The Book Whisperer (2009) by Donalyn Miller
Suggested Readers: Educators, Parents, Every Adult
(John Wiley and Sons, 228 pages)
Rating: 5/5 stars
Source: Library but buying Personal Copy
“When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.” -Maya Angelou
The Book: Though it was published in 2009, somehow I did not stumble upon The Book Whisperer until this past fall. The subtitle of the book “Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child” gives you a clue as to its focus, and this goal is certainly something that many educators and parents are thinking about in the 21st century. Written by 6th grade reading teacher, Donalyn Miller, the text is practical, inspiring, and relevant for any language arts teacher, librarian, or parent. Miller asks her 6th grade students to read 40 books a year. That’s right: 40!! And many of them read more than this!
Essentially, as Miller puts it in the introduction, this is a book about motivating students to read. It fills a gap; Miller wanted a book that linked her passion for reading with the way she was teaching reading in the classroom. She relied firmly on her own background as a lifelong reader in order to help her students develop into lifelong readers. At first, it might seem simple. But Miller’s points and suggestions are right on target, and urge many teachers to shift their thinking about what works in the classroom.
For example, Chapter 6, “Cutting the Teacher Strings,” includes the voices of some of Miller’s students about activities related to reading response. Miller encourages teachers to reconsider using a whole-class novel, and to teach readers, instead of books. She suggests a focus away from comprehension tests as the sole purpose for reading a book, and instead of book reports, she presents book commercials and book reviews. I have to say I heartily agree with Miller about the danger in allowing students to think the main purpose of their reading a book is to fill out a worksheet about it. Yes, a student must comprehend a book in order to understand its literary elements and talk about its themes, and so why not make this the primary activity for their reading?
Here’s a passage from the beginning of the chapter, a quote from one of Miller’s students, Christina: “I think my worst nightmare was last year, when we all had to read the same book, and do worksheets, and make journals after every chapter.” I think that would be my worst nightmare too! Since when do I, as an adult, ever have to fill out a worksheet on a book I’ve read? I don’t. What I do enjoy is discussing that book with other people and writing a review of that book. With my own students, I found that they loved making book trailers and even talk shows in which they discussed their responses to a book.
Why It’s Good for Teachers & Parents: The Book Whisperer contains loads of practical tips for generating a love for reading in the classroom. There are surveys in the appendix and many examples of strategies Miller uses to develop lifelong readers. Topics in the book include Miller’s own views as a lifelong reader, practical ideas for the classroom, passages from students, and scenes from Miller’s experiences in the classroom developing lifelong readers. Chapter titles include “Everybody is a Reader,” “There’s a Time and a Place,” “Reading Freedom,” and “Cutting the Teacher Strings.”
Needless to say, this book is refreshing, and definitely shifted my thinking about developing readers in the classroom even more. I am inspired and excited about Miller’s ideas and perspective, and am looking forward to her brand new book that has just been released, called Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Guide to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits (2013).
The Final Word: As a teacher and researcher of children’s literature, I loved this book! Many of Miller’s ideas about nurturing a love of reading in her students were similar to mine, but the way she carries these ideas out practically in her classroom introduced new strategies to me. Though my own 6th graders would have 25-30 minutes of reading every day in class, Miller’s points about giving students time to read reinforced to me that this is a non-negotiable when it comes to planning the day. This is now one of my top books related to nurturing readers, and I think it should be required reading for every language arts and English teacher!
You can check out The Book Whisperer’s website here.