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The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child [Paperback]

Donalyn Miller , Jeff Anderson
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 16 2009
Donalyn Miller says she has yet to meet a child she couldn't turn into a reader. No matter how far behind Miller's students might be when they reach her 6th grade classroom, they end up reading an average of 40 to 50 books a year. Miller's unconventional approach dispenses with drills and worksheets that make reading a chore. Instead, she helps students navigate the world of literature and gives them time to read books they pick out themselves. Her love of books and teaching is both infectious and inspiring. The book includes a dynamite list of recommended "kid lit" that helps parents and teachers find the books that students really like to read.

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Review

[Starred review] Miller, a sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher and blogger, has enabled students of many different backgrounds to enjoy reading and to be good at it; her students regularly score high on the Texas standardized tests. Her approach is simple yet provocative: affirm the reader in every student, allow students to choose their own books, carve out extra reading time, model authentic reading behaviors, discard timeworn reading assignments such as book reports and comprehension worksheets, and develop a classroom library filled with high-interest books. Her students regularly read more than 40 books in a school year and leave her classroom with an appreciation and love of books and reading. Miller provides many tips for teachers and parents and includes a useful list of ultimate reading suggestions picked by her students. This outstanding contribution to the literature is highly recommended for teachers, parents, and others serving young students.—Mark Bay, Univ. of the Cumberlands Lib., Williamsburg, KY (Library Journal, March 15, 2009)

"Mrs. Miller's message was powerful, yet simple. She reminded educators of the simplest way to foster a love for reading: let students read for fun without asking for a book report when they are done." (The Examiner, November 4, 2009)

From the Back Cover

". . . a primer of the heart on how to make reading magical again."
Carol Ann Tomlinson

Donalyn Miller is a dedicated teacher who says she has yet to meet a child she couldn't turn into a reader. In The Book Whisperer, Miller takes us inside her 6th grade classroom to reveal the secrets of her powerful but unusual instructional approach. Rejecting book reports, comprehension worksheets, and other aspects of conventional instruction, Miller embraces giving students an individual choice in what they read combined with a program for independent reading. She also focuses on building a classroom library of high-interest books, and above all on modeling appropriate and authentic reading behaviors. Her zeal for reading is infectious and inspiring, and the results speak for themselves. No matter how far behind Miller's students may be when they start out, they end up reading an average of 40 books per year, achieve high scores on standardized tests, and internalize a love for reading that lasts long after they've left her class.

Travel alongside the author as she leads her students to discover the ample rewards of reading and literature. Brought to life with Miller's passionate voice, The Book Whisperer will help teachers support students of all levels on their path to reading success. It also includes an invaluable list of books that Miller's students most enjoy reading.

"Miller's new book, The Book Whisperer, is a breath of fresh air. Powerful and practical, this book will support you as you change your classroom for the better while helping you to understand how to overcome current classroom cultures where some children learn and many learn to hate reading."
Richard L. Allington, Ph.D., University of Tennessee

"In The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller deftly describes the inherent need children have to engage with books, intellectually and emotionally. The book is a timely and rare gift for teachers."
Ellin Oliver Keene, author and consultant

"This book reminds anyone—who is lucky enough to have loved a book—what classrooms and kids have lost in our frenzy to 'cover' content and standardize student performance in the name of reading. This is a primer of the heart on how to make reading magical again."
Carol Ann Tomlinson, William Clay Parish, Jr. Professor of Education, University of Virginia


Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Practical and Perfect Dec 29 2010
Format:Paperback
Don't believe you can teach an old dog new tricks? I am happy to report that you can. I am now in my twenty-first year of teaching, and Donalyn Miller's THE BOOK WHISPERER has completely changed how I structure my Language Arts classes. My students love reading their own books rather than completing worksheets and responding to teacher-generated questions. Who would have guessed!! I have never felt so connected to my students in regards to their reading. We discuss books, we share books, we recommend books. I especially love answering their Response Letters. My classroom has become a community of readers. I have been spending my own money adding to my classroom library, and it is worth every cent. Miller's book needs to be in the hands of every Language Arts teacher.
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5.0 out of 5 stars teacher librarians....you need this book Aug. 3 2010
Format:Paperback
Finally a book that backs up its theories with actual usable suggestions.
I loved the survey ideas and setting a goal for kids to read so many books in the year.
We desperately need all the help we can get when it comes to getting/ keeping kids reading... this book is an excellent start
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  231 reviews
117 of 119 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In Less Than a Week, I Became a Book Whisperer, Too March 14 2009
By paisleymonsoon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
How do you awaken the inner reader in someone? You teach them to read for pleasure. It sounds like such a simple concept really. Forcing spinach down a kid's throat doesn't make a kid love spinach any more than forcing boring books down a kid's throat. But serving that spinach in a souffle and giving a kid a book that they enjoy just might work.

