Thursday, June 8, 2017

Stocking a Seventh Grade Classroom Library

New classroom, last summer.
Last year at this time I clearly remember looking around my new seventh grade classroom and feeling overwhelmed. I had just packed up my fifth grade classroom and had gone through every single book in the 3000+ collection, debating what to leave behind and what should come with me. My goal had been to sort out at least 1000 books to leave for the new teacher taking over for me in fifth grade. She was younger and I wanted to set her up for success. As my fifth graders and I sorted, I texted colleagues in middle school - should I take Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing? (no) Should I take the Amulet graphic novel series? (yes) It was hard. It wasn't a sort on reading level as much as it was on interest level of seventh graders. When my students were done, I had left over 1500 books behind.
Fifth grade library packed up.
Sitting in my new classroom I was overwhelmed by the lack of shelf space, the decision on how to organize, but also this new age group I needed to purchase books for. When I began to consider seventh grade, I thought of my son who had just finished that grade level. He was still young at times, but at other times he was a true teen. He switched between middle grade books and young adult as one might switch channels. I knew I needed a balance of both in the room.

Fast forward to the present. After spending a year in seventh grade, I am fascinated by the difference in fifth and seventh grade readers. In fifth grade kids will try to read YA at times. (Divergent, Hunger Games, etc.) I often would try and get them to wait. Once they begin reading YA, they really wouldn't go back to middle grade books. I would grieve for all of the books written so clearly for ten and eleven year olds that they were missing out on.

Seventh graders do not leave middle grade behind because they are also reading YA. In fact, not only did they shift between maturity levels easily, it was also common for a student to be finishing up a YA book one day, reading a graphic novel the next, and supplementing both with a handful of picture books. It was refreshing.

The biggest struggle I had this year was which YA books to put in the classroom. Romance? Violence? How did I decide what fit in a seventh grade classroom and what didn't? 

First, I read the book. Which I would think would be common sense, but maybe not. I needed to know the books anyway to help kids make selections, but especially in YA, I knew I needed to read them. I looked on Titlewave to see what ages the reviews indicated for the books, and I made my own assumptions of what I thought 7th graders were ready for. With two sons - one in 6th, one in 8th, I knew the age pretty well.

What I discovered this year is that kids do an excellent job self-censoring. When I would book talk a YA book, I would always say if I felt it was more mature and why. I would also give a book that it reminded me of. No one was required to read any specific book, but it helped kids to make decisions. I know even at the end of the school year a boy in one class picked a book I had in fifth grade, but was probably more of a 6th/7th grade book. There were a few story lines in it that I wasn't sure about for him. I stopped by, asked him what he thought so far, and he told me he wanted to try it, but wasn't sure if it was a good fit or not. I told him to let me know if he had questions, but he would be able to decide as he read. The next day he quietly returned it to the shelf and grabbed another book instead. He made the decision for himself. 

As a parent I'm a big believer in letting my children read whatever they are comfortable with. There are books Luke and Liam have read that have pushed the boundaries as to what's reviewed for their age level, but I would much rather them read about it, ask questions, and think things through then encounter something for the first time in real life and be thrown for a loop. We've had great discussions over the books they've read, and others they've read and not talked about with me at all, which is their right. (I'm looking at you, Downside of Being Up.
The seventh grade library at the end of the year.
As a teacher, I work really hard to put books into our classroom library with purpose. I pick books that I feel will be the perfect book for a seventh grader - but not every seventh grader. At the beginning of the year I was worried if I would know which books were a good fit for our classroom and which weren't. It turned out to be easier than I thought. If you look at our classroom library now there are books that are mature, and books that you'd find in a fourth grade classroom. There are picture books, graphic novels, novels, and nonfiction throughout the room. There are books to read when you are having a bad day and books to make you dream. Seventh graders do have one foot still in childhood and one in the world of young adult, but they don't get there in a single step. I think that the lives of a sixth grader through at least ninth grader are made up of steps over that line into adulthood and then several back into childhood, over and over again. They make that final leap when they are ready. Our libraries need to reflect that as well. 
 
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