So the next logical step?

It's time to SHARE my stack, of course!

This year, I’ve decided to share my top 10 books (5 for students and 5 for teachers) to read this summer to #buildyourstack...but then I got overzealous and increased the list to 12 because I just couldn’t decide between a few of my faves.

In my classroom, we are student-centered, so let’s kick this shindig off with the *must have* young adult books to add to your classroom library for the 2020-21 school year.

Young Adult Literature Books to Add to Your Classroom Library for Fall 2020

Kent State (Deborah Wiles)

Synopsis: Told from a number of vantage points -- protestor, Guardsman, townie, student -- these multiple perspectives provided a rich and meaningful narrative that reexamines this tragic event that ended in the deaths of four innocent students, an event that, even 50 years later, still resonates deeply.

Why It Matters: Understanding and delving into multiple perspectives helps us better understand the world we live in. Depending on the context, perspectives can greatly vary.

We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World (Malala Yousafzai) 

Synopsis: Part memoir - part communal storytelling, We Are Displaced tells the story of many displaced people in the world who have hopes and dreams despite where they came from and where they are or *are not* allowed to go.

Why It Matters:  Students need to be able to pursue their biggest dreams and passions. These dreams give them direction and drive. It is one of the most important roles of a teacher to support and guide students as they find and pursue their passions. Adding this book to your classroom library will introduce students to a world they may not even be aware exists.

If you're looking for more inspiration regarding passion projects, I’ve written a couple of blog posts about using passion projects in the classroom. Check them out!

From Passion to Purpose: getting started with student-led projects

Our Students are Learning Without Us + How Passion Projects Can Fix That

Harbor Me (Jacqueline Woodson)

Synopsis: From National Book Award Winner for Brown Girl Dreaming, Harbor Me is all about the power of story and the change that can occur when listening to the stories of others.

When 6 students are forced into a group chat together without adult supervision, the students are able to connect in new ways. In the safe space they have created in their chat, the students are able to share the fears and concerns that they hide from the rest of the world. Together, they are able to grow stronger and braver.

Why It Matters: For the sake of dating myself here, this book reminds me of the hit 80s film, “The Breakfast Club.” When students have the opportunities to talk, collaborate, and discuss issues, they make connections and truly hear each other’s stories.

Creating these safe environments in the classroom is often difficult and a topic that we frequently write about. Take a look at the blog posts below for some ideas for having students collaborate and share perspectives.

Darius the Great is Not Okay (Adib Khorram)

Synopsis: Darius struggles with connecting to his Persian roots, but when his parents decide to take a trip to Persia during his junior year, Darius is thrust into the culture. Darius struggles with depression, but when Sohrab (a boy in the neighborhood) takes Darius under his wing and integrates him into Persian life, Darius has never felt more like himself.

Why It Matters: Our students are struggling with identity and how they are viewed by peers. In this digital era, all of our students have more opinions being thrust upon them than any other generation before them, and unfortunately, those opinions begin to shape our students and how they identify themselves. It is part of our jobs as teachers to help students navigate the digital world and the many impressions it has upon them.

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives (Dashka Slater)

Synopsis: This one is based on a true story of two teens who spent 8 minutes a day together on Bus #57. After a reckless moment leaves Sasha injured, Richard is charged with a hate crime, and both teens find themselves thrust into the national spotlight.

Why It Matters: No matter where we are, racism is still a battle we face, and it affects our students from a variety of angles. A pandemic of its own, the only way we can promote anti-racism is to listen, learn, and stand up for each other.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea (Tahereh Mafi)

Synopsis: Shirin is a 16-year-old Muslim girl who is sick of being stereotyped for her race, religion, and the hijab she wears. To protect herself, she builds up strong walls around herself, but she doesn’t realize how good a builder of walls she is until someone comes along who wants in for the right reasons.

Why It Matters: The concept of this story transports the reader inside a pair of shoes that may be totally foreign or completely relatable in one way or another.  Now more than ever, it’s important to have conversations about race, religion, and stereotyping with our students and to hear their perspectives, however uncomfortable this can be.  This book feels like a solid win in starting that conversation.

Teacher Reads to Add to Your Classroom Library for the Fall of 2020

Letting Go of Literary Whiteness: Antiracist Literature Instruction for White Students (Carlin Borsheim-Black and Sophia Tatiana Sarigianides)

Synopsis: All students should be represented in our classroom libraries, but much of the classic literature we teach is the product of white authors. This book aims to make teachers more aware of the racial disparities in the literature they teach and suggests ways to create a more antiracist literary experience for students.

Why It Matters: Every student should feel welcome and represented in our classroom no matter where they come from or what they look like, but when the basic, fundamental elements of our classes only represent one culture, we are not meeting the needs of our students. Providing only one perspective is both isolating and dangerous.

