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Building a Classroom Library

Welcome to Top Grade: CanLit for the Classroom, a blog and preview video series that features new releases from Canadian book publishers ideal for use in K-12 classrooms and school library collections. Throughout the year, we will dive into new titles, highlighting relevant curriculum links and themes.

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Written by secondary school teacher Spencer Miller

Every teacher should have a classroom library, regardless of what subject they teach. Every classroom benefits from books, and all teachers can support literacy development by giving students time to read in their class.

In my class, reading time is a reward. We read to take a break. We read when we finish early. We try to read every day! Whatever age group or subject you teach, imagine the kind of reading and the kind of books that fit best in your classroom.

I look to fill my classroom library with books my students will benefit from exploring on their own. I search for culturally relevant books, books my students can connect with that feature characters of similar ages and similar experiences. I make sure to include various Canadian books from authors with a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives.

I’m also a strong believer in letting my students make their own reading choices. I watch the way my students select reading material so I can get to know their preferences. My students choose books based on the cover. They like pictures and visuals. If a book doesn’t look interesting at first glance, it will not make it off the shelf. They like a variety of genres; some want to get lost in a fantasy or romance story, while others look for books about real-world issues and facts.

What kind of books are your students interested in? If you’re not sure, just ask! Your students will be happy to let you know what they prefer.

Not every classroom library has to be beautifully organized or hold hundreds of books. The books can be new, used, borrowed, or donated.

Last year, I carried my classroom library with me in tote bags from room to room. However you can do it, I encourage you to fill the empty spaces and the empty moments in your classroom with books.

Here are some exciting new Canadian books that I am excited to add to my shelf this year.

The award-winning Mothers of Xsan series is a collection of stories that connects the natural world to the culture and teachings of the Gitxsan people of the Pacific Northwest Interior of British Columbia. Through lyrical and poetic storytelling, each book combines biological facts and information with teachings about life-cycles and connection to the land. The latest book in the series, The Wolf Mother, follows the growth of one female pup into adulthood, showing how grey wolves contribute to the health of their entire ecosystem.

In Class:

As a teacher, I like this series as an example of how storytelling and poetry can help us better understand science and nature. I think my students will be drawn to it for the beautiful illustrations and interesting animal facts.

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What can kids do when the “grownup virus” hits? Sunny Days Inside and Other Stories by Caroline Adderson is a collection of linked short stories featuring different children living in the same apartment complex during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The stories feature different ways that children helped their families during these difficult times, such as a young entrepreneur helping to pay their family’s bills by renting their dog out for walks. In another story, two young girls give their Mom a much-deserved at-home vacation after she’s forced to cancel a once-in-a-lifetime holiday.

In Class:

I appreciate these stories because they show how children can be heroes every day through kindness and thoughtfulness. I believe my students will also benefit from seeing some of their own pandemic experiences mirrored back at them.

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The Mighty Muskrats Mystery series by Michael Hutchinson is about four inseparable cousins growing up on the Windy Lake First Nation who get into the business of solving mysteries in their community. In the latest instalment, The Case of the Burgled Bundle, the four cousins have to track down a vital treaty bundle stolen from The National Assembly of Cree Peoples to help protect their community’s reputation. Along their journey, they learn important lessons about treaties and ceremonies.

In Class:

Exactly the type of mystery book I devoured as a young reader, I was immediately drawn to this story. I think my students will enjoy the series for the loveable cast of characters and twisting narratives.

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In Govern Like a Girl, author Kate Graham looks to celebrate the accomplishments of Canadian and Indigenous women in leadership in hopes of inspiring more young women to lead. The book tells the stories of thirteen women who rose to the top as first ministers in Canada. The tone is encouraging as the introduction tells young readers, especially girls, “you don’t need to change who you are to be in charge” and “we need more people like you in government.”

In Class:

I love this book because it makes politics seem less intimidating and shows how diversity strengthens democracy. I think my students will connect with its encouraging words and fascinating childhood stories of trailblazing women.

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What does it mean to be young and transgender today? Growing Up Trans shares stories, essays, art, and poetry created by trans youth from across the country. In their own words, trans teens share their experiences with childhood, family and daily life, school, their bodies, and mental health. All readers can learn more about understanding, acceptance and how to support the trans community. Edited by Dr. Lindsay Herriot and Kate Fry, this book also includes answers and insights from experts in transgender studies.

In Class:

This book is awesome because it shares the voices of real trans teens and experts and gives tips on how to be a trans ally. I think all my students will find answers to their questions and be interested in learning more about trans identities.

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Despite being surrounded by thousands of ads every day, most people think advertising doesn’t affect them. But, in Mad for Ads: How Advertising Gets (and Stays) in Our Heads, Erica Fyvie shows how advertising has a real effect on our thoughts, our feelings, and our sense of self. This fun, engaging, and image-filled book will teach students to speak the language of advertisers and decode the ads that surround them every day. These are important skills that will help students make smart choices.

In Class:

I’m excited to have this book in my classroom as a tool to develop vital media literacy skills. I think my students will be engaged from start to finish for the whimsical humour and practical insight into the world around them.

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Akhwatsirehkó:wa — My Big Family: Our Game, Our Experience, Our Way is written by Brennor Jacobs and Brendan Bomberry and features numerous interviews of current and former professional lacrosse players and lacrosse greats. Offering an Indigenous perspective of the sport, these interviews help readers understand the spirit of lacrosse and the deeper meaning of sport. There’s more to it than winning and losing; sports can help to promote a healthy lifestyle and enhance emotional well-being.

In Class:

This book is massive, containing all you ever need to know about lacrosse. I think my students will love flipping through the pages and never running out of things to learn about this exciting sport. It will challenge them to think deeper about the sports they love.

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Check back for a new blog post each month along with preview videos throughout the year for more recommendations for your classroom library and beyond!

We would like to thank our partner 49th Teachers and our funder Ontario Creates for their support of the Top Grade project.

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Spencer Miller graduated from the University of Calgary with degrees in English and Education. He participated in various projects examining the potential of children’s literature in the classroom as an undergraduate researcher. He is currently a secondary school teacher in Montréal/Tiohtià:ke. You can follow more of Spencer’s passion for books on Instagram @YACanadaBooks.

August 31, 2021
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