Musical Bookcases

Here's a fun and easy to set up, book selection activity that you can basically do at the drop of a hat...or beat! (see what I did there?)  I am always looking for ways to beef up our circulation numbers, aka, getting more books into the hands of kids.

I was wanting an activity I could ru before the holidays that was fast and fun with a very little preparation. I'm kind of lazy like that - especially right before the holidays.

I've loved doing Speed Dating with Books. I've blogged about it here in 2017, the year before in 2016,  and first in 2013.

But that activity takes hours to handpick hundreds of books, arrange on tables by genre or subjects, decorate with props and signage, and then afterwards re-shelve all those not chosen.

This is a LOT easier! You only need 2-3 things:

1. Music (I used a boombox circa 1995)
2. Kids
3. Optional: Scratch & Sniff Bookmarks

The scratch & sniff bookmarks are for the first 5-8 kids checking out books. If I have to see two ELA classes in one period, this gets them moving. I also have a free round where they can go ANYwhere!
This activity was a little crazy, super fun, & very kinesthetic! It was a great way for kids to get up and move into areas of our Fiction section, or library, and examine books they may not have gravitated towards and get to know new titles and genres. AND....check out books!

Some of my kiddos gravitate towards one par of our Library time and time again. They don't really explore the other parts of our Fiction section, so this activity allowed them to see new nooks and crannies of our collection! For the Win!

Here are my directions - I wanted to flip the classroom (and save my voice), so I recorded a voiceover with pictures in iMovie after first creating a preso in GSuite Slides.  Feel free to go to FILE > Make a Copy and have fun with it.

-----------Musical Bookcases Directions-----------
Can I just say I kinda hate iMovie? I have always (since 1992) been an Apple grrl but man oh man, I sweat and creatively curse whilst making an iMovie. They say that when editing a movie, each minute of video equals one hour of editing - but I swan, for me it's double or treble that!

Here's what it looked like in action. 

Aside: Don't you hate when you cringe at hearing your own voice? I think we all do. Except Keith Morisson, he's a god and his voice is like velvet. Love the Dateline podcast, btw.

Practical Tips: 

My students did the best job when I had them circle the fiction section all the way around about 3 times before I stopped the music the first time. I'm guessing so they could learn the pattern.

Played the music, had the kids move around, didn't care if they ran a little (they got a kick out of that) and stopped the music when I made sure most of the kids were near a bookcase. I had the kids NOT re-shelve the books on purpose - leave it on the end of the shelf.

For music, if you don't have a nifty cool boombox and CD's like me (OK, Boomer!) you can use a Bluetooth speaker or a laptop with YouTube, Amazon music, or Spotify. Make sure it's either a groanworthy oldie or a clean version of a hip new song. Show them you're woke.

Yes, the shelves will get messy. But I'd rather straighten the shelves than re-shelve hundreds of books. I would also suggest a shelf read after the activity - just in case.

Is it just me or do you HATE when kids push back all the books to the back of the bookcase? I love them to be on the tippy edge of the shelf so they can be seen better, right? I'm always hugging them & pushing them forward.

Here's an anecdote about creating the directions and video with one of my students.

I asked some of my fav & cool kids who hang out with me in the Library for recess, to pose with books telling them it was going to be used in a new activity and that I would be using the pictures in a YouTube video directions with the rest of the school and on this blog--- and they gave me consent for that  (some kids did decline - totally cool!) -- but when I played the video for the class that one of the kiddos was in, he didn't like it. At all. He said "I don't want to be Internet famous!" (if only!) and he asked to be taken out of the video...which, of course, I did! It took some time, and I had to take down the original video on YouTube & put in Darth Vader in his place and reupload it. But I don't want ANY kid feeling uncomfortable with being in any content I create for the other kiddos.

If you have a shy kid, tell them they can hold the book up covering their whole face. They can recognize their own fingers! 

FACT: Only Lisa Simpson prays for standardized testing. 

Standardized testing has really eaten into our circ numbers as we spend weeks and months testing.  I am in charge of tech troubleshooting during ALL testing and I proctor ALL the make-up tests. For weeks. Me. Le sigh.

During this time the Library is periodically closed (I know, the horror!) but it's necessary to test our kiddos who have an IEP & require reduced distractions and unlimited time.

Standardized Testing: It's not like it's optional. And I've kind of gotten to like my paycheck every two weeks and I DO aspire to my pension someday.