The author pulled me in from the beginning by being a reflection of what I'd like to see myself be as a literature teacher. Mainly, she's able to turn non-readers into readers and to turn book loathers into book lovers. Her 6th grade class is challenged to read 40 books each year and most go even beyond that goal. But I work with adult ESL students in an American literature class. Could her methods work for them as well? In one week, I've already noticed an excitement from my book loathers when I announce that it's time for pleasure reading in class. They know that if they don't like something, they're not going to be forced to read it for "pleasure". And that seems to make all the difference to them.

I felt the need to underline passages and write in the margins of this book (a rarity for me) as I read. Miller talks about how important it is that students read to become good readers. This is why she feels so strongly about giving free reading time in class. She also feels that teachers should re-evaluate class activities to determine whether such activities are accomplishing anything or are mere busy work that could be replaced by reading time. She also expresses the importance of reading leading to private dialogue or "whispering" between student and teacher and between student and student. This whispering can be accomplished through letters back and forth between student and teacher and from individual student-teacher conferences. It can also be accomplished through book reviews and class projects like book commercials.

Miller seems to have reached many of the same conclusions I've reached within the past couple of years. For example, I recently added a class library from among my own books and let students choose their own novel to read rather than reading a group novel. However, many of the things I've felt haven't been working for my class but have had no solution to are things Miller was able to find a solution for. For example, she gives alternative ideas to students stumbling over reading aloud in class round-robin-style. And she discusses alternatives to reading logs which students aren't likely to keep up with. I also added many of her beginning-of-the-year interest survey questions to the survey I had been using to give me a deeper insight into my students' minds.

I'm excited by the possibilities this book has offered me for the teaching of my class. I feel that every reading and literature teacher should take the time to read this book. I think that any open-minded, book-loving reading teacher with enough time can use the strategies in this book to help their students develop a genuine love for reading.
59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every educator should read this book! March 1 2009
By L. K. Messner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Donalyn Miller gets it. She understands perfectly why many of our kids don't like reading any more, and she has the answer. You'd think Congress would be knocking down her door by now. Let's hope it happens soon.

In the mean time, anyone who considers himself or herself a teacher needs to read THE BOOK WHISPERER. It's a book that gets right to the heart of what makes us readers and how to instill that love of words and stories in our kids. Miller goes right after so-called "tried and true" methods like comprehension tests, book reports, whole class required novels, and test preparation workbooks not just with empty criticism but with solid research that supports reading time and student choice. More importantly, she provides a healthy list of more kid-friendly, reading-friendly alternative strategies that teachers can use in their classrooms right away.

Truly, this book is a model for getting kids back to books they love, and it provides a great model for classroom teachers to follow. For those who aren't sure where to start, there are plenty of anecdotes, sample student interactions, and useful classroom forms to get new teachers started.

I'm both a children's author and a National Board Certified middle school English teacher, and I found myself nodding my way through these pages to the very end. Miller's ideas -- and they're ideas that smart teachers all over our country are using in various ways -- have the power to make a real difference in education.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiration to get those kids reading! March 15 2009
By Stephen Richmond - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Books are criticized all the time for what they lack. Even prolific and enormously successful J. K. Rowling has been bashed for everything from selling out to commercialization to satanism and devil worship. How gratifying to find in this tight book lots of reasons kids should be reading and lots of ways to get them to do so. Miller's approach is a bit different. She wildly embraces the concept of kids making their own reading choices and reading independently. No moronic worksheets for comprehension or cribbed book reports here, just lots of suggestions for the classroom library and lots of ways for kids to talk about their choices intelligently to adults and especially to other kids, spreading the word quite literally. Courageously, Miller even admits to developing her classroom library entirely at her own expense and invites others to do so as well. She says it's really the only way to create a sufficiently extensive library with ever shrinking school budgets and shrunken head administrators who are more interested in competency testing scores than in children learning to read. She also provides some inexpensive and even free methods of acquiring books. This is great stuff, highly recommended, and THE reading inspiration book for this genreration.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great advice for the elementary teacher April 26 2009
By CGScammell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Donalyn Miller's passion for reading is quite obvious when reading this book. She reminds me of myself: I am an avid reader who carries a book wherever I go just in case I can "steal" a few minutes reading while waiting for an appointment, a traffic jam to unwind, etc.

She also loves being a teacher. She loves her job, respects her students and shares her love for books and reads with her students. She learns her students' personal reading preferences by making them fill out surveys at the start of the school year. Those who don't like to read learn to love to read by the end of the school year.

Her tips make a lot of sense. She suggests the reading teacher do the following: develop a personal library, create reading workshops, initiate book groups, allow students to read books they enjoy and don't demand book reports, have a reading corner with comfortable furniture available, and give the students some empowerment by working with their personal reading interests. If a student can read at least 30 minutes a day then the student is on its way on becoming a book whisperer.

