Taken from a painting of Kapiti Island at Sunset.
by Sonia Savage.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Book Whisperer.

I have just finished reading this excellent book by Donalyn Miller.  I found it easy reading, and was through it in a couple of days.  However I am now intending to do a re-read and gather up what I missed in the first reading.


 I grew up in the'50s where I was forever scrounging and seeking out books that weren't there. No town or school library, and a meager class library. Oh to have been in such a classroom as D Millers. She believes that students should have plenty of books available to them to read, and that they should be of their own choosing.  She also believes that this type of reading can be done during the school day. Now that kind of thinking is not foreign to me, New Zealand schools have long been places where we could choose the materials we teach with.  We have no prescribed basal readers or course that we have to follow. Just standards our students must reach. During my teaching career students have always chosen their own books to read in class.  This said, D Miller is advocating more than that, and that is where I found her book helpful.

I have recently become aware of the Daily Five and Café books by the sisters Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, and have implemented their ideas as well as I can. Of course as always, it was a fine tuning of my teaching rather than a radical shift, especially with the Café book.  However the Daily Five did involve some small radical changes – throwing out many desks for one!  The Book Whisperer calls for more fine tuning, and it challenges me as well.

Daily Five is working well, its magic, as all of we teachers who have implemented it can attest to.  In spite of this I still had a query in my mind as to the accountability of students in their reading.  The Book Whisperer answers this question for me.  If you are wondering about it then read the book, like me you will find answers.

I admit I have never been a great reader of children's literature, I enjoy the books I read to my class and there it stops. I now realise I need to read more of them, so I am starting with a goal of one per week. I have just grabbed from our school library Inkheart by  Cornelia Funke. D Miller mentions it in her book; also one of my reluctant girl readers mentioned it yesterday as a favourite book for her.  As this year has been a year of difficulty for me in trying to hook in some girls to reading, I thought this is a good place for me to start.

Some main points that I take from this book are:
·        The students need a wide variety of books to choose from – as each student will have differing tastes.  D Miller has her own vast class library that she has paid for.  I don’t have the time to build that library – I retire in a few years – however I have some books in our class library, we have a good school library, we visit as a class the local district library once a fortnight and we can loan 30 books from our National library for a 6 week time period. 
·        She has a very good system for organising her class books. She does this according to genre and has a system of stickers and numbers that easily allow for additional books with no changing around of the books already there.  I am going to organise the books I do have in the way she describes. It might not be until the summer break, but I will do it.
·        She has  high expectations for her students.  She sets the goal at the beginning of the year for the students to read 40 books.  Read that is! She allows that a reader will pick up a book and not like it and its okay to discard. ( I notice on Goodreads she has her own shelf for such discards.) Next term, is going to be short, I think I will set 7 -8 books for my class. In February as we begin our school year, it will be 40.
·        She has an effective system of accountability.  She has her students use a reader’s notebook and has a simple way of recording what they read.  I like this and I am going to implement it next term.  Once a week they write her a letter type response to the book they are reading and she replies to this. I need to explore that further in my second reread of the book.
·        She reads many children’s books so that she can match a student to a book.  I am sure that’s not the only reason she reads them, she is obviously a booklover full stop!  For me this is the most challenging aspect.  I am a booklover too, but prefer to read what I like in my own time.  As a result of reading this book though, I am going to change that, as I mentioned above.
I highly recommend this book to all teachers, and as one teacher on Twitter suggests, all administrators!


  1. Hi Kathryn,

    Thanks for the review, I've just requested a copy from the Auckland Central Library. I'm thinking of implementing the daily 5 in my literacy programme next year depending on how much leeway I get.


  2. Stephanie
    Whether you are able to implement Daily 5 or not next year, I think you will find this book useful, especially the Yr 7/8 age group. If you track her internet presence you will find she has many suggestions for books. However we need to remember our many outstanding NZ authors and include them too.


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