Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller

Happy Summer!  Please accept my apology for not posting sooner.  Donalyn will soon be speaking to us at the Nov. CRA PDI in Visalia and I can't wait.  Hope to see you there!

Let's get busy reading and blogging to prepare for PDI & our new school year!
Lynn Gurnee,
Past CRA President

Chapter 3:  “There’s a Time and a Place”
Donalyn tells her students reading is not an add-on but the cornerstone of her class time.  She says, “How can we not make time for reading?  Your thoughts?  Here’s some how-to tips:
  •      When you are interrupted by the phone or visitor dropping into class, train kids to get out independent reading books. Also at picture day & in library!  Set goals for library use for when you line up to go and when you get there to make best use of time.  Her kids try to steal time to read & suggested a Ziploc bag for reading during showering!  Ha! That’s a keeper for “kids say darnedest things, eh?”
  •       Students read when work’s finished- if they rush so they can read- great says Donalyn…what do you say?
  •        In her section on creating a place for reading – make it comfortable!  Wish I had Donalyn for a teacher growing up… what about you?
  •       In her section on quiet please except teacher who can be softly conferring.  Your thoughts?

Chapter 4:  Reading Freedom
What do you think about Pennac’s “10 Rights of the Reader?”  (2006)  The right to…  not read, skip pages, not finish, reread, read anything, escapism, read anywhere, browse, read out loud, and not defend your tastes.

Did you enjoy student Jon’s comment. “I think the requirements (40 books) are understandable because if we didn’t have a requirement. Then people like me would read one book for the whole year?” 

Student Rachel liked the variety of books required:  5 poetry, 5 lit., 5 realistic fiction, 2 historical fiction, 4 fantasy, 2 sci. fic., 2 mystery at the request of students, 4 informational, 2 biog, auto-biog., or memoir, and 9 chpt. Books of students’ choice and Alex learned he likes realistic fiction as he used to only read fantasy. And Molly, a picky reader, said she can’t force herself to read a wide variety and liked having the wide selection.  Did these kids convince you to think about these requirements?

Donalyn concentrates on supporting reading, not requirements by…
  •             validating choices:  Who cares if Captain Underpants is a favorite if it encourages reading more, would you agree? (favorites on p. 88 for gr. 4-6)
  •        introducing authors through read alouds
  •        building BG for genres
  •        conferring and meeting students where they are
  •        encouraging notes for genres in Readers’ Notebooks ( based on Fountas/ Pinnell Guiding Readers and Writers Gr. 3-6) with these sections:

Tally & Reading Lists, Books to read Lists, and Response Entries like a letter to author or a letter to a classmate or to teacher.  Are you familiar with Fountas/ Pinnell  book?

Chapter 5:  Walking the Walk
Oh man, wasn’t Parker’s comment priceless…”I feel bad about all those good books out there waiting for me to read them?”  Donalyn writes about the need for reading role models and how to lead the way with modeling and practice.  Her self-reflection activity on p. 111 helps…check it out!
  •      What were your childhood reading experiences?  Positive or negative?
  •       Do you see yourself as a reader now?  How do you share these with students?
  •       Who do you identify with?  (underground, dormant or developing readers)?
  •            Who has been your reading role models?
  •            List last 5 books you read and how long it took to read them?
  •       What was read for professional reasons and what for pleasure?

Did you find Donalyn’s plan helpful?  (Fake it ‘til you make it).
  •      Choose interesting books
  •            Read more children’s books
  •      Take recommendations from students
  •             Investigate recommendations from industry resources like
  •       Reflect on what you’re reading & share
  •             Inspiring others happens when you’re inspired

Chapter 6:  Cutting the Teacher Strings
Donalyn talks about rethinking the class novel and teaching readers, not books.  Your thoughts on these ideas on how to do this?
  • Select a theme, concept or standard children are expected to know & gather wide range of text for book groups
  • Use short stories, excerpts or poems to teach literary elements or reading skills & ask students to apply their understanding to independent books
  • Teach test prep as a reading skill
  • Teach reading as a genre

    What do you think about Donalyn’s idea of ditching book reports & formal book talks for book commercials & reviews?  Simple to check off who shared on class roster & more fun for you & the kids, would you agree?
  •       Do you have anything to add to the book review criteria of quotes from book & reviewers, cliffhanger questions, personal reactions, awards author has won, age level, other books by the author, & comparisons with other books?
  •       Do you use reading logs?  Did you like Donalyn’s alternative to round robin practice of oral reading of giving students a preview & practice time, paired reading, and tapes?
  •       What do you think about Donalyn’s whisper about E-O-Y Evaluation survey asking if they met their genre requirements and to explain?  Is this sufficient accountability?

Chapter 7:  Letting Go
  • Kids mimic what Donalyn teaches them with each other when they browse for books, but then the following year they can’t enjoy this style of teaching and have to be underground readers.  What do you think about this?
  • Can we ask peers to teach students to adopt attitudes and behaviors of best readers? 
  • Can we mimic their connection with books as they sat in their parents lap?
  • Donalyn wonders if you agree to keep students reading, we have to let them do it? 

