Books are anchors for any lesson. Math, reading, science, history. Any subject is best introduced with the use of a compelling story or work of nonfiction. However, books can do more than teach and support academic skills. They also help us learn about ourselves and other people.
Many teachers face challenges when it comes to choosing the best classroom books for their students. Being faced with the demands of ensuring books meet curriculum and learning objectives, teachers often stick with the tried and true books from many years before.
There are many classic books that deserve a well-rounded trip through the classroom year after year and there is still room to grow. Teachers can focus on using intentional read-alouds that give students windows into the world and mirrors into themselves.
Books as Windows
We see the world through windows. Books possess this same quality by offering literary windows into the unfamiliar. Because we are not all living a shared experience, it’s important to find ways to connect with unfamiliar settings, various backgrounds, and diverse societies.
This is especially important for children. They are less likely to gain exposure in the real world so books are a wonderful alternative. Choosing books that intentionally offer a window into other cultures, perspectives, and experiences allows students to gain empathy, understanding, and a broader perspective.
Questions to ask yourself when choosing books that offer windows for your classroom:
- Who are my students, and what are their interests?
- How can I enhance the curiosity they already possess?
- How can we build knowledge of the world together?
- How can I build upon their knowledge to deepen their connections?
Books as Mirrors
We see ourselves through mirrors. When choosing books, we should ensure that the stories reflect images of ALL of our students. This empowers the reader and allows them to relate to a character. Keep in mind that “mirror books” are different for everyone because we all bring something unique and valuable (but different) to the classroom.
Books that provide literary mirrors are important because they tend to reflect our own lives, experiences, and emotions. Imagine how your students feel when they hear stories with characters who share their backgrounds, challenges, or feelings.
The result is students who feel seen and validated. They can be inspired, finding strength and a sense of belonging from these types of books.
Questions to ask yourself when choosing books that provide literary mirrors for your classroom:
- What cultures are represented in my classroom and community?
- Do my students feel valued, connected, and inspired because of the books we are reading?
Tips for Choosing the Best Classroom Books
Keeping in mind that the best classroom books offer both literary windows into the world and mirrors to reflect upon ourselves, use these three additional tips to choose books for your students.
Look for books that students can make meaningful connections to.
Think like your students. What lived experiences have they had thus far? Use that to guide you during the selection process.
Look for books with inspiring themes.
Consider incorporating positive topics like chasing dreams, overcoming challenges, friendships, going on adventures, etc.
Many of these qualities carry over as they grow older and help them navigate school and the intricacies of their classroom community. Others help their imaginations to run wild and bring fun into the classroom.
Find books that celebrate cultures and demonstrate positive depictions.
Your books shouldn’t show only one version of society. Allow your students to celebrate other cultures and ensure that the depictions within the books are accurate and positive.
It can be tricky to navigate the picture book selection process from scratch. Even with the best intentions, you may not always get this perfectly right and that’s okay. We are not striving for perfection; we are striving for effort and intentionality.
I’ve compiled several book recommendations over the years, many from our Rooted in Reading curriculum. Our goal is to always curate book lists that touch on the crucial elements mentioned in this post.
You can find lists of those book suggestions in various themes and genres on my book recommendations page.