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We can't Read what we Can't Access

I was at work incredibly early this morning and sitting at my computer in the silence. On my desk there was a little pile of books, to my left another behind me some more. The shelves of the classroom library in their typical Friday disarray. I love my classroom library. I love to be able to pick a few books off the shelf to book talk when I see that I have students a little less engaged in the joy of independent reading. Today I picked up The Truth According to Mason Buttle, Endling and Outlaw of Time the Legend of Sam Miracle and talked about them to my class. Within moments of finishing books were in hands being read. This repeated itself when I shared The Graveyard Book, A Tale Dark and Grimm and A Taste for Monsters. The pattern repeated and students had books in hand.

Yesterday I had a student sheepishly return a pile of books that he had collected in his locker and book bag. The same student had done this early in the week and I jokingly asked if he had anymore hiding somewhere. More appeared. I don't have a lot of rules when it comes to my classroom library.

Class Library Rules

  1. Picture Books stay at school (I have a lot for a junior high teacher and I use them for lessons so I don't want them going missing)

  2. Turn in the book jacket for hardcovers you want to borrow. (they are expensive and I hang the jackets on a clothesline, it looks cool)

There we go. I started with more rules. Rules like Graphic Novels stay in school, Read at least one "real" book for every Diary of a Wimpy Kid (this rule was idiotic and was eliminated years ago). I was so much more controlling about my books. They cost a lot of money and I wanted to protect them. But I realized these silly rules that have been eliminated where limiting access to my students. The rules left and reading increased. One student this year read Witch Boy and the sequels almost exclusively at home. He couldn't stop. Now all his friends have read it. My copies of The New Kid and Crossover in Graphic novel are tattered and well loved. These graphic novels would have had limited play if I had not loosened the reigns a bit.

I love my class library and I love that my students will "shop" from it because I can invest in important books that otherwise my students might not see. I also love to have my students go to the library because we offer different experiences. In the end the goal is that my students are reading and have access to books. I never really thought of it as that big of an issue, not having access to books. I always had a library card and remember going but I also remember another experience as a kid and that was the Scholastic Book Fair. I remember going during school and being able to look at all the different books and trinkets. I remember dragging my mom there on parent teacher interview night with the hopes that she would let me pick out a book. We didn't grow up with a ton of extra money or things but I remember occasionally getting a cool Goosebumps book or some other book like my Dinosaur fact and sticker book from Grade 1. I remember handing those stickers out and reading facts to my friends. The ownership of the book was powerful. It was MY book.

My Dad told me a story once when he went to help someone clean their home before moving. As a life long educator and reader he was struck by an observation he had they entered the home. No books anywhere. Not a newspaper, no magazines. No printed word. The family couldn't afford extras and in their mind books were extra. In a complete flip in another conversation with a fellow educator they told me about a family in our community that is very well off. They said, as I addressed links to poverty and lack of books in the home and literacy rates, these people could afford all the books and there is not a book in the home. So it seems that beyond just the affordability of building a home library parents need to understand how much having books in the home can help their children thrive in academic settings.

As I am going forward I am playing with doing some research on home libraries in my community and the surrounding ones. Why people do not have books in their homes, if they do how many? What types/titles? I also want to look at poverty because I know that for so many The Scholastic Book Fair is one of their first experiences with realizing they can't afford what their friends have. I want to look at this idea of home libraries to remove the often heard excuse "kids just don't want to read" without access they could want until the end of the day but with nothing at arms reach they are without opportunity.

Of course public and classroom libraries can help but for so many those are limitations as well. Distance to the library, teachers serving as gate keepers to limit student choice. Late fees and rules that limit checkouts when a late fine is hanging over head. And we must not forget the ineffective libraries that student have at their finger tips but never touch because they serve as more of a classroom prop than a tool for liberation.

I have seen so many conversations lately around reading instruction. How reading is a human right, a social justice issue. And I agree. It is. But I am not sold on the idea that the instruction is our biggest mountain. Books need to be read, they need to be available, students should not have to hope that their teacher or the librarian will let them read the books they love or worry that because they lost a book they are on hold until they can pay the fees or replace the book.

Providing students with multiple access points to books is the first step in addressing the struggles our striving readers have but we have more work to do. We need to help those who do not understand book access see that they can help.

I am so grateful for the work done by many and in this issue I am shouting out Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp and the amazing attention they bring this issue. Book Access is a complicated issue with many factors but ultimately a simple solution.

Kids will read books if they can choose them and there are not roadblocks to their access.

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