The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller, sixth grade language arts and social studies teacher at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School in Keller, Texas.

Ms. Keller’s thesis can be summarized in two sentences: To make children into lifelong readers, surround them with books and let them read whatever they want to read. Treat them like readers, and they will become readers.

I’ve been following this plan in our homeschool for about twenty-five years now, with mixed results. Most of my eight children are readers. Several of them are voracious readers, the kind I am and the sort Ms. Miller describes herself as:

“I am a reader, a flashlight-under-the-covers, carries-a-book-everywhere-I-go, don’t-look-at-my-Amazon-bill reader. I choose purses based on whether I can cram a paperback into them, and my books are the first items I pack into a suitcase. I am the person whom family and friends call when they need a book recommendation or cannot remember who wrote Heidi. (It was Johanna Spyri.)”

However, even with all this reading environment and encouragement and, yes, pressure, I have one child who does not see herself as a reader (she reads, just says she hates to read) and another who has quit reading for pleasure for the last two or three years at least. Unfortunately, Ms. Miller’s book gave me very few ideas about how to re-awaken the love of reading in my son or how to instill a love for reading in my daughter. I already let them read pretty much anything they want to read. I already suggest books for them, buy books for them, borrow books for them, encourage them to read about subjects they love, and show them daily how much reading means to me by reading as much as I can, anywhere I can. Our house is full of good books.

The Book Whisperer is a very public school, teacher-ish, kind of book, but it is a good resource for teachers of reading in school settings. It did spark a couple of ideas in this homeschool mom mind of mine: I could have a time (half an hour? an hour?) each day when we participate in ye olde public school D.E.A.R (Drop Everything and READ). I could require them to read 40 books for the school year (a requirement Ms. Miller has for her sixth graders) and see what happens. I could keep giving my daughter piles of books that I think she might like until she finds one she loves. It hasn’t worked yet, but it might still click one day.

2 thoughts on “The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

  1. I’m not sure it’s all environment or a certain “formula”. My kids are young so I’m not sure if they will all end up as readers or not but I think there is at least some amount of personality/predisposition involved in whether or not you are a Reader with a capital R. My husband is not really a reader. He has read widely and is well-educated and does still read a bit for pleasure. But he’s much more likely in his free time to do something creative or artistic, to work on photography, to build something or to do something outdoors or physical. I used to listen to reports of adults who only read less than 5 books a year and shake my head at the horror but then I realized that H. probably reads only about 5-10 at the most. I feel like with my own kids that I can model a reading life, share my own love of books with them and surround them with good literature but I’m not sure I can make them love reading like I do.

  2. Sherry, I can identify with you. We did everything the books told us to do (surrounded our kids with books, didn’t watch TV, read together for hours, etc.), but we have two who love to read and two who don’t. I seem to remember that my two brothers weren’t avid readers until they became adults (as boys their priority was sports) so there is still hope.

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