Natalie's Reviews > The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
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Apr 01, 12

bookshelves: teaching, favorites
Read in April, 2012, read count: 1

Though I have never met Donalyn Miller, while reading her book I knew that we were kindred spirits. I had to giggle as she wrote about her relationship with reading. It reminded me so much of my own. She wrote about how secretly pleased she was when she would pass ridiculous reading tests given by her teachers, without even reading the whole book. When I was in AP Literature, I dropped out halfway through the year, because we were in the advanced reading class and we'd only read 2 1/2 books! (I still got a 4 on the test at the end of the year.)

Donalyn's message is simple but so poignant: LET CHILDREN READ! She requires that her sixth grade students read 40 books a year. She does this without incentive or punishment. For students who only read 22 (the smallest amount anyone has ever read) they celebrate because that's typically about 20 more books than they read last year. They accomplish this because Donalyn thoughtfully helps students find the magic in books. And, most importantly, she gives them time to read.

So much of what Donalyn said in her book, matched what I feel in my heart. I teach first grade, so reading for me is a little different than in a middle school setting, but much of what I have evolved too in my teaching, is already along the lines of what Donalyn recommends.

Currently, toward the end of the year, my students now spend about 40 minutes independently reading. During this time I am pulling students to read with them one-on-one. From day one I tell the students that reading is always an acceptable activity and one of the first things we do is find books to read and put in our book bags. I have hearly 2,000 books in my room, almost all bought with my own money. The first year I started teaching I came into school and the other teachers had printed nearly 3 crates full of worksheets for me. And that was only for the first term. I shudder to think of how many worksheets I did that first year. Since that time, every year I have opted out of more and more reading worksheets, until I hardly use any at all. You don't teach someone to ride a bike by talking about the parts, they have to get on and try and the same goes for reading. We learn to read, by reading.

Like Donalyn mentioned, when I meet a fellow reader, we are already friends. Reading is such an integral part of my life, that I can't separate myself from it. Reading always brings me comfort and joy.
I don't consider myself socially stunted from all my reading. Before I ever went to Paris, I'd already visited with The Count of Monte Cristo and roamed the streets with the Scarlet Pimpernel. The first time I saw the Paris Opera House, I was already familiar with it from reading "The Phantom of the Opera." When I was traveling through Australia it came alive as I listened to "In a Sunburned Country" by Bill Bryson on my ipod. I would not be who I am today without books.

While I have already been transforming my class into a "reading classroom" I got a lot of new ideas from Donalyn. Even though I do teach in a younger grade, there are a lot of ideas I can modify to work for me. For instance, I'm going to start a "favorites" tub and let students put favorite books in there. I'm also going to let students do "book commercials." Even first graders can do this.

All teachers should read this book. Reading is important and vital. If you are one of those teachers that doesn't like reading, then listen to the words of Donalyn and find your own passion. We can't afford to create a nation of non-readers.

I am grateful to Donalyn for sharing the message of reading and I hope more teachers can pick up the call and create a place for reading at school.
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