Books Struggling Readers Can and Will Want to Read: Building the Classroom Library

Cathy Mere

Cleaning up the room after school, I noticed Sammy's reading bag under the table. I've been finding his reading intervention bag left on his hook lately, and have been wondering if it is intentional. Since I see it under the table, I'm pretty sure it is. 

Because Sammy never forgets his classroom book choice and is rather responsible, I decide to chat with mom. She tells me that he loves the books he brings home from the classroom, but he doesn't like reading the leveled books from his intervention group. I'm glad to hear that she is reading to him often and his attitude about picture books is very positive. I check his bag and find the books from intervention are really a good match for him, and are some of the more interesting titles from our bookroom. How do I help Sammy find good books?

It's a delicate balance with readers like Sammy in the primary grades, first and second graders who are just learning to decode words and understand stories. Sammy has developed a good attitude about books. He loves authors like Mo Willems, Jan Thomas, and Bob Shea. Many of our "hot" classroom titles are popular because he falls in love with them, and Sammy is quite the book salesman. He's usually one of my first students to blog about the books he has read on our Kidblog. I feel his strengths in writing will begin to help him make reading progress. However, I know it is also important that Sammy is reading books independently if he is to make quick progress. How can we balance the necessity of good book matches with his love for real books? 

For readers like Sammy, I know there are certain things I can do to balance his love for real reading with the need to be sure his books are a good match. It is important that Sammy remain a part of our classroom reading community while learning to read. There are ways I can use read aloud and shared reading to increase the number of books in the classroom he can pick up to read. Sammy needs time to read, conversations with peers about books, lessons that support his reading life, strategies for reading new books, and a classroom library that supports his reading development and honors his reading choice. 

How do we choose books for our classroom libraries that will support readers like Sammy? There are certain characteristics I look for in choosing books for my classroom library. In the back of my mind, I always try to think of students like Sammy searching for books he can read over and over again. 

Books to Develop Story Language: One of the easiest ways to get picture books into the hands of young readers is with wordless picture books. Developing story language is essential in learning to read. Wordless picture books provide opportunities to talk through a story. Wordless picture books require readers to pay attention to the meaning of the story told through illustrations. They are perfect for young readers who focus on words over meaning, second language learners, and readers who need to develop oral language. 

Chalk by Bill Thomson
You're A Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day
The Umbrella by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert
Wave by Suzy Lee
The Red Book by Barbara Lehman

Books with Repetition: Repetition supports young readers as it provides opportunities to see words again and again, it reduces the challenge of texts, and helps build fluency.

The OK Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin (author) and James Dean (illustrator)
In My New Yellow Shirt by Eileen Spinelli (author) and Hideko Takahashi (illustrator)
Aaaarrgghh! Spider! By Lydia Monks
Up, Up, Down! by Robert Munsch

Format: The format of a book is important to consider when picking picture books for our classroom libraries specifically matched to the book handling knowledge of readers. I look for books that are easy to navigate with print appropriately sized for the reader. Layout is also important. Readers need to be able to understand how to move through the text. 

When I Was Five by Arthur Howard 
Would You Rather... by John Burningham
A Beasty Story by Bill Martin Jr. (author) and Steven Kellogg (illustrator)
Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas
Elephants Cannot Dance! by Mo Willems

Books with Appropriate Picture Support: Pictures can often help young readers to read unfamiliar text. I look for books in which the text and pictures are a good match between the child's vocabulary and the events illustrated in the story. 

No, David! by David Shannon
Where Is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek
I Don't Want a Cool Cat! Cat by Emma Dodd
Who Hops? By Katie Davis
Dogs by Emily Gravett

Familiarity: Familiarity with a story or character can make it easier to read. Getting to know an author's style of writing makes reading new books by that author less challenging. 

The Three Bears by Byron Barton
Move Over, Rover! by Karen Beaumont (author) and Jane Dyer (illustrator)
Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson (author) and Jane Chapman (illustrator)
We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems
The Very Lonely Firefly by Eric Carle

Story Structure: The way a story is structured can help make it easier to read. Young readers do well with stories that have a beginning, middle, and end, with events moving through time from what happened first to last. Books with repetitive story structures, list-like texts, see-saw patterns, and stories organized by days of the week can also be accessible to young readers.

My Name Is Yoon by Helen Recorvits and Gabi Swiatkowska
Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea
Little White Rabbit by Kevin Henkes
Tough Boris by Mem Fox
Cookie's Week by Cindy Ward

Appeal to Students: Ultimately books have to appeal to young readers. These books are favorites on our classroom shelves.

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt
I Stink! by Kate Mcmullan (author) and Jim Mcmullan (illustrator)
Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes by Eric Litwin (author) and James Dean (illustrator)
There Are No Cats in this Book by Viviane Schwartz


Cathy Mere

Cathy Mere is currently a literacy specialist in Hilliard (Ohio) City Schools. She is the author of More Than Guided Reading. A trained literacy coach and former Reading Recovery teacher, Cathy leads professional development workshops and presents at state and national conferences. She blogs at Refine and Reflect.

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