Isn’t That Just for Schools?: Common Core and the Public Library, Part I

Isn’t That Just for Schools?: Common Core and the Public Library, Part I

By Peg Glisson

We’ve been hearing for years that American students are falling behind those in other countries. Many read below grade level and graduate with the ability to read at an eighth grade level at best. A variety of educational philosophies and practices have tried unsuccessfully to close the gap. And now, there’s Common Core-it’s being written about in newspapers, blogs, and even Twitter; it’s being talked about on TV and radio. What is it? And what does it mean for public libraries?

The state-led Common Core Initiative, adopted by 45 states, the District of Columbia, and 3 territories, currently address English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics and will be developed for Science and Social Studies. In a nutshell, the ELA Standards, which address reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language, call for students, as young as Kindergarteners, to read more complex text and a higher percentage of nonfiction, to think analytically, to synthesize and apply what they have read to real world situations. It also makes the point that literacy doesn’t apply just to ELA; it applies to everything! Students will progress through a “staircase of complexity” of reading matter over the years, at least 50% of which will be nonfiction, to allow the development of the skill, concentration, and stamina needed to read and understand complex expository text, whether in college or on the job.

While public libraries’ mission is different from that of a school, they do support the work of the schools, primarily through their collections but in other ways as well. Staff is often called on to help parents and youth find materials needed for school reading and projects. Teachers come looking for books to use in their classrooms. Many libraries, especially in urban areas, provide homework help. As these library users express their needs, it’s important that youth services librarians have a working familiarity with Common Core’s language, philosophy and goals to best serve parents, students, and teachers who use their libraries. Like it or not, this major shift in educational practice will impact public libraries’ collection, services, and programming.

First, public librarians need to know the talk. Rigor, rich text, staircase of complexity, lexile, inquiry based learning, task, essential understanding . . . what do these mean? If you don’t know, find out! Visit sites like and; read professional journals such as School Library Journal and Book Links; talk to teachers and school librarians.

Let’s think about implications for the children’s and YA collections. As students move from their current reading split of 80% fiction/narrative text and 20% nonfiction to a 50/50% split of fiction and nonfiction, libraries will need to beef up their age-appropriate, readable nonfiction collections. We have seen an explosion in the publishing of younger nonfiction, much of it in series, to address this developing need. The standards call for rich, rigorous vocabulary in both nonfiction and fiction. When selecting nonfiction, it will be important to consider not only subject matter and reading levels, but also language. Dumbing down is out! Vocabulary that resonates and complex meaning is the new norm, as is the reading and re-reading for meaning that such text requires.

The demand for rich, rigorous text has implications for fiction as well. Many of the core novels currently used in many classrooms, particularly in middle and high schools, are too low level. Librarians can help teachers become aware of titles that would fit the bill and appeal to this age reader. Children and teens will not be able to meet the Core’s writing demands without having had exposure to great writers in a wide variety of genres.

Picture books are still needed for read-alouds at all levels. The emphasis on reading, writing, and math is leading teachers to search for quality picture books to help them integrate social studies and science into the core subjects. At the lower grades, teachers seek picture books not only to read aloud but also to give to students to read themselves. Again, they want rich language, at the right lexile, for these books.

Having lexile levels included in OPAC records will help students, parents, and teachers choose the right books for assignments. Of course, task or purpose for reading and the complexity of language also contribute to the rigor of a text. Librarians, with their expertise, can speak to all three. CLCD allows users to limit searches by lexile, interest level, and age or grade-making the search for those perfect books much easier! The reviews displayed in CLCD help librarians judge the language used by the author and ascertain if the book meets Common Core criteria.

Youth librarians have a vast knowledge of fiction for their level user. It is imperative that they continue to choose fiction that will draw young folks to reading. Providing books for leisure reading is a major task of the public library. Let us not forget reading for enjoyment as well as information! As librarians serving youth know, many young people enjoy reading informational text, some more than literary pieces. Common Core is urging that ALL students read a true balance of informational text and literature and become strong readers and writers of both.

How might Common Core impact public library services and programming? We’ll address that next time. Meanwhile, visit CLCD on Facebook and share your thoughts on Common Core’s implications for the public library’s collection.


