Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

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

Rating: 5 sister

My big sister once suggested to me that I read parenting books and summarize them, so to save parents the time of reading the whole book but give them the invaluable stuff of what's between the covers.  This is my first attempt at doing that...

Donalyn Miller is "the book whisperer."  She's not an expert according to degrees on her walls; she is an expert according to the students she's taught, encouraged, and inspired. And although I'm not a reading or Language Arts teacher for middle school students like most of the readers of The Book Whisperer, I am a reading mom--a reading mom with a children's book blog. So, I thought I might have something to learn. I thought right!

I kept a running list of things that we parents can do to get our younger children off to the right start at home before school even starts and also augment the "reading is great!" message that is (hopefully) being preached at school.

Here are lessons from her book for us parents of younger children:

1. Independent reading time is crucial! Give them time to read. 

Make time for reading, when most other things aren't available to your young child. At our house we have Quiet Time, just 30 minutes in the afternoon when we all take a break from each other and read in our rooms. Of course the kids often do things other than read--Ben likes to look at and reorganize his baseball card collection, and Lorelei will often engage in some artsy thing--but mostly I suggest they take up a pile of books and read them. And, mostly, that's what they do.

2. Let kids choose their own books. 

From time to time in the library I hear moms say "Let me choose the books. You know I choose good ones for you!" That makes me sad if the kids are told to sit on the sofa and not touch anything. But I believe in doing a mix of both--your library bag should be a combination of what you think they want or need and what they want. Go to the library and enjoy saying "YES!" for a whole hour (or seven minutes if you've got any kid under two years old)--because books are free and 50 is the limit (at least here in Fairfax County). Have them ask the librarians for help!

3. Validate their choices. 

This is an extension of #3, but very important to remember and DO. Read the books that they chose, even if it's the 300th time you've read it. Ask them why they like a book. Pick up a book that they chose from their school's library and express interest. Stop what you're doing to sit and read it. If you have a grade school child, ask them what their favorite book has been and then read that book. Like, right now. Validating their choices make them more confident in their choices--both as readers and as humans.

4. Read yourself! Be a reading role model. 

Parents can definitely do this, too!
Be excited about books! Enthusiasm is contagious. Tell them what you're reading, and read aloud interesting bits. Ask them what they're reading, and invite them to read funny or interesting or heart-pulling segments to you. Share with them your favorite books from childhood, and ask their aunts and uncles and grandparents and sitters to become part of this reading community if they are not already.

5. Read with them. 

Of course, the readers of the world go to college more often than not and get higher grades and score higher on all the tests out there. Well, that's great and all, but I love that reading has given me a great way to communicate with my children today. We have jokes from board books that we've read again and again, ways we remember things and reference points for life. Our relationship is deeper because of it, and I really do think books will help me through some of the angst-filled years that are ahead of us because we'll have something to talk about besides ourselves. (Or, we'll have a way of talking about ourselves in code.)

Other than these great take-aways and lots of insightful anecdotes, she points to five useful books and websites to encourage reading.  I'll share them with you (they're on page 116 of her book). Click on them for a link:

With the exception of Jen Robinson's Book Page, most of these websites and books are for older readers, but they are good to know about.

There you go!  No need to read the book...unless you're like me, and you just kinda sorta want to...!

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