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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Book Whisperer, written by Donalyn MIller. Joosey-Bass, Wiley. 2009. $28.99 professional

"We have created a culture of reading poverty in which a vicious cycle of alliteracy has the potential to devolve into illiteracy for many students. By allowing students to pass through our classrooms without learning to love reading, we are creating adults (who then become parents and teachers) who don't read much."

My husband teased me all the time that the professional books I got most passionate about were the ones where I agreed wholeheartedly with the writer. I admitted then, and will admit to you today that he was absolutely right. I love reading books that I wish I had written, both books for children and adolescents and books for teachers.

Donalyn is an incurable reader, and has been for her whole life. Her love of reading has helped make her the person that she is today. It is what drives her teaching, and her life. She brings that obsession to her grade six classroom and creates a community of readers, hoping that their time with her will inspire them to be readers for life as she is.

Donalyn has always had high expectations for her teaching and her careful planning gave her confidence as she made her way to the classroom on that first day. She is quick to admit that 'my plans fell apart when my students showed up.' All too true; until we know the kids who will people our classrooms it's a tough task to plan for them. It is a powerful statement to make, but make it she will. We teach children, not curriculum. We need to know our students before we know what they need.

Donalyn Miller has yet to meet a child who hasn't become a reader in her classroom.  By the end of their sixth grade year with her, most have read 40 to 50 books! That is some legacy. And they come back year after year to talk to her about what they are reading, to borrow books and to spend time with someone who loves what they love. There are no drills and worksheets for her students, but there is always time to read. Her approach is not conventional but it gets amazing results. She helps students find the books that speak to their interests, their abilities and that will keep them reading beyond that first book.

Her writing style is very personal and offers 'whispers' that will help teachers wanting to change practice in their own classrooms. Her students provide an 'ultimate library list' to begin an enviable classroom library. In an appendix Donalyn gives advice on setting up that library to best suit both her needs and those of her students. She has much to offer.

If reading this book does not inspire you to take action and do what's best for kids, I cannot imagine what might do that.

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