The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller

This is a review I have been struggling to write for about a week now.  Honestly, I was overwhelmed- where could I even begin?  A large part of me wanted nothing more than to post a review that consisted of, “GO BUY THIS BOOK NOW!” but I realized that wouldn’t be very helpful to my readers.  So I will attempt to review Donalyn Miller’s amazing new professional book about the power of reading in the classroom and somehow make sense of the over 100 post-its flagging various pages, passages, and chapters!  (See the picture to the right to look at all my flags)cimg3434

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child is a slim book packed with information. Donalyn Miller shares her strategies for connecting all of her students with books and helping them become lifelong readers. As someone else who firmly believes in in the power of choice and independent reading in the classroom, her thoughtful and thorough look at how we can do a better job for our students is a joy to read.  

One of my favorite parts of the book is Donalyn’s reworking of the types of readers.  Schools of education teach future teachers about reluctant readers, struggling readers, and other labels for reading.  Donalyn disagrees with these labels and has come up with her own.  As she says, there is no hope in “struggling” or  “reluctant”.  As teachers, we should use positive terms to describe these readers.  

Instead of struggling readers, she refers to developing readers.  These are students who are not reading at grade level for any number of reasons, usually out of their control.  They have the ability to become great readers if their teachers give them the opportunity to read, read, read (with support)!  And instead of reluctant readers, we have dormant readers.  These are students who are passed over by many schools because they can read and they pass the state tests.  But they aren’t readers.  They need teachers and classmates who engage them in reading, helping them to become lifelong readers.  Finally, underground readers are gifted readers who see the reading that they do in school as a necessary evil and very separate from their own reading lives, which are usually rich.  I was an underground reader- reading at my desk while the teacher lectured, reading ahead during whole-class reading, and getting A’s on “reading tests” without even bothering to read the book.  Donalyn points out that districts spend most of their resources on developing readers but we let gifted readers and dormant readers fall to the wayside, so long as they can pass the federally-mandated tests once per year.  What a shame.  (I love these terms and have started using them as part of my own professional language and I think that is something more teachers need to do.)

Donalyn Miller also provides plenty of ideas for integrating independent reading into even the most rigid of schedules.  My own teaching schedule will be changing drastically next year and I was thrilled with her ideas.  Every idea she mentions promotes reading as as a lifelong habit and pleasure, ingraining it into her students’ lives.  She also models her own reading curriculum and the ways she appeases both her district ( gotta pass those damn tests!) and her own principles.  She truly is an inspiration!

In this day and age of standardized tests, scripted curriculums, budget cuts, and teacher layoffs, Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child is truly an inspiration.  This is a book that MUST be put into the hands of every teacher in the nation.  And we NEED to get it to those who make policy in this country- from state senators to President Obama himself.  This book must be read, it must be discussed, and many of the ideas absolutely must be implemented if we are going to reverse the sad course our educational system is taking this century.  Like Donalyn, I too am a book whisperer.  I have seen the growth in my students in just 10 short months when they are given the opportunity to read, to grow, and to become lifelong readers.  And I have seen the results of just a few months in a traditional, rote reading class the next year.  They lose that spark.  They forget that love of reading.  And that is the saddest part of teaching right now.  

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child is sitting on my shelf right now, in a venerated spot right next to my other teaching bible, The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers. This is a book that I know I will be turning to again and again.


8 Responses

  1. This book truly does sound inspirational! Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll be ordering it today.

  2. I have a few “porcupine” books (tabbed with Post-Its) of my own. I am honored that my book has become one of yours. I hope the book is meaningful to many teachers.

    • I help parents work with their developing reader, dormant reader, or underground reader privately. I am to parents what you are to teachers. I have been going into homes for the past 28 years to give parents guidance and support on how to help strengthen their child’s reading, writing, and oral expression at their given level. The parents I work with are looking for more support with helping their individual child then their child’s teacher can provide. These parents want to help their child but don’t know how. I give the parents I work with support and guidance on how to read to, with, and how to listen to their child read to them in ways that develop lifelong readers, writers, and communicators. I appreciate your contribution to help teachers become stronger at helping to develop literacy in our children and am motivated to do more to help parents. As a teacher I have discovered I cannot do enough to accelerate my students’ literacy. I find partnering with parents has made a world of difference.

  3. My copy should arrive today from Amazon. I am so excited to get my hands on it.

  4. I loved this book more than I can even tell you (and I admire you for sticking with this great review – I’m afraid mine was of the “BUY THIS BOOK!” variety!) I just bought a copy for a student teacher who’s in our building this semester, and I’ve recommended it to the head of our university’s teaching program. GREAT, great book.

  5. Hi Sarah, I wanted to let you know that I just quoted your review in mine, here. We are definitely of like minds regarding this book (no surprise there!).

  6. I read this book in November or December 2009 and just put up my review:

    I linked to your review. It looks like we agree!

  7. […] Reviews: The Reading Zone, Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Book Chase, Once Upon a […]

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