Contributor: Sharon Salluzzo

Look around and what do you see? How do you get from home to school? Who do you see along the way? These are some of the questions that young children will answer as they begin to study their community. This list of titles on Communities is divided into three parts: Where You Live; Maps; and Community Helpers, and created with Common Core in mind. To put this list together I consulted CLCD using several different search subjects and limiters, including Lexile. For many of the titles, I limited the Lexile Range between 300 and 700, although not all titles have been restricted to that range.

Sometimes, I began with a simple search, such as typing “city life” into the search box, then ensuring that “singular and plural forms,” “all of the words,” and “all fields” were selected.

From there, I would limit my search further, selecting 0 to 6 in the Ages field, under the additional search qualifiers, and restricting results to books published between 2002 and 2020.

In another search, for titles for a second grade reader, I typed “maps” into the search box, again selecting “singular and plural forms,” “all of the words,” and “all fields.” I then added the Lexile Range 300 to 700 and limited results to titles published between 2006 and 2020.

Let us know your favorite titles to use with your class. Here are a few to get you started.


Country Kid, City Kid

Julie Cummins

Illustrated by Ted Rand

With the passing of the seasons, two children who are miles apart live their lives in such different ways. Ben lives in the country, closely linked to the earth and its rhythms. Far away, Jody goes about her days working and playing in a city world with its street noises, shops full of people, and conveniences. Both children do the same kinds of things but in such dissimilar ways and yet, when they meet at summer camp, they find that their differences don’t prevent them from being good friends. They share what they have in common and explore what they do not. In soft watercolor illustrations and with the clever use of insets and frames, the illustrator has helped bring to life two very different worlds–where a tree flames over a county postbox in the fall and where slush splashes on city boots in the winter. On one side of a double spread one finds the country life and on the other side one finds the city life. Then, as one comes towards the end of the book, both children come together on one page, sharing space and friendship. The author shows us that we can be very different because of where we come from and yet still have enough in common to become friends. A very lovely and special book. 2002, Henry Holt and Co, Ages 3 to 6, $16.95. Reviewer: Marya Jansen-Gruber (Children’s Literature).

Accelerated Reader: Book Level 4.3

ISBN: 9780805064674

A Drive in the Country

Michael J. Rosen

Illustrated by Marc Burckhardt

Before traffic became a word so often followed by “jam” and before filling up the gas tank became a major purchase, families did go for rides. On Sunday, Dad might suggest a spin in the country and off the family would go to see the sights and perhaps to stop at a diner or, as in this story, have a picnic. The author presents a sentimental look at family outings complemented by acrylic illustrations, including a two-page spread featuring a text-filled road winding past farms, wooded areas, and a little general store. A young boy, along with his parents, siblings, and their pooch named, Shirley “load up the car for adventure” remembering to include the snacks and drinks, games, a little spending money, and comic books. There is no set route, so they consult the foldout map and enjoy the dips and turns in the road. They stop for fun at a lake and check out the little store. They experience the joys of the country and also play car games and sing to pass the time. This book is nice look at the togetherness of family on what might be considered an ordinary Sunday, but is actually a very special day. 2007, Candlewick Press, Ages 4 to 8, $16.99. Reviewer: Carolyn Mott Ford (Children’s Literature).

Accelerated Reader: Book Level 4.6

ISBN: 9780763621407

Homes In Many Cultures

Heather Adamson

This simple nonfiction work for first graders presents photos of different kinds of homes, including apartment buildings, townhouses, thatched huts, houses on stilts, houseboats, and adobe homes. It also explains how various forms of construction may suit local conditions or climates. It locates the homes on an inset world map. However, of the nine examples, two are from the U.S. and one is from Canada, which leaves limited space for less familiar examples. Unfortunately all of the photos show the houses from the outside only, with no windows about how people live inside their homes. Images have been selected to show the broad variety of housing types that exist, but with no attempt to select representative houses from each country. For example, the home chosen for India is a rather grand houseboat of the kind often rented by wealthy tourists, and the Kenyan example shows a rural, thatched mud hut, which gives a rather skewed impression of Kenya’s state of development. The example of farm housing shows a large traditional Canadian farm with a barn, silos, and cattle. The accompanying text explains that farm homes sit alone on “lots of land” (hardly true of all farms). This book is part of the “Life around the World” series, which addresses the need for books that introduce the young child to other ways of living by exploring modern life in other countries. Books in this series are organized by chapters and contain a table of contents, a glossary, a reference list that includes safe web sites, inset maps, and an index. Although designed for first graders, these books can be used as part of an introduction to using reference books. 2008, Pebble Plus/Capstone Press, Ages 4 to 7, $19.93. Reviewer: Christina M. Desai (Children’s Literature).

