What comes first? Teaching a class novel or Free Reading?
A class novel. In level one, we teach them how to read and then we let them read on their own. This is what we do with our own children, too. First we read aloud and point to the pictures. In upper levels when students already know how to read independently we do both simultaneously. We teach one novel with scaffolding and support and background information while still giving them time to read for pleasure.
Here is our recommended checklist for what does not belong in your classroom library because it would be better taught as a classroom novel:
1. Is it set in a cultural situation that you can teach more about?
If not, put it in the classroom library.
2. Is the vocabulary and grammatical complexity level at the level of the class but something all students could not read independently, but could read with scaffolded support?
If it's so simple all students could read it independently anyway, put it in the classroom library.
3. Could this be a home run book for some students, even though it's unlikely to appeal to the majority of students?
If a few students will be really into it, but most will not, put it in the classroom library.
4. Does it have a teacher's guide?
This is not a deal breaker. Often #1 is more important even if there's not, and often newer books don't have them. But a book with a teacher's guide, if you like it, may make it easier to teach.
5. Do you love it or hate it? You. Personally. You will be spending a lot of time with this book. If you love it, you're more likely to make students love it. You may teach this book multiple times. Do you really love it? Or do you hate it? Do you acknowledge that many students may like it, but that every day will be work for you convincing students to love a book you hate? That's a classroom library book.
6. Is this the world lesson you want to teach? Does the book avoid stereotypes, champion native voices, avoid a colonizing narrative? Is this a book that will make your students think and become better citizens? Could it reinforce negative stereotypes? Some books don't even belong in your classroom library. That answer is going to be different for each teacher in each school.
7. Does it have a Reader's Theater section? If you want to teach a class novel in tandem with FVR or prior to beginning FVR, is this a book that will sell students on reading because the story is compelling and acting it out would be fun? If it is, scurry it away from your classroom library and save it.
8. Have you read it? Don't even consider dedicating a chunk of the next several years of your life to teaching a novel you haven't previewed yet. The truth is that ALL novels used to be class novels and our FVR novels were children's books. So we previewed all of them and we taught all of them. When we started putting readers on classroom library shelves, there were too many to preview and teachers began teaching some and using the rest for free reading before previewing. I know it's a lot. Maybe consider splitting the reading with other teachers. Only you know the context in your own school and what is appropriate for the age and sensibilities of your district. Teachers should never be surprised by the content of books on the shelf. In workshops I tell an embarrassing story about finding comic books in a Mexican market and throwing them on my FVR shelves. Score! So many new illustrated books! It was not until a student was reading one and showed me an illustration that I realized that I had deposited a collection of risque illustrated comics for adults in my classroom library. I never ever put a book on my shelf I had not read after that.
Here are some examples of readers that are better as whole class novels. Use the checklist and see if you agree.
Don Quijote, el último caballero. Late level 1 / Level 2.
Don Quichotte (French)
Written specifically for Reader's Theater, each chapter contains dialogue and lends itself to dramatic acting with fight scenes, windmill attacks, declarations of eternal love and a tragic death scene. It has teacher materials as well as songs and movie clips. In any language it is a good class novel because, like Shakespeare, Cervantes influence is scene in all literature that came after.
Late level 2 / level 3
There's just no end to resources in this biography about a Dominican musician. It has reader's theater sections, a documentary, interviews with the subject and co-author Joan Soriano, lyrics and music. If you are a music fan or bachata fan, you will love teaching it. If any of your students are interested in music, you'll have instant buy-in. Set in the Dominican Republic. Color illustrations. $9
High level 2 / level 3ish with scaffolding as a class novel / level 4 independent
There is so much in this novel that could be taught as a unit that would be missed if it were only a classroom library book. María Cano was a labor leader in Colombia. Her life and work overlapped with the United Fruit Company, which is also in the background of Gabriel Garciá Márquez novels. Opportunities for teaching the history of Colombia here, if this is something you love and would be passionate about teaching. So many readers of Adriana Ramirez' are like this. They are dives into parts of Colombia that make amazingly rich classroom novels. Me perdí en Medellín was our best seller in 2021 and sold primarily in class sets. It is a high level 2 novel.
Las voces diversas de la diáspora is a collection of blackline masters by A.C. Quintero and Kia London. They can be photocopied or used electronically. There is a lot of support within them for teaching them. I would recommend these be taught as class novels. The content is too important to leave on a bookshelf for only some students to read.
Beyond that one dollar from each sale is donated to an organization in Venezuela chosen by the author, this book is a treasure that will appeal to all students. It is about a dog that is feared in Venezuela. Discriminated against and treated poorly by those that are not familiar with the breed. In a crisis that causes flooding that separates the city in two, Orion is the only one who can swim across and rescue those on the other side. Margarita Perez García's novel is extraordinary. She blogged about Orion here.
Cecile Laine's entire series, Alice, Camille and Khadra could all be taught as class novels. However, if one is taught, the other two could likely be read independently. Read all three and pick the one you would most enjoy teaching.
These books will pull readers in because there are mysteries, twists and turns and hooks in each one. La ciudad de los muertos, Sonya Chapman-Morley is only $6, so more bang for your buck. I can't tell you anything else but that your class will be surprised.
Caras vemos begins with a woman with amnesia who has no idea who to trust or who is telling her the truth. $8
Une disparition mysteriuse (also in Spanish) Theresa Marrama cannot be read before sleeping. A sheriff's daughter's best friend is missing and she decides to investigate on her own. It's a Nancy Drew-like mystery that will captivate students. $9
There are so many fewer French titles, that it is easier to preview French titles. Qui Parle Francais
Carla Tarini's Qui Parle Francais one page biographies in make the best class sets. Some can be read independently and others can be read as a class and teachers can dive deeper into geography, backgrounds, culture, history, images, recipes or music. There is no end to the possibilities.
Fluency Matters novels:
Edi l'elephant is a great choice for elementary and early language learners. There are a lot of illustrations. It's appropriate for younger learners. It's a good story. Written by Emily Ibrahim for Fluency Matters (now Wayside Publishing)
Do you have more recommendations? Let us know!