Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Over the course of my vocation as teacher librarian I've been asked repeatedly why I choose to follow this path.  My reply has never changed in all these years; I love people and reading.  I've lived the reading life.  I know how your world can grow in astonishing and unexpected ways through reading.  I truly believe in the power of the written word.

It has been and will continue to be my greatest desire to connect as many of my students and staffs to exactly what they need when they need it.  There's an energy in the air when the perfect connection is made between a reader and a book.  When I read The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller, I knew this extraordinary woman was a kindred spirit.

Last March at the Michigan Reading Association Annual Conference in Grand Rapids, I was fortunate to not only attend her session but to converse with her and other members of the Nerdy Book Club.  Meeting Donalyn causes you to realize her passion for books, reading and people is written into the pages of her books; a very personal conversation is taking place as if you are together in real time.  Two days ago the companion title, Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits, by Donalyn Miller with Susan Kelley was released into the world.  Beginning to read Wild it quickly became apparent my decision to purchase not one but two packs of Post-It flags was a good one.

In the introduction, like the master teacher she is, she explains the reason for this companion volume.  It's not enough for our students to be avid readers in our classrooms; they need to see the importance of reading for the rest of their lives.  Reading should be as normal as breathing.

Adults who consider themselves readers vote in elections, volunteer for charities, and support the arts in greater numbers than their peers who read less.  Clearly, developing life-long reading habits matters not only to the individual but to society in general.  We all benefit when more people read.

To that end Donalyn and Susie conducted a Wild Reader Survey pinpointing characteristics held in common by this group. A chapter is dedicated to each of these five:
  • Dedicate time to read
  • Self-select reading material
  • Share books and reading with other readers
  • Have reading plans and
  • Show preferences for genres, authors, and topics.
Wanting her readers to understand every aspect of their endeavors, minilessons on readings habits, necessary conferring points and the parts of their students' reader's notebooks are the anchors at the chapters' ends.

During daily reading time, our students practice more than their reading skills, they practice living like readers.  Reading together, swapping books, sharing observations and recommendations, and developing reading relationships help students approximate wild reading behaviors. This is why reading time at school really matters.

What it means to be reading on the edge, reading emergencies, binge reading, and completing a reading itinerary are high points of the first stop on our wild reading journey.  If you have students who tend to fake read or avoid reading, a meaningful discussion addresses this concern.  Several components of the reader's notebook are shared as are ideas for implementing a good workshop schedule; one which works best for you and your students.

When students select their own books to read and enjoy, they develop confidence in their abilities to make reading choices and build their capacity for choosing books in the future.  If a book choice doesn't work out, students can fine-tune their book-selecting skills and reflect on what they will do different next time. 

Twelve possible sources for finding the right books used by wild readers are listed and explained first.  Guidance is offered on all the ins and outs of making read alouds the best possible experience for your students.  Her section on Creating Book Buzz is spot-on as is creating preview stacks for our readers. Do you have students who wish to abandon books?  Donalyn weighs in on this topic.  Several pages are devoted to building and maintaining your classroom library.

I want my students to remember our classroom as a home that they may leave, but it will never leave them.  They are forever mine, and I am forever their teacher. ...
What my students need to learn is important, but the conditions that allow learning to happen concern me more. ...
This process of reflection, selection, and suggestion defines authentic reading response in the truest sense. ...
"It's important to have other readers to talk to because if you were the only reader, and no one else talked---the book, the emotions, the characters, would remain secret."---Abby, sixth grader

In this chapter if you put your ear close to the pages, I believe you will hear the beat of a heart.  Pride not embarrassment in being a reader, getting the word out to parents to enlist their help in fostering a love of reading, and the benefits of reading communities are addressed in detail.  The means used by readers to connect to other readers, sharing titles online or as a lead reader, are described, providing links when needed.  Book titles that promote beginning-of-the-year book communities, reading doors, reading graffiti, and book commercials are offered to enhance the bonding.  The importance and structure of conferring closes this section.

Planning for future reading provides students with direction and purpose, reinforcing that they are readers today and will still be readers tomorrow.

As wild readers, we know the value of having stacks of books ready to read, keeping to-read lists, reserving books at the library, pre-ordering books prior to their release date and using award lists but we need to pass on this habit to our students.  Donalyn shares how she and her students talk about their book titles to read over vacations and the ensuing conversations when the breaks are over.  She speaks about the need to encourage our students to take the plunge in accepting challenges such as The Newbery Challenge, Book-A-Day Challenge and Book Gap Challenge or goals for summer reading; giving reasons and ideas for each.  Readers will relish her pages on establishing our personal canons.

Expressed preferences reveal a lot about students' reading experiences and book knowledge and provide us with information about whether students have read much in the past, but preferences are not always informed opinions.  True preferences cone from wide reading and lots of positive encounters with books. Sometimes students' stated preferences reveal they haven't read much.

Various types of preferences including rereading favorite books considered with a focus on the value of graphic novels.  We all have genres we tend to avoid but Donalyn articulates the necessity of reading biographies, historical fiction and nonfiction in general.  She lists six specific habits of readers and how to assess the extent of those habits in our students.

 Four pages close this title, the story of a student, a wild reader.

What sets the writing of Donalyn Miller, this book, apart from others is her approach to the topic.  It's straight from the heart backed by experience, best practice and research.  She chats about her reading family at home; sharing personal anecdotes.  Sidebars feature statements by participants in the Wild Reader Survey and students.  Real stories about her classroom experiences support every chapter.

At the book's end are appendices including Reader's Notebook Sheets, Reading Habits Reflections, Reading Habits Assessments, Habits Surveys, and Students' Favorite Titles and Series.  References, Acknowledgements and an Index end the book.

 Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller with Susan Kelley should and will be your go-to book for lighting and maintaining a reading fire within your students' hearts.  It will help keep the flame burning for the rest of their lives.  Much as she does with her students, Donalyn sets us free, knowing we've learned well.

On Monday Dr. Teri S. Lesesne, Professor Nana, began the tour with a post here.  It continued with a post by John Schumacher, Mr. Schu, at Watch. Connect. Read. yesterday premiering the book trailer.

1 comment:

  1. The Book Depository just emailed me to say they have just posted me my copy. So looking forward to reading it.