Build Your Stack: Must-Read Books for Preservice Teachers - National Council of Teachers of English
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Build Your Stack: Must-Read Books for Preservice Teachers

This blog post is part of Build Your Stack,® a new initiative focused exclusively on helping teachers build their book knowledge and their classroom libraries. It was written by NCTE members Stephanie Affinito and Kris McGee.


As literacy teacher educators, we understand the power teachers have in shaping students’ reading identities and reading lives. Teachers model reading habits, invite students into reading with powerful read-alouds, cultivate diverse classroom libraries, and protect sacred student-led independent reading time in the classroom.

We believe teachers must be wide and voracious readers themselves, specifically readers of children’s literature, to cultivate strong reading communities in their classrooms.

And we believe that teacher education programs can boost teachers’ reading lives so they are better prepared to advocate for authentic reading practices in the classroom.

We offer seven picture books every preservice teacher should read before heading to the classroom. These books shape teachers’ thinking about themselves, the world around them, and the role books have in creating more just communities.

Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson offers readers a glimpse into the relationship between CJ and his Nana. As they ride the bus across town, each of CJ’s questions is answered by Nana’s positive responses. This book urges readers to see beauty in unexpected places, celebrate diversity, and think about their role in their world to make it a better place.


Drawn Together by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat is a breathtaking book that captures the developing relationship between a boy and his grandfather. Initially separated by language, they come together around their love of art and story. Together, they create a magnificent bond that needs no words to show the love they share.


Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall is a powerful story about overcoming your fears. Jabari, a courageous little boy ready to jump off the diving board, teaches readers the power of determination. Supported by a loving and encouraging father, Jabari jumps off the diving board and into the hearts of readers.


Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones captures a boy’s dreams to have the latest fashions on his feet. Readers meet Jeremy, a boy determined to claim as his own the cool, black high-tops with two white stripes. But Jeremy soon realizes that material items are not all they’re cracked up to be and makes a heartfelt decision to share them with someone who needs them more.


In The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael López, there are many different children in the classroom; some speak a different language, some are from other countries. This story celebrates the differences between everyone.  The students in the classroom learn about each other and maybe even become friends.


All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman celebrates difference. “We are part of a community; our strength is our diversity” is such a strong quote from this book. We need to make sure to make our classroom a community. This book explores the beauty of discovering one another’s differences and celebrating them as a whole.


The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton is a story about Brian. No one includes him in their group, invites him to their party, or asks him to join their team at recess. Brian is invisible to the other students until the new boy, Justin, arrives. It is Justin who reveals Brian’s hidden talents as they work on a class project together, and Brian is able to shine.


By reading and authentically responding to diverse titles, we offer opportunities for preservice teachers to reflect on what reading is and what it could be for their students.


Have an idea for a Build Your Stack blog post? We’re now accepting submissions from NCTE members! Learn more and submit a post today.



Stephanie Affinito is a literacy teacher educator at The University at Albany in New York. She teaches graduate courses on elementary classroom literacy instruction, literacy intervention, and children’s literature. You can find Stephanie on Twitter at @AffinitoLit.



Kris McGee is an associate professor of literacy for Frostburg State University. She is the coordinator of the MEd Literacy Educator program and Master of Arts in Teaching program and is the founder and director of University PALS Scholars program. You can find her on Twitter at @DrKMcGee.