Seasonal eating is hardly new, although it certainly garners more foodie press these days than when my grandmother grew up eating winter turnips and summer corn. It just feels right to roast root veggies and simmer stew during this current deep-freeze. How about seasonal reading? Bookstores and libraries sensibly tailor their book displays to the season and month. In the classroom where peddling literature is paramount, displaying books around monthly and seasonal themes is another way to send more books into our students’ hands.
Here are some of the ways I use monthly and seasonal book baskets to keep my classroom library feeling fresh and enticing for my students. Be sure to check out my month and season book basket labels, and Scholastic’s awesome new website Book by Book, that features curated collections of seasonal books!
Keeping my classroom library functionally organized is an enduring avocation for me, and one I’ve documented extensively in previous blog posts, ("Organizing My Classroom Library: The Never-Ending Story" and "Organizing My Classroom Library . . . Again!") I guess what frustrates and excites me the most is that this job is NEVER done. I periodically update the book collections in our library to match my students’ maturing reading levels and interests. But I find it’s also important to change things up for the very sake of newness. Hear me out here . . .
I walk past my favorite local bookshop on my way home from the subway nearly every day. And every single time, I glance at the books in the window, because the selection is constantly changing. It’s exciting to see what’s on display, even if the books are old favorites. Oftentimes the rationale is obvious; sometimes I’m left pondering. I’m usually left with an itch to pick up a good book. This bookseller is doing his job quite well — I empty my wallet there all too often.
I’m not a full-time librarian, and we teachers have SO many other things to do, but we really need to work just as hard as a bookstore to “sell” books to our students. It’s such an important part of our job. That’s why I’m willing to cull a timely basket of books each month.
I print these book basket labels onto cardstock, laminate them, and then swap the labels each month.
I put out a new basket at the start of each month with a range of picture books, nonfiction, and chapter books that relate to monthly themes. Facing the Common Core State Standards time crunch, I don’t have enough time in the day to squeeze in many seasonal lessons these days. (Snowmen and groundhogs sadly don’t make the cut with fractions lessons piling up.) With a rotating display of monthly books, I know that many of my students are independently garnering some exposure to the monthly themes I don’t have time to teach.
I usually ask my student teachers to search through the books in my classroom to find titles for our monthly basket. This is a good way for them to gain familiarity with a wide range of children’s books and topics, and it’s a task they usually enjoy. (If you don’t like poring through children’s literature, then elementary teaching probably isn’t your calling, right?)
Scholastic has made this job much easier with their new website, Book by Book. The site not only lists several collections of right-for-now books, it also provides graphic organizers, reading response templates, and resources for each book listed. The new Month by Month website also has a books section with even more monthly book recommendations and reading resources.
Caveat: Just because I’m using monthly themed baskets as an excuse to highlight books in my classroom, please don’t think that my students only have access to MLK biographies in January and Pam MuÃÂ±oz Ryan books in September. The point is NOT to pigeonhole books and authors into certain months! Please make sure that your students are exposed to a diverse range of characters and cultures through their reading throughout the year. It’s fine to relegate snowmen to January, but please don’t limit biographies of powerful women to March. That makes me squeamish!
Sure, we could search out all of the winter stories and beach books to create seasonal baskets for our libraries, and this would ensure a rotation of new books to catch our students’ eyes. It’s a great start towards seasonal reading. But I like to take a student-centered approach to the seasonal baskets in my classroom library.
Several times a year, I have a discussion about “seasonal reading” with my students, rife with food analogies of course. I point out that our reading tastes sometimes change depending on the season. I like to dig into hearty historical fiction, complex family stories, and dystopian novels in the winter, and I provide age-appropriate examples. Some of these books have snowy settings, (Little House in the Big Woods; Winter According to Humphrey,) while others simply feel “wintery” to me, (Among the Hidden; Miracles on Maple Hill.) I invite my students to start noticing which books feel wintery to them, and to add those books to our Winter Reads basket.
This isn’t so much about organizing or adding new books to our classroom library as about helping the students tune into their reading appetites. As they cull books to add to our seasonal baskets (often more than one basket is needed for a season), the students reflect on their emotional connections with books, talk about their book choices with their friends, and unearth books that are buried in genre or level baskets. It doesn’t really matter if a book truly matches the season — once a book gets the seasonal spotlight, it is more likely to be read by other students, and that’s the point.
Download these Four Seasons Library Basket Labels to use in your classroom.
Lest you think that literary “seasonality” is a mustachioed-soy-latte-sipping fad, I simply have to share these WPA posters from the late 1930s and early 1940s, (available with unrestricted use as part of the Library of Congress’s collection of wonderfully accessible primary documents.) I guess these were the original “Read Every Day — Lead a Better Life” posters.
Monthly and seasonal baskets are just one way to make sure that our classroom libraries have that tempting bookstore display appeal. To me, the most important thing is to make sure that we don’t let our libraries become stale amidst all of the other stuff we have to do.
Here are some ideas for book rotating book collections around other topics, inspired by my fellow bloggers.
Character Values baskets per Genia Connell's post, "100 Books that Build Character"
Current Events baskets per Erin Klein’s post, "Create Olympic Themed Book Baskets!"
Metacognitive themes per Brian Smith’s post, "Imagination: The Forgotten 21st Century Skill?"
Do you celebrate seasonal reading in your classroom? What routines do you have in place to keep your classroom library appealingly fresh? Please share your tips, ideas, and suggestions in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you!