What did you find helpful in the appendixes?  Do you have more needs than these?
Appendix A  The Care and Feeding of a Classroom Library
Appendix B  Ultimate Library List
Appendix C  Student Forms


  1. In chapter 3, the question of “How can we make time for reading?” and turning it around to say “How can we not?”, made me start thinking about how important it is for me to give my kindergarteners free reading time. Even though most of them are not able to read yet, they are able to tell stories from the pictures. This is a great way for them to practice their language skills and develop their vocabulary. If they pick a book that they want to read and tell me the story, it gives me an opportunity to work with them and help them develop reading skills in a comfortable non-structured way. Giving them the opportunity to look at books, even if they can’t read them also promotes observation and questioning skills. Donalyn also made me feel better about not needing to have a designated reading area. This is something I struggle with every August when I am setting up my room and rearranging things to make it flow better. I always have trouble making a big enough space for a reading area. Now, I feel like I can give them the whole room, as long as they are quiet enough for their classmates to work and others to read. That alone can be a challenge with kindergarteners. It will need to be a routine/procedure that we will need to work on from day one.

  2. In chapter 4, some of the ideas and topics in this chapter are geared more towards upper grades, but the idea of introducing a variety of genres to my kindergarteners is part of our ELA standard. It is exciting to begin exposing them to a variety of genres and helping them to discover their niche in the world of reading. I think that setting requirements for the students helps them to venture out of their comfort zone, and gives them something to be accountable to. I also think that although there are guidelines, so students may need to be looked at more individually. As she said, most importantly the goal is to foster a love for reading. What really struck me in this chapter was her story about Brandon. My son, also named Brandon, was much like the Brandon in her classroom. He didn’t show much interest in reading, and as I mentioned in an early blog, my husband began to spark some interest by recommending Where the Red Fern Grows. After reading this book we wanted to keep the interest going so I ordered The Hatchet from the Scholastic book order. He, like the Brandon in Donalyn’s class, was hooked. I think we own ever book that Gary Paulsen wrote. My son is now 21 and he still loves adventure books, and books about people and their animals. The fact that Donalyn works so hard to uniquely instill the love of reading in each of her students is truly a gift to each students that has ever passed through her classroom.

  3. chapter 5:Her reflection questions really made me think about myself as a reader. I used to love to read. I would stay up for hours reading because if I put the book down it was like turning off the t.v. in the middle of the best part of a movie. Over time I have read less and less. Usually during winter break or summer, but I have slacked off on that too. I couldn’t list the last five books that I have read for my pleasure. I read a lot of books to my kindergarteners, but I don’t take the time to be a reader myself. This chapter inspired me to get back at it and read at night like I used too. When I was getting my teaching credential, my favorite class was a multicultural children’s literature class. The class consisted of reading a variety of children’s books from different genres, and for different age levels. Some of the books were picked for us, and some we got to choose from lists in the genres. When I read her list of “Why you should read children’s books as an adult”, it took me back to that class and I could really related her list to my experience in that class.

  4. "I was disappointed to see that a student had a book that I had suggested she read, on her desk for what seemed like quite a while, and it appeared that she wasn't reading it. But then she said to me "Thank you for suggesting that I read this book; I really like it and am trying to make it last. It gave me a lot to think about." We then had a discussion about what she had read. It gave me a new perspective on "liking" books and helped me to see that different approaches might work better with certain students." Kryssie Mingst

  5. I used to be very committed to reading along with my students during SSR time to show them that I am a lifelong reader, and that it is not only something that I enjoy doing, but that it is important to me. I fell out of this habit as new pressures and requirements were placed on our school day, but I am going to make sure that I am reading my own book, with them, at least once a week. I think that shows a lifelong love and passion that can be contagious. I also like to share ideas and things I have read at home with my class and they are used to hearing me say "I was reading this book the other day and I read…" Kryssie Mongst

  6. Kryssie, thanks for sharing. Your comments gave me goosebumps. Yes, just tang time to talk to students is so important. Reading with them once a week is a great idea! Hearing all these thoughtful blog comments from teachers lets me know how lucky your students are to have you for their mentors in life.

  7. In my opinion, Chapter 4, "Reading Freedom" was the best chapter. The thoughts and ideas presented in this section of the book have really shifted my thinking.
    First, Donalyn gives us the example of a student who grumbles, "Books are boring." I loved her reaction, which validated the student's feelings although she didn't want to leave him hanging there. I know my reaction wouldn't have been as understanding as hers was. She teaches kids that there are so many great books so you don't need to let a boring one slow you down! Truly, giving kids CHOICE in what the read leads to a love of reading. Donalyn sets an expectation of 40 books read by her middle school students. I've been wondering what that could translate to for first graders and what that would look like? It's a good idea for me to mull over!