The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child
My favorite aspect of this book is that it is passionate and real. Donalyn speaks of her trials with trying to get students to love reading. She is quite confident that every child can love reading and that made me so curious to dive deeper into the book. I thought it was interesting right of the bat when she says that we teach how we were taught. It made me reflect on how I was taught to read…and that was torture. We had a novel as a class and either the teacher read it to us or we played that popcorn game where we would read a little, say popcorn, then choose a classmate. I remember the anticipation of hoping and wishing no one chose me because I had no interest in the book. I hated that forced reading thing and then I didn’t remember a thing the next day about what we read. As I remembered those terrible reading memories a wonderful memory popped into my head. It was Hank the Cowdog. We had an AR program in elementary and we had to reach a certain number of points in order to pass. I hated reading books I was not interested in (it literally took me 3 months to finish Harry Potter) but I loved all of the Hank the Cowdog series. Not sure why but I found it interesting, comical, and I actually enjoyed reading at that moment. This is what Miller is talking about I think. She recommends that we, as teachers (or future teachers), let our students choose a book that they are interested in instead of teaching how we were taught with a group novel. Let their interests and imaginations flourish but create assignments and activities that can be applied to any book. It creates an interest in students that might grow into a passion for reading.
Her approach is one that I am going to highlight when I buy my own copy of this book. She says “Don’t let not reading be an option for students.” I was curious about that because you will have reluctant readers but she says not to put that into their mind that they just don’t like reading, it’s too hard, or I don’t like this book. Also, as a teacher we need to be passionate about reading and well researched. Know what to recommend to students with different interests and let them recommend some of their favorite books to you…and actually read them! Show the students you care and get “on fire” for reading.
She also categorizes readers unlike the school systems usually do. Instead of saying struggling, reluctant, or gifted readers, she says developing readers, dormant readers, and underground readers. She says that students can easily be defeated if they are referred to as a struggling reader and get hours a day of forced reading but if their mind can be opened to developing reading as a skill they may be more receptive. Dormant readers are often overlooked because they read what is assigned and do moderately well on tests but they won’t read a single page on their free time. These students need to see the impact reading can make in their lives and it is our job as teachers to notice that and help them overcome that stumbling block.
The wisdom in this book is staggering! She is so knowledgeable with so many wonderful ideas and personal accounts.
One more thing, she was not insecure about asking for help or advice from her colleagues. She sought out their opinion on previous experiences and built on them to create a system that works. I kind of feel like this book is a lot like “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey because it offers so many alternatives and descriptions of what changes can be made to make a drastic improvement. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a great resource to help reading in the classroom on any level.