I’ve seen it.

You’ve seen it.

The classroom library with plastic bins or baskets.  The classroom library with shelves and shelves of books.  An amazing sight! I know the work and money that goes into those existing spaces. I’ve seen the love and care of teachers who label books according to theme, level, or interests.

I’ve also watched small hands struggle with pulling books out from bookshelves.  I’ve watched young ones walk away without a book out of frustration and overwhelm because those little fingers and hands can’t quite wiggle out the wanted book.

I’ve seen children quickly give up searching through the bins of books twenty or more deep.  Sometimes it seems, they are simply skimming the same old same old.  Nothing quite pops.

Joy Ford, a second-grade teacher in the United States, is on to something with her book bags!  Joy shared with me, “My basic belief is lifelong readers are lifelong learners. Students who haven’t gotten to love reading just haven’t found the right book, yet.”

I’m connected with Joy through a social media group which is wonderfully active and supportive.  A question came up about classroom libraries.  Joy shared that she offers book bags, all pictures in this post are thanks to her and what she has up and running in her classroom.  I inquired where Joy got the idea, (which I’m in love with)!  She shared, “When my kids were in preschool they did a program called Raising a Reader, which used the book bags. My kids would bring them home and it was like Christmas every time they opened it up. Never mind that we had 2 copies of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. If it was in the book bag, it was exciting.”  This was the impetus for her choosing to incorporate this very type of excitement for her students with built-in motivation, that feeling of, what surprise awaits me in that bag!  When you have students thrilled for books be default, a package to be opened, flipped through and requests to be read to or a dash off to a place to read solo, I’d call that a win for reading.

When I asked Joy about the response of her students, she replied, “They love it. I let them take a book bag home so they can read at home and share with their families. We talk about how to take care of them and keep track of books at home. Many of our students come from poverty and don’t have books at home and come from chaos. I have had pretty good luck getting them back.”


I asked Joy if having the book bags reduced the amount of books she needed have for her class. She replied, “I think it uses less storage and there is not as much organizing. My classes have not been so great at keeping the library tidy in the past, even with training.”

I inquired about the selection process, whether students were assigned the bags or they chose the bags.Joy noted, “They self select.” Freedom of choice can be motivating in the process of reading, I think about a typical day of a student, with hardly any say in what is read through the day.  While the book bags are not totally freedom of choice, they do get to choose within the bag’s contents.

Joy shared her rationale for including various levels, “My reason for including a variety of levels in the bags is actually several reasons. First, students are at varying reading levels.  This way all students feel they can explore all the themes. It provides a bit of anonymity.  Also, they can share with siblings and parents at home. Hopefully parents will participate in the shared reading and younger siblings may read when they might not have otherwise.” I feel and have observed students reading abilities fluctuate depending on interest, desire, content, type (fiction, non-fiction). Plus wouldn’t it be great if students took those books home and read a page or sentence from a level way beyond their designated level!

Three ideas to get yourself going:

  1. Start this by using your current books, organize books by theme, genre, interest, or levels (though Joy shared her reasoning which I agree to, about including a variety of levels)
  2. Use Ziploc bags to start, there are also mailers that Velcro seal, or you may know a person who sews who could make bags.
  3. Get a borrowing system going.  Joy shared a picture below of hers.

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Please leave comments!

  • Do you have book bags?
  • What are your tips or ideas?
  • Will you do this?
  • Do you have any questions?

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