Accelerated Reader: Book Level 1.6

Lexile Measure: 390

ISBN: 9781429600200

Living In Rural Communities

Kristin Sterling

This recent title in the “First Step Nonfiction” series views a rural community through the eyes of a young boy. Crisp photos of farms and rolling countryside landscapes give a clear look at life in the country. The kinds of farms include those that grow crops, as well as those that raise cattle. In the country, folks rely on trucks, cars, farm machinery, and horses. The closest neighbors are quite far away. Native American reservations and small African villages are included in this text about country living. The simple, repetitive language makes it accessible for newly independent readers. Back matter includes more facts about country living, a word and picture glossary, and an index. Standards of learning for many early elementary social studies curriculums include rural living, making this a solid addition to school and public library collections. 2008, Lerner Publishing Group, Ages 4 to 6, $18.60. Reviewer: Carol Kirkham Martin (Children’s Literature).

Lexile Measure: 360

Reading Counts-Scholastic: Reading Level 2

ISBN: 9780822585992

Street Music: City Poems

Arnold Adoff

Illustrated by Karen Barbour

I was born in this city but I still look up at the magic.” Such is the pleasure of the poet in buildings, parks, people, and pigeons; and the pain of outstretched homeless hands and neighborhood blocks caught in the crossfire of violence. Each page has the electric pulse of passion–hot and cold, steam and ice. Like tiny light bulbs flashing on and off across the cityscape, each poem tries on a different vantage point, a new apartment window or a shifted time of day, and street music requires that you move fast to keep the beat. This is a vivid marriage of language and art, and a collision of energies reflecting their subjects. 1995, HarperCollins, Ages 5 to 9, $16.00 and $15.89. Reviewer: Jessy Deutsch (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780060215224


Are We There Yet?: Using Map Scales

Doreen Gonzales

The map-savvy parrot, Ace, instructs readers in how to use map scales to measure distance in this “Map Mania” volume from the “First Facts” series. Ace uses humorous language to explain how a bird’s eye view of the world is used to draw maps. The definition of each new term is provided in a box at the bottom of the page where the word is introduced. Text correlates closely with brightly-colored illustrations, clear maps and photos. With the help of his ruler, Ace takes on the difficult task of explaining the scale found on a map. Students will need a thorough understanding of linear measurement before they will be able to grasp the concepts of ratio and measuring distance on a map, making this volume more appropriate for readers who have mastered map basics and elementary math. Several hands-on sections throughout the book invite readers to experiment with their new knowledge. At the back of the book are a glossary of new terms, an index, a list of additional books on the subject, and directions for using the publisher’s FactHound site to access age-appropriate websites about this topic. 2007, Capstone Press, Ages 7 to 8, $15.95. Reviewer: Carol Kirkham Martin (Children’s Literature).

Accelerated Reader: Book Level 3.3

Lexile Measure: 620

ISBN: 9781429600538

Follow That Map!: A First Look at Mapping Skills

Scot Ritchie

After a general introduction about the features of a map, readers join Sally and her friends to search for her dog, Max, and cat, Ollie. Using different types of maps, the pursuit begins in the neighborhood, moves on to the park, then proceeds to other locations. Colorful illustrations feature the various types of maps including weather and topographic. The bold print provides descriptions of different map features such as legends, scale, and landmarks. The last section presents directions on how to make a map of a room using nonstandard unit of measurement. Children may need some guidance and support with the features of this informational text, which uses the search of Max and Ollie as a plot, questions regarding the maps, descriptions in bold print, speech bubbles, and description labels. This book provides a very basic and introductory look at maps using colorful illustrations and story characters to move from map to map. 2009, Kids Can Press, Ages 5 to 7, $16.95. Reviewer: Carrie Hane Hung (Children’s Literature).

