An Old Purple Bookshelf Full of Read-Aloud Books

A MiddleWeb Blog

It was one of the first things that caught my eye when I walked into my classroom. I’d stopped by school to check in and to see how summer was going, wondering when my room had been scheduled for cleaning or better yet, if it was actually finished and waiting for me.

School would begin again in just a few short weeks. The summer teaching itch I seem to experience at the beginning of each August had already started talking to me – telling me I should just pop by school to assess the current situation, so I could at least start some sort of preparation list for the coming year.

What I found when I arrived, however, was our purple bookshelf, staring at me sadly from the far corner of the room. The purple bookshelf, the bookshelf that had served us with a stout heart for the past seventeen years, was not faring well.

This once-proud and imposing figure, which stood over five feet tall and six feet wide, was now leaning heavily against the wall. Her crisp, sturdy shelves had slowly weakened under years of strain and finally succumbed.

Four of her six shelves were collapsed. A few nails poked out, jarred loose over the years. The tidy right angles of the boards had been forced into submission, and they sagged precariously, still struggling to support some of our most valuable classroom assets…our beloved books.

Embarrassing as this is to admit, the sight of the aging purple bookshelf, slumped in the corner, made me feel profoundly sad.

I know. It’s a bookshelf. But to me, it represented much, much more.

My friend Laura gave me this bookshelf seventeen years ago. She’d originally painted it for herself, to add contrast and life to her first classroom. I remember being immediately drawn to the rich purple she’d selected. It added a welcoming splash of color to her learning space.

Since our first year teaching together, Laura was “that friend.” She was the friend who greeted me with a smile each day, the friend who would bounce into my classroom, minutes before the morning bell rang, and move things around…pushing a stack of math papers off balance, leaving a beautifully aligned row of staplers and tape dispensers slightly askew.

She did it on purpose, just to rile me up. Then she’d skip out of the room, giggling with a mischievous grin, and leave me straightening out my sacred piles, carefully returning them to their tidy right angles, and cursing her idiocy with a loving and tolerant smile.

Laura moved to North Carolina, far too many years ago, leaving me back in New Jersey to teach without her. In Laura’s absence, the purple bookshelf gave me a daily reminder of my first-year teaching-partner-in-crime. Our friendship has now spanned two decades. For the past seventeen years, Laura’s purple bookshelf gave 4T a home for all of our books.

Now, with Laura’s heritage bookshelf beyond repair. I needed a new plan.

I took all our books off of her sagging shelves and did my best to push them back into position nearby. It seemed like the right thing to do. She looked too vulnerable, too exposed. I thanked her for her years of dedicated service, and somberly pushed her into the hallway.

Then I went back into the room to regroup.

New shelves of possibilities

Emptying the contents of one of her shelves had proven to be more daunting a task than I had originally imagined. While packing for the summer, I had chosen to store all of my class read alouds, all of the beautiful stories I would share with my readers, on one particular shelf.

Single and multiple copies of each individual title, each possibility, had been carefully placed for safe-keeping. Now, they were piled, somewhat haphazardly, on the top of my desk. They needed a new home, a new place, a new setting to begin the year. A new shelf of possibilities needed to be built.

I chose a home on the windowsill right next to my desk, selected a copy or two of each title, and tucked the other copies away, under a table, for when we needed them down the road. Each found a new home, a new place to rest patiently, on a shelf in the sunlight, waiting for its turn to be introduced on the reading rug.

That’s when the trouble began. There were too many stories to share. There was no way we could read them all. There was nowhere near enough time in one school year.

The narrator in my head started piping in, as I made a first attempt to choose just six or seven titles to focus on for 2018-19. I looked at each title, remembering past readings and recalling the impact these characters had on previous classes. Who would be included in our reading lives this year? Who would be asked to take the year off?

I didn’t want to choose. They were all too impactful, too special to leave out.

The narrator in my head interrupted again. This time she began speaking in bold-face. “You have to read Ivan!” she argued. “The kids respond so beautifully to Ivan!” Ivan’s other supporters (there’s more than one voice in my head, apparently) quickly joined the conversation as my eyes reluctantly moved to the next title, where a few other cheerleaders could be heard.

“What about Auggie and Via?

“What about Melody and the Whiz Kid team?”

Then, even more characters made their pitch. These were the voices of some newer friends we’d met along the way.

“What about Pax and Peter?” they asked.

“What about Roz and her animal family?”

Then, my newest friends joined the discussion. These were the characters whose stories I’d met this past summer.

“What about Amal?” they whispered softly, urging me to include them in our year.

“What about Ally Nickerson? What about fish in trees?”

I knew these voices weren’t trying to take the place of my old friends. They were just gently trying to coax me into giving them a try. And they weren’t asking me to abandon my old friends, either. They just wanted to be part of the story.

Bookish friends, old and new

So we are going to start with Ally and Amal this year…two new friends. It’s important to be open to new friendships.

I am going to miss that purple bookshelf. I am going to miss the books that I won’t read with this year’s students. But there are new books to discover, new bookshelves to fill…new stories to write…and to share.

Here are some links to resources that highlight (and perhaps introduce?) some of the beautiful characters I’ve met along the way…as well as some we’ll be meeting soon…

Novel Hyperdocs …Hyperdocs Galore!!!!!…so many talented educators sharing their ideas here!

The Book Sommelier …art, poetry, music and more that complement our study of stories.

Old Friends:

Ivan – The One and Only Ivan

Auggie and Via – Wonder

Melody and the Whiz Kid team – Out of My Mind

Newer Friends:

Pax and Peter – Pax

Roz and her animal family – The Wild Robot

New Friends we will meet this year:

Amal – Amal Unbound

Ally Nickerson and fish in trees – Fish in a Tree

Mary Tarashuk

Mary Tarashuk teaches 4th grade at Wilson Elementary School in Westfield, New Jersey. Mary has been an educator for over 20 years. She has served as content writer and creative consultant for the national, award-winning initiative The Walking Classroom since its inception in 2005. Mary’s work has been published in Education Digest and was honored with the SmartBrief Education 2016 Editors’ Choice Content Award. Trying to balance her old-school teaching style with New Age methods that integrate ever-changing technology keeps her on her toes. She believes that fresh air and exercise enhance learning and engage students of all ages. Follow her on Twitter @maryrightangle and check out her Kids on the Cusp page at Facebook.

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