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)
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.