Packed with the tools teachers need to promote racial literacy in the classroom, encourage exploration and growth in identity, effectively manage conversations about race, and how to examine texts through the critical lens of race, this should definitely be step 1 for every educator in America.

The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity (George Couros)

Synopsis: Responding to a student’s natural curiosity may be one of the most important tasks a teacher can have. If our focus is on empowering the young thinkers in our classroom, we can’t go wrong. This book provides ideas and examples of ways to inspire students to unleash their potential as innovators.

Why It Matters: Author George Couros is the kind of principal every school should have.  He recognizes that teachers have the unique opportunity to put students into situations that encourage a 'culture of creativity'. But this can only happen if we challenge what ‘is’ (i.e. the status quo in education) for what ‘could be’ (i.e. opportunities for innovation).  He uses this book to challenge us to be as curious and creative as we hope for our students to be.  A must-read to re-inspire your teaching pedagogy and traditional practice.

The Google Infused Classroom (Holly Clark and Tanya Avrith)

Synopsis: If Google is still a mystery to you, then you NEED this book. This educational text outlines 20 Google tools that will help you accomplish next-level teaching using Google products that are perfect for virtual learning.

Why It Matters:  In March of 2020 we all received a rude awakening in the form of Covid-19. This illness shook our world, leaving teachers to figure out an emergency plan for the digital world in its wake. (Indeed, hindsight is 20/20 in 2020!) We’ve needed to step up our 'edtech' game for some time, and that time to hesitate is through! 

Lucky for us, the tools contained in this text are both a source of comfort and inspiration.  Come what may in the school year that lies ahead, you’ll be ready to pivot after reading this selection!

These blog posts may also be helpful as you explore new ideas for the 2020-21 school year.   Teaching ELA Remotely: 10 inspiring ideas for digital instruction.” Many of the ideas from this post can be recreated using Google products described in this book. 

How to Read Nonfiction Like a Professor: A Smart, Irreverent Guide to Biography, History, Journalism, Blogs, and Everything in Between (Thomas C Foster)

Synopsis: *The* must-read guidebook for secondary students growing up in an information-rich era.  The goal? Better readers, thinkers, and consumers of media.  It covers modern, essential lessons like writers’ biases, analyzing the structure + reasoning of arguments, and careful consideration of sources online.

Why It Matters: We live in a digital society and an information era. Now, more than ever, our students need to understand how to navigate in a world that updates itself instantaneously and in real time.  This is the kind of book that our students need to be able to sort through all the information they encounter every day and it challenges them to consider just which sources to trust when everyone’s an author online. 

A must-read if you’re ready to create more ‘perceptive, critical, and judicious readers’, and as the book jacket notes, ‘our republic [just might] depend on it.’

The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential (John C. Maxwell)

Synopsis: Is there a formula for reaching your full potential? John C. Maxwell says there is, and he shares them in this book. Delve into the max potential of each of your learners with excerpts from this selection.

Why It Matters: To teach 21st-century learners, we have to focus on what the students really need to be successful. They need to know how to reflect on themselves, their strengths, and their goals. They need to be able to look beyond the classroom to their passions and interests and believe in their own potential. 

 In short, their personal growth is just as important--if not inextricably connected to their academic and professional successes, so it’s essential we instruct in this arena as well.

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education (Christopher Emdin)

Synopsis: Award-winning educator Christopher Emdin reflects on his own experiences as a student, teacher, and researcher in urban schools in this book.

Emdin uses his experiences to offer a new perspective on what it means to teach in urban schools, and he challenges the premise that “urban youth of color are ‘unteachable.’” Instead, he encourages teachers to embrace their students’ culture.

Why It Matters: Good teaching and learning belong in every school no matter who the students are, but the reality is: not all of them are met with equal opportunities upon setting foot in the classroom, so this book challenges top-down pedagogy to change all that. Get schooled in cultural responsiveness and teach from a more authentic place with this inspiring call to arms.

To wrap it all up...

From digital literacy to racial literacy, adding these books to your summer reading lists will not only #buildyourstack, but will also help you feel more prepared for whatever fall 2020 may bring, and it’s sure to transform your teaching regardless.

But wait! These 12 selections are just a sliver of my top reads for summer...I’ve curated a *full list* of both young adult and teacher texts to consider adding to your repertoire and your classroom libraries next year. Check out my lists as well as other great tools in my Free Resource Library!

PS...Some of the book links in my posts are affiliate links, which means I can make a small commission from them.  There is *zero*, additional cost to you, of course.  I only share and affiliate myself with resources I believe in: I’ve either created them myself, tried them for myself, or they’re simply in line with my values as an educator.  So rest easy on that laurel, ma’ friends ;-)

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