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 I’m glad to see a couple of Maya Angelou’s autobiographies, but many books are outdated or of questionable interest to teenagers or both.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.