Accelerated Reader: Book Level 3.5

ISBN: 9781554532742

How I Learned Geography

Uri Shulevitz

When war devastated the land, Uri’s parents lost everything. They fled from Poland empty-handed. They traveled far, far east and lived in a small room with a couple they did not know. There were no toys and no books. Food was scarce. When young Uri’s father came home one day with a map instead the usual small piece of bread, Uri was both hungry and furious. Then, his father hung the colorful map of the world on the wall, and suddenly their cheerless room was filled with light. Uri was fascinated with the map. He spent hours studying it and found himself transported to strange places with exotic names. The map’s magic took him to burning deserts, to snowy mountains, to wondrous temples, to fruit groves, and to huge cities. He would draw maps and colorful scenes on scraps of paper that he found and treasured. His hours became enchanted, and he forgave his father, who had been right all along. An author’s note at the end features a photo of Uri at about age seven, a map of Africa he drew at age ten, and a picture that won a contest when he was thirteen–his first artistic success. Illustrated with Shulevitz’s trademark watercolor paintings, this is a loving tribute to his father. A unique contribution to World War II literature. 2008, Farrar Straus Giroux/Macmillan, Ages 6 to 11, $16.95. Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).

Accelerated Reader: Book Level 4.4

Lexile Measure: 660

Reading Counts-Scholastic: Reading Level 4

ISBN: 9780374334994

Map Keys

Rebecca Aberg

One of the “Rookie Read-About Geography” books for early readers, this book brings an interactive approach to using map keys and legends. Large print, minimal text, phonetic spellings and colorful maps and photos combine to interest young readers and inspire their map-reading skills. The text explains things simply and provides numerous examples of both maps and floor plans. Readers are provided several opportunities to use their newly acquired skills by using keys provided to locate objects on maps and to create a floor plan of their own bedroom. The interactive features make it perfect for reading center activities as well as small and large group activities. New vocabulary is repeated in the “Words You Know” section at the end of the book. 2003, Children’s Press, Ages 7 to 9, $19.00. Reviewer: Meredith Kiger, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).

Accelerated Reader: Book Level 2

Lexile Measure: 230

Reading Counts-Scholastic: Reading Level 2

ISBN: 9780516227221



Dana Meachen Rau

The chefs in this nonfiction reader are portrayed with an exciting photo narrative, while the reader is engaged in the storyline, learning what chefs do with their array of tools. The reader is invited to experience a day with a chef while they journey along through the market and the exciting kitchens of these chefs. The excellent illustrations depict various chefs in photos and follow the sequence of a chef in the kitchen producing a meal. The storyline helps to make the text purposeful and meaningful in this early reader. The authentic, vibrant photos bring the text to life and provide the reader with rich visual support for the vocabulary acquisition required in the text. Each page includes new vocabulary linked to a specific tool, and the vocabulary words are italicized and included in the glossary, along with a thumbnail picture version of the page on which the word is found. The text is presented in large, clear font, and the sentence structure is appropriate for an early reader, including some wrap-around text as well as predictable language. This book is just one in a series of “Tools We use” nonfiction readers presented by this author and designed for early readers in Marshall Cavendish’s “Bookworms” leveled reading program. 2008, Marshall Cavendish Corporation, Ages 5 to 8, $15.95.. Reviewer: Kimberly Brown (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780761428220

Firefighters!: Speeding! Spraying! Saving!

Patricia Hubbell

Illustrated by Viviana Garofoli

Many kids are captivated by the whirling lights and loud siren that means fire engines are passing, though but not all children may know what all that clamor signifies. Now this book can give children an introduction to what a firefighter’s job actually entails. The book shows firefighters as they douse fires and help people. The rhyming words quicken the story and make it fun for young readers. The illustrations are bright and lively. The firefighters hurrying across each page are sure to captivate children as much as the text. This is a fun way for children to learn about a profession and its responsibilities. This book is lively and is a good tool for teaching children. The next time they hear the sirens they will know why the firefighters are in such a hurry, and just how they will help when they reach their destination. This book is a quick, action-packed read for children learning about firefighters at work. 2007, Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books, Ages 3 to 7, $14.99. Reviewer: Rihoko Ueno (Children’s Literature).

