Inherited Bookshelf: Slice of Life #sol21 22/31

Maybe one reason my new classroom felt instantly like mine was because it has a bookshelf filled with books, left by the last twelfth-grade teacher. Technically, it has two bookshelves, but one was filled with classroom sets of The New Jim Crow and the Norton Anthology of African-American Literature. Although I am glad to have classroom sets of both books, my first activity in my classroom was moving them all into a storage cupboard to make room for books that kids will want to check out and read.

The empty shelf filled quickly with books I brought from home–a tiny fraction of our classroom library, which has been displayed on my own bookshelves as a backdrop to my Zoom teaching space. I then turned my attention to the shelf I inherited.

I had only glanced at the shelf the first time I saw it, and I was left with a positive impression: many of the books were by Black authors and about Black history and experiences. A culturally relevant bookshelf! But once I really looked at the books, my heart sank because I knew this shelf needed significant culling. And I hate getting rid of books.

There were only two YA books on the entire shelf, a library discard of Sharon Draper’s Copper Sun and a decent paperback of Jerry Spinelli’s Loser. There was very little fiction–a few Walter Mosley and Pearl Cleage titles, plus Jessie Fauset’s Plum Bun. These were books for grown-ups. And they were also old copies. Even if I have a student who wants to read Walter Mosley, will they want to read these beat-up faded editions with pages falling out? I wouldn’t.

Most of the shelf is nonfiction. I’m glad to see a couple of Maya Angelou’s autobiographies, but many books are outdated or of questionable interest to teenagers or both. There are some books about getting into college which are actually the editions I read back in the 1980s. More concerning is the misogynist odd shelf: a book about “trophy women”; several books about supporting your man; a book defending Bill Cosby; and two books about “fetal rights.” At least those were easy to remove.

I’m more torn about what to do with worthy books that I can’t imagine any of my students will want to read. We have no school library or librarian that could make a final decision. For now, I have plenty of storage cupboards, so I plan to empty the shelf to make room for the YA, poetry, and graphic novels I know my students will read and store the books that might be read by one lone student or no students at all until I get to know my readers and their needs a little better. I suspect that all of those books will end up culled, but somehow it’s less painful to do it in stages.

This topic was inspired by Books, Books, Books at Rants of the Newly Old.






8 responses to “Inherited Bookshelf: Slice of Life #sol21 22/31”

  1. Kristi Lonheim Avatar

    New, even new-to-you, books are always exciting. I appreciated walking through the shelves with you and your thought process. This line really resonated with me, “somehow it’s less painful to do it in stages”.

  2. arjeha Avatar

    The joy of inheriting shelves of books but then realizing that many of them are not what you hoped they would be. It is important to have books that students will want to sigh out and read. It is also important to have a good collection of books that reach out to different interests. Here’s to stacking those shelves with books that will come and go as students find what speaks to them.

  3. jumpofffindwings Avatar

    I was the one who left shelves of books behind for my colleague, books that hopefully will soon find their way into eager hands. I hated to part with so many of them, especially my poetry collection, great novels in verse and collections by poets my students came to love, and occasionally even quote! Parting is such sweet sorrow where books are concerned, but cull we must. Those kids are so lucky!

  4. Trina Avatar

    These kids are SO lucky to have you as their teacher. Perhaps you can go to Pinterest and make some creations out of the outdated books?

    I have had to weed out books, too. I hate doing this, but most kids do not pick them up.

  5. Lainie Levin Avatar
    Lainie Levin

    This, as I often say, is a GOOD PROBLEM to HAVE. As for the effort and heart that you put in to providing materials your kids will enjoy, all I can say is, I wish you were my kid’s teacher. As for what to do with the quality titles you don’t have room for, I’d imagine there are folks who would love them when you’re ready to part with them!

  6. cmargocs Avatar

    Oh, how my heart broke when I read that you didn’t have a librarian or library to turn to, to guide your weeding process! It sounds like you are aware of what constitutes a book that’s ready to be discarded, though. And there are lots of great YA lit lists out there (Texas has the Lone Star and Tayshas lists).

  7. Susan Kennedy Avatar

    I am in constant need of sorting and pruning books much like the Little Prince and his caretaking.

  8. jarhartz Avatar

    In my experience, inheriting books from teachers has been painful. But no matter how old, outdated, and inappropriate it is painful to remove them. So you move them from storage area to storage area. It has taken me years multiple room relocations and a pandemic to get me to remove/relocate these books. Doesn’t Donalyn Miller have a formula for removing books? MUSTIE??

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