Face-out books made easy

Ever asked yourself: where do I get the shelf space for face-out books? Jim Trelease illustrates the benefits of using rain gutters to hold a lot of books – face-out.

I’m not talking about positioning every book face-out. Bookstores don’t place every book face-out, but the ones they really want to move – the new arrivals, the bestsellers – are always displayed this way. Unlike most educators and librarians, publishers know that the cover sells the book. Not only do they work extra-hard designing the right cover, many also pay the book chains as much as $750 a month per book to have the cover showing. That’s how important the cover is.

Plastic brackets to support rain guttering

Plastic brackets to support rain guttering

Nonetheless, classroom teachers have even less room than libraries for this approach. A few years ago, a teacher (whose name I wish I had jotted down) told me how she’d solved the space challenge by installing rain gutters in the dead spaces throughout her classroom: the space between the chalk ledge and the floor, the two-foot space between the closet and the chalkboard. Then another teacher sent me photographs of the rain gutters she’d installed.

The rain gutters they were talking about were purchased at the local hardware store for about US$3 per ten-foot strip and were made of enamelled, reinforced plastic. As plastic, they were easily cut to any size and were supported by plastic brackets that could be screwed into almost any wall, including concrete blocks. They also hold a lot of books – face-out.

After I mentioned the concept at an all-day teacher workshop, Mike Oliver (then Principal of Alma Elementary in Mesa, Arizona) approached me at the break. ‘We could do this at my school!’, he exclaimed with great enthusiasm. ‘We could do it in every classroom. I know we could.’ I could see the images dancing in his head as he spoke to me. I could also see an inner-city Principal who understood that reading is more than just teaching the basics, more than drill and skill.

Rain gutters installed as shelving in an elementary school in Arizona

Rain gutters installed as shelving in an elementary school in Arizona

That summer, Oliver spent nearly US$3,000 on rain gutters (I call him the ‘Martha Stewart’ of rain gutters!). Recruiting volunteers from parents and faculty, he installed the shelving throughout the school, including his own office. Since then, he has been asked to open two new schools (Barbara Bush Elementary and James Zaharis Elementary). Each bears his unique imprint for literacy: children will come to love books if surrounded by quality instruction, a rich print environment, a caring, reading faculty … and rain gutters. For more on rain gutter shelving, see The Rain Gutter Literacy Revolution: Enriching the Reading Climate by Advertising Children’s Literature by Mike Oliver and Julie Christensen at

At a cost of just US$3 for ten feet, plastic rain gutter shelving turns dead wall space into an attractive opportunity for face-out book marketing. Rain gutters alone aren’t going to solve a school or community’s reading problems. They’re merely a piece of a marketing strategy. Without marketing, however, few products get off the ground, no matter how good their design.

Jim Trelease
An award-winning artist and journalist, Jim turned his career toward education in 1979 when he began writing the first edition of
The Read-Aloud Handbook.

This is an excerpt from Chapter Seven: The Print Climate in the Home, School, and Library of The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin, 2006, 6th edition).

Available at

Reprinted with permission.

Tabor, Mary B W 1996, ‘In bookstore chains, display space is for sale’, The New York Times, January 15, pp A1, D8.