Accelerated Reader: Book Level 1.4

ISBN: 9780761453376


Mark Teague

Edward and Judy visit a firehouse because Edwards wants to become a firefighter. It isn’t all fun and games–the first thing the Fire Chief wants them to do is help wash the fire truck. They go up to the crew’s quarters and the game of cards that he and Judy were playing is interrupted by a fire alarm bell. Everyone gets into their gear and slides down to the truck. Edward is literally hanging on to the back of the truck by his fingers. There is a bit of a mishap at the fire hydrant when the stream of water knocks Edward over. It takes teamwork to handle the hoses and climb up the ladder. This was a drill, but no sooner do they return to the firehouse when the alarm goes off again and this time it is a real emergency. (Although I am not sure that firefighters still will come and rescue cats caught up in trees). Teague’s collection of canines are amusing and expressive and kids will have fun looking for the little mice dressed as firefighters in nearly every scene, including the closing one where a tucked out Edward is fast asleep with the kitten he rescued sitting on his bed. 2010, Orchard Books/Scholastic, Ages 3 to 5, $16.99. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot (Children’s Literature).

Accelerated Reader: Book Level 1.5

Lexile Measure: 400

ISBN: 9780439915007

Garbage Collectors

Paulette Bourgeois, Kim LaFave

Sam and Mabel are garbage collectors for the neighborhood. Sam picks up the garbage from the curb while Mabel drives the truck. All the people on Sam and Mabel’s route are their friends, and they have taught their friends about garbage collecting. They have also helped them to learn about recycling and reusing some of the things they might otherwise throw away. The illustrations and the simple story will delight even very young children. Older readers will be able to discuss recycling and responsibility–several of the issues in the story. Garbage Collectors is a treasure for classrooms where recycling is emphasized. Other titles in this “In My Neighborhood” series introduce readers to firefighters, police officers and postal workers. 1998, Kids Can Press, Ages 5 to 8, $12.95.. Reviewer: Joyce Rice (Children’s Literature).

Lexile Measure: 530

ISBN: 9781553375739

Helpers In My Community

Bobbie Kalman

A community is once again defined, and the point is made that communities need helpers. These helpers could be craftsmen, doctors, teachers, librarians, and more. If the community is growing, then there will be builders working on roads and houses. If it is a modern community, then there will be a need for water and electricity and the people who provide and maintain these services. In addition to the teachers and librarians at school, there may be school bus drivers, crossing guards, and nurses. The nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel work to keep a community healthy. Should there be a problem, then emergency works may be called upon, and these could include paramedics, firefighters, and police officers. Often overlooked, but an important part of community life are the many volunteers who work without pay to make their communities a better place to live. Simple declarative sentences and questions accompanied by photographs of children from a variety of ethnic backgrounds set on crisp white pages make this an attractive book. It is a Level “G” book in the “My World” series. 2010, Crabtree, Ages 5 to 6, $5.95 and $18.60. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780778794882

Teacher!: Sharing, Helping, Caring

Patricia Hubbell

Illustrated by Nancy Speir

This is Hubbell’s third offering in a series about community helpers/heroes. As was true of her celebration of firefighters and police, Hubbell uses a simple rhyming text to list the many roles a teacher plays during the week with her young class. Speirs’ illustrations are sprightly, somewhat reminiscent of popular children’s cartoons; in that spirit, she depicts the young woman teacher and the politically correct diverse class as relentlessly cheerful and well-behaved. The classroom calendar helps us keep track of the week’s passing. One posted notice promises that a special visitor will be coming soon. Sure enough, on Friday Fireman Fred shows up and we learn “Today we have our special guest–/a treat because we did our best.” Young children who are curious or apprehensive about the transition to kindergarten or primary school may find it reassuring to look through this book. 2009, Marshall Cavendish, Ages 4 to 6, $16.99. Reviewer: Mary Hynes-Berry (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780761455745

Updated 7/1/12

To stay up to date on new books by this author, consider subscribing to The Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. For your free trial, click here.

If you’re interested in reviewing children’s and young adult books, then send a resume and writing sample to

Back to Top

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Read & Shine