So, when faced with this annoying distraction from teaching and putting books into the hands of kids - remember to be POSITIVE!

It's easy (and human!) to spiral into griping and moaning about it - because NO ONE REALLY LIKES TESTING. No one. Except the owners of testing companies like Pearson & NWEA celebrating on their yachts.  

I think it was a great activity!  What do you do to bring up your circ numbers....that isn't a lot of extra work? OK, I'm lazy. LOL

Oh and here's a few things that I forgot to add - came out whilst  texting with the awesome Jeannie Standal- School Library Consultant  Idaho Commission for Libraries

So excited! I'm going back to Idaho this summer for their Summer Institute! I was there 5 years ago, very thrilled to get invited back! W00t!

Your Turn:  Please share your circ building ideas in the comments below, @GwynethJones on Twitter, or @TheDaringLibrarian on Instagram.

Thanks for reading! 


  1. I like to do little challenges. I make a bookmark and print 5-10 book categories on it. They have to read a book from each category and write the title. After they read all 5-10, they get to pick from a prize box (usually pencils, bookmarks, erasers, etc.). Our circulation always goes way up for the weeks or month I do it, and it encourages kids to read things they wouldn't normally read. And so easy for us because all we have to do is print the bookmarks! And you can customize the categories with things you really want your students to choose.

    1. What super ideas! Thank you so much for sharing, Lauren! Can I follow you somewhere? (Not in a creepy stalky way, but in a learning from you kind of way, promise!) Twitter, Instagram, or a blog? Reach out to me and let me know!

  2. This sounds like a great activity! I'm always looking for ways to combine the fine arts, including music, into the library. I also think that RUNNING in the library is great. So many students have a mindset that the library is quiet, boring and they would rather be in the gym. This activity turns those expectations completely around! Also, an easy, great way to introduce new genres and sections of the library to those students who always go the same books every time. I will bring out the "boombox" and CD's and give it a try! Thanks!

    1. YAY, Unknown! LOVE the idea of running in the Library and getting out the boombox, too! Would love to see what you come up with - please let me know & share your pics and experiences!
      Thanks so much for your comment and Cheers!

  3. Absolutely adore this idea!! I've done book tastings and I've done challenges, and I've done The Chase (quiz show here in Oz) around each section of the library including fiction, I get my ChocLit group to recommend each meeting (book club that is) and about to put laminated markers into their recommended books - I've also done ones with a FB thumbs up and Also a Movie the moment we're putting a little slip on the inside cover of each new book and if they choose they get to dip into the box of sweet treats (yanno, chupa chups, mini-choc bars that type of thing) won't remember Gwyneth but we had a fun dinner out in Adelaide when you were there, along with Joyce V and the Pledgers - remains one of my fondest 'conference' memories :-)

    1. OMGosh, Los! Thank you so much for your comment & what a wonderful trip to OZ that was! I'm flattered you remember me! Adelaide was one of my fav stops - and yeah, that whole trip is a happy blur for me I was so excited to be there and meet so many inspiring people like you! Do you have any pics from that dinner, to jog my memory?

      That trip is one of my fondest memories of my LIFE!

      Now,! You're doing amazing things! Do you have them recorded anywhere with pictures so I can learn from you? Instagram, Twitter, a blog? Would love to see your awesome ideas put into practice engaging kids with reading.


    2. This concept seems like so much fun! I often do book tastings with our teacher librarian and speed book dating, but have not tried this! My students often lack the patience to look through book, but with this, it would give them the opportunity to find treasures that were not visible to them before! Thank you so much for the idea!

  4. Hi Gwyneth, I am a new reader and am so grateful to have discovered your blog! Your voice and personality shine through in your writing. This activity is simply brilliant. I love how it gets kids up and moving, all while discovering new reading material. I'm a huge fan of bringing in music whenever possible (it just makes things more fun), and I can only imagine how much the kids must've enjoyed this. I imagine this would be a great way for kids to feel more comfortable branching out with books or genres they may have felt embarrassed to explore on their own. I can't wait to continue exploring your blog. I'm already so inspired!


    (Also, I apologize if this comment came in twice... I wasn't sure if my first one was properly submitted, lol)

  5. Hi!

    I loved reading about this awesome idea! I am currently in school for special education and I am definitely going to be using this in my future classroom. Personally, I am someone that reads one type of book and sticks with that. I am trying to open up to more genres, and I think this is a great way to get my future students to do that too! Thank you for sharing, I am excited to read more of your blog posts.


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