Trying to decide what genre books fall into is not easy. There are mysteries set in the Depression or pre-WWII England; Mystery and Suspense or Historical Fiction? If a narrative story is loosely based on a real event from an earlier time, does it belong in Realistic Fiction or Historical Fiction? And what about Dan Gutman books that are about sports but have spaceships in them? Or Jack Gantos' Joey Pigza series which is actually based on his own life?
This is my fourth year teaching and my third year working on my classroom library. I am proud of the number of volumes I have acquired, the range in reading level within most genres, and the visibility of where to shelve the books upon return. Last year I leveled the majority of my titles, no small feat since I have well over 500 titles. I placed a large number of titles in book boxes according to level, sorted my non-fiction by subject matter, and left a good number of titles to be found by author's last name, like they are in the public library. This year as I have been sorting, taping, and discarding, I have noted a great many things about myself as a reader. For instance, I have a lot more Fantasy titles than anything else, followed by Historical Fiction most of which have a female lead character or narrator, and a great number of Classic titles, in part because it is the one genre I actually assign a focused book report on (theme). I now know that I need to get more titles that focus around Sports and a larger variety of Animal Stories.
I have also decided to sort the majority of my books by genre rather than reading level and only have buckets of certain authors with no part of my library according to author's last name. I know it is somewhat ridiculous to spend two summers in a row setting up different systems, but I DO have my reasons. Last year I gave multiple mini lessons on how to choose a just right fit book; open to any page and read for a few minutes- can you follow the action? are you interested in reading on? do the words make sense?, the five finger rule, read the blurb on the back of the book. I definitely got more good fit books in the hands of my students, especially my reluctant readers, than I would have before hand. But I had some readers, particularly a number of boys, who would stay close to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books or Graphic Novels.
What I found was even though I had been successful in finding a book that interested them, and they read it and enjoyed it, they wouldn't seek out another book on their own or even with prodding. They did not like the "label" of a reading level box, yet they didn't want to start a book and have to admit it was too difficult for them, so they stuck with what they knew until the next time I put a title in their hands. I try to get the kids reading independently and this system didn't support that as well as I had hoped.
My hope for this year is these same kinds of readers will find their genre box more readily since it doesn't advertise what letter level they are reading at. The books are still leveled, I placed a sticker on the cover, but it is far less visible than the colored tape which identifies the genre. First and foremost I want students to think about what it is they like in a book before they go to the shelves and then use what they have been taught to pick a good fit title. That way, they'll be able to find books in the public library long after they have left my classroom. Fingers crossed. I would really rather NOT spend next summer redoing my library again.