“The Book Whisperer” by Donalyn Miller

Since my son was a baby, we’ve read books to him every day. Now that he is in Kindergarten, learning to write and staring on phonics, I look forward to the time that we can read books together. I was excited to read “The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child” (2009) by Donalyn Miller, which started as a blog by the same name on teachermagazine.org, hoping to learn tips and tricks to encourage my son to read.

Miller is a sixth grade language arts and social studies teacher at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School in Keller, Texas. Miller begins with her journey as a teacher, from compulsively crafted reading units to reading workshops to book frenzies and the 40-book challenge. She focuses on making her students life-long readers, not book reports or tests. She is a champion of free-choice reading and independent writing. She shows teachers how we can create readers.

“Students will read if we give them the books, the time, and the enthusiastic encouragement to do so” (page 177), Miller enthuses. 

I found myself nodding in agreement: Yes, that’s how I felt as a student, let me read what I want! Yes, I have a stack of to-be-read books! Yes, I jot down interesting book titles! Yes, I keep a reading journal!

Filled with anecdotes, student quotes, interest surveys, and reading strategies, “The Book Whisperer” is personal, warm, conversational, and passionate about reading. There are practical tips for teachers and a helpful index with a guide to creating a classroom library (buy your own books — then you can take them with you!), a recommended book list by students, and sample student surveys.

Though “The Book Whisperer” is written for teachers, Miller’s ideas can be used by parents to encourage reading at home. Here are 7 tips that we can all follow:

1. Challenge kids to read 40 books from various genres. It sets high expectations, ensures that they always have a book ready, and introduces them to a wide range of books.

2. Let kids choose their own books and share their past favorites.

3. Make time for independent reading every day – before school, waiting for the bus, and at home.

4. Let kids know that it’s okay to “cheat” by abandoning boring books, choosing short books, skipping pages, reading the end first, re-reading good books, and reading to escape.

5. Start reader’s notebooks, with reading lists, tally-lists, books-to-read lists, and response entries.

6. Be a role model. Show kids that you are enthusiastic about reading and share your love of books with them.

7. Read children’s books as an adult — it clues you in on popular culture, shows kids that you’re interested in them, and reveals their reading levels and interests.

Remember that reading is its own reward. Take advantage of reading incentive programs, but the knowledge and understanding that kids can find in books are the real prizes.

How can we encourage children to read? How can we become reading role models?

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