The importance of classroom libraries, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

"A child sitting in a quiet room with a good book isn't a flashy or marketable teaching method. It just happens to be the only way one became a reader." -- Nancie Atwell, esteemed educator and author

I read this quote in a post on Nerdy Book Club by an elementary school principal in Michigan, Jim Bailey, who has made it a priority to have well-stocked libraries in each and every classroom. As we're talking about going back to school this month on Smack Dab -- and the often-asked question authors get when we visit -- where do you get your ideas? -- it struck me how Bailey's idea for getting books into classrooms is nothing short of brilliant.

Bailey felt there was a direct link between classroom libraries and reading motivation, reading achievement, and reading engagement, so he went through his budget line by line and asked himself, "Is this program or resource better at raising student achievement than putting a book in a student's hand? If the answer was no, then I had just found money to support classroom libraries."

In fact, Bailey was able to find thousands of dollars in his budget by eliminating items such as purchasing the Accelerated Reader program and its prize incentives, as well as buying workbooks that he felt contained pages and pages of busy work. Then, at a staff training session prior to the first day of school, Bailey gave each teacher a $100 Barnes and Noble gift card to spend on books for their classroom (plus a $5 card for coffee), and the entire group took a field trip to B&N.

Several teachers cried, they were so excited, Bailey said, and many texted him photos of the books they were buying. He said that this decision completely changed the culture at his school. They have committed to reading -- real reading -- not comprehension quizzes or endless worksheets or scripted lessons. "We were showing what we truly valued with our time and money. Our students!" he said.

Every school should be so lucky to have a principal like Jim Bailey, but many don't even have programs to eliminate to find money for classroom libraries.

But as my mom always said -- Where there's a will, there's a way.

My local thrift shop has piles of gently used books, often for less than a dollar. There are similar book bargains nationwide at Goodwill stores. Bernie's Book Bank is a literacy initiative that distributes free new and used books to schools in need throughout Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. And public libraries often have used book sales where books can be purchased at super low prices. With a little digging, free and low-cost books can be found!

I'd like to help two classrooms! If you are a middle grade teacher or know of one with a classroom in need of books, please leave a comment below. Two classrooms will be randomly chosen to each receive a copy of my newest middle grade novel, Ethan Marcus Stands Up. (U.S. addresses only.) Good luck!

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of four middle grade novels, from Penguin Random House/Wendy Lamb Books, and Simon and Schuster/Aladdin. More on Michele at


  1. This is great Michele, thanks for sharing a wonderful library.

  2. What an inspirational post! What could be more important than simply putting books into the hands of young readers? Yes, yes, and yes!

  3. This is such a beautiful idea, a wonderful gift for MG teachers! We strive to ensure each kid is a lifelong reader, and give them access to books that are both mirrors and windows.

    1. Hi Sarah, You've won a book for your classroom! Please DM me on Twitter @MicheleWHurwitz or go to my website for my email, and let me know where I can send it!

  4. Thank you for sharing the story about Principal Bailey! Developing a love of reading can't happen without a book for every student to read.

  5. Totally agree with Nancie. I sooo love seeing classroom libraries on Twitter, etc.


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