The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

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Stars: *****

Jossey-Bass (March 2009)
Adult Nonfiction
Education, Reading, Literature Study

This is one of the few books published in 2009 that wasn’t a review book. I actually picked this up at the library, obviously it was the title that caught my eye.

This book’s general audience is teachers and anyone else who teaches reading and a love of reading to children and so could include homeschoolers and parents in general. Although it is mostly for teachers, I learned a lot in this book. I’m probably not going to be able to homeschool like I’d planned but I do plan on doing what I can to supplement what my children learn at school when it comes to reading and I will be using what I learned in this book to do it. I must also add that I think every English class in every school around the world should change how they teach reading and literature to this way. Below I highlight some important and favourite sections.

Making Time for Reading. (emphasis mine)

“At first, this reading time is my mandate for them. They read because I tell them to. I want to instill in them the daily habit. Like brushing their teeth, reading is a responsibility that my students understand I expect them to assume. Yet time spent reading feeds more reading. The more my students read, the more they want to read.” – pg 50

It’s crazy how much teachers teach HOW to read and HOW to apply certain methods of understanding but little time is given to actually read.

“No matter how long students spend engaged in direct reading instruction, without time to apply what they learn in the context of real reading events, students will never build capacity as readers. Without spending increasingly longer periods of time reading, they won’t build endurance as readers, either. Students need time to read and time to be readers.” – pg 51

“The question can no longer be, ‘How can we make time for independent reading?’ The question must be ‘How can we not?'” – pg 51


I loved this section because I learned a bit more about genre distinctions and it made me think about how I’d classify books. The students keep a chart where they list usual characters, settings and rules of each genre.
I always have trouble explaining what a memoir is (autobiography that focuses on a specific time period in the author’s life.)

Reader’s Notebooks

I think this is a great idea and is similar to what I do with my blog here. The author (and teacher) holds regular conferences with the students to discuss where they are at in their reading (because each child is reading a different book.) This is done with the help of the reader’s notebook. They write response entries once a week and turn them in. The notebooks show the teacher if someone is finishing books or avoiding particular genres or having problems of any kind. The teacher writes a response back as well. The book also has a section for listing books read, a list of books they’d like to read (from recommendations or browsing) and keeps track of how many books from each genre they read.


In this following paragraph, the author is explaining how and why she lets students use their memory of movies they’ve seen to help them identify genres of books and stories and their characteristics:

“During this conversation, we have discussed scores of books and even some movies in order to provide evidence that supports our opinions. Students may not have had enough reading experiences to illustrate the genre discussion with book examples but they know stories. Basic story grammar is found in the movies and television shows that they watch too. Encouraging students to give examples based on knowledge they have, not just from books, prevents the avid readers from dominating all of the early discussions we have about books and shows students that I value what they do understand.” – pg 90

Now we talk about how books are traditionally studied in school:

“My student Skylar told me during a conference, ‘What makes reading painful is when it takes longer to do a reading worksheet about a book than to actually read a book.'” – pg 122

I can identify with that. I am one of the few who actually enjoyed reading in school, however, no matter how much I enjoyed the book after reading it, when we started “studying” it I disliked it more and more until I was beyond sick of it. I’ve since re-read some books from grade and high school and I like them now that I don’t need to do spelling words from them, write essays on their characters and find hidden meaning. I actually wrote a short blog post on required reading in school.
My Reviews: Lord of the Flies, Island of the Blue Dolphins, …

The Need for Reading Role Models (What I think is MOST important)

The author makes a good point I’d never thought of on my own. Who here has ever seen their English or Literature teacher reading? Are they readers? Do you know? Does it really make sense to be taught reading and literature from someone who barely reads themselves and even if they do and the students never see, how will they know?

“My credibility with students and the reason they trust me when I recommend books to them stems from the fact that I read every day of my life and that i talk about reading constantly. I am not mandating an activity for them that i do not engage in myself. I do not promote reading to my students because it is good for them or because it is required for school success. I advocate reading because it is enjoyable and enriching. When my students think about me in the future, I want them to remember me as a reader with a book in my hand and a recommendation on my lips.  – pg 106

Throughout the book we see that this is true. She recommends a book to a student and they try it out and like it. She knows books and she knows her students and she puts two and two together. The teacher and students spend actual time discussing books. There is no question if their teacher is a reader or not. Not only that but she also reads their books! Teacher borrows from student and occasionally student borrows from teacher. I think having a teacher who reads and talks openly about being a reader is VERY important.

Links of Interest: The Book Whisperer’s Blog, Donalyn Miller on Twitter Jen Robinson’s Book Page (children’s book blog mentioned in the book a few times)

Other Reviews: The Reading Zone, Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Book Chase, Once Upon a Time,

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About Kathleen

I've been a nonfiction lover for as long as I can remember. I love children's nonfiction as well and love to share my knowledge and the books I gained them from, with the world. I wish more people would give nonfiction a chance.