One good tip for teachers: read more children's books and take recommendations from your students on what you should read.

According to Miller, there are three types of readers: the Developing reader, the Dormant (reluctant) reader and the Underground (gifted) reader. All can overcome their hesitance to read if teachers allow them to choose their own books to read. Her class day starts every day with fifteen minutes of "Independent Reading" where students can read whatever they want, a book, a magazine, a picture book, silently. If a book doesn't interest them after a few minutes, they can try another book. If they want to read an old favorite they have already read, they can read it again. She is there to mentor the students. And she reads in class as well, to be a role model.

Although the students chose the books they want to read, Miller does have a few requirements that they must follow: of the 40 book requirement, five must be poetry anthologies, five must be traditional literature, five must be realistic fiction, another five historical fiction, four must be fantasy, two must be science fiction, two must be mysteries, four must be informational, two must be autobiographical, and nine must be chapter-book choices. She then discusses various genres and lets the students define the individual terms. This is how she adheres to her state's required curriculum standards.

What works for Miller is that she also teaches social studies. If her class is studying a time such as World War II, she suggests reading books that deal with that war. This helps students become more engaged in all aspects of literature and history.

But there is more to just silent, independent reading. Instead of dreaded book reports (She prefers book reviews); she has her students discuss the books they have read. She discusses genre, writing styles, themes, content. (Is there a book she hasn't read?) Students are also required to maintain a reading notebook journal.

All these tips make sense, but my question as an educator is how can these tips work for the middle and especially the high school student? I taught six grade once and the students were still in love with reading, but a few grades later, plagued with hormonal overdrive, reading got replaced with texting, iPoding, and emailing.

One thing that is crucial to implementing Donalyn's strategies is having a principal and a school district that will support these reading endeavors. Yes, reading what one enjoys reading does develop a stronger reader and a more compassionate and civic-minded citizen, but this is harder to implement when most class hours are 60 minutes or less. In Miller's instance, classes were 90 minutes long; long enough to have independent reading before marching on to other requirements.

My two questions, however, didn't get answered. Can a teacher make a student who has poor English comprehension, become an avid reader in an English-speaking classroom? And how can we get teenagers in high school to learn to love reading?

No doubt Miller is an excellent teacher and her school should be proud of her, but I go away from this book resigned to the fact that her style and her advice are best for elementary school teachers. For someone like me who deals mostly with high school kids, this book is not quite helpful enough.

Still, her book was a great read. Her love for her students is very obvious.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for teachers and parents March 26 2009
By Elizabeth Barry - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This book by a Texas sixth grade teacher confirms what I've long believed, as a teacher myself: that books are way under-rated. I tutor students from first grade to college, and I consistently find that students don't read enough real books for pleasure, usually. The ones who do become the good students, and they usually read outside of class, on their own time. Many students' lives are so crowded with busy work--a.k.a. homework--that they don't have time to sink into a great book and read for long periods of time.

It's amazing how teachers whose job it is to teach reading don't actually use real books to teach reading: they use interminable worksheets, exercises, vocabulary drills, reading primers, anything but a real book. Recently I was tutoring a first grader who is slightly behind in his reading skills. His mother is very worried. All I did was show him a book that emerging readers love: Bears on Wheels. Pretty soon he could read that book. Then he read Hop on Pop. He was so excited! I had told him that the books were library books. After our tutoring session, he ran up to me in the parking lot and said, "Shannon! How much do those library books cost?" Imagine my pleasure in telling him that they were completely free.

I was surprised, though, that he had not been to a public library yet. It seems that many parents don't avail themselves of this wonderful free resource. But teaching a child to read is not rocket science: all it takes is a pile of picture books, a lap, and some time. Yes, phonics is important; but it's a means to an end, not an end in itself. The end is reading pleasure.

Ms. Miller requires her sixth graders to read forty books during the school year. And they do! One secret to her success is simply having a lot of books in her classroom: two thousand to be precise. These are her own books, and she can loan them as she likes to students. She has an index card system for tracking who has the books, but she doesn't worry about it too much. Also, she doesn't make them do book reports, vocabulary quizzes about the books, etc. They keep a notebook on their responses to the books they are reading, and they voluntarily do "book commercials" where they tell the class about a book that they loved.

She does not have the class read a book together, with everybody reading the same novel, as most English teachers do. But she does read aloud to her students, so there are certain books that they all are following and can discuss together.

In this way, she establishes in her students a habit of reading, which she hopes will last a lifetime. The results are impressive: students who have repeatedly done poorly on standardized tests start to do well on these tests for the first time. It turns out that endless test-taking drills are not nearly as effective in raising test scores as simply letting students read for pleasure.

I wish more teachers would throw away their worksheets and book report assignments, and just let students read, and read, and read.
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