The Book Whisperer…

While subbing in one of my favorite departments at MCA, Directed Studies, I had the pleasure of reading a book by Donalyn Miller called The Book Whisperer.

Donalyn advocates that children should be allowed to read books of their own choosing.  In her 8th grade public school classroom she expects her students to read 40 books each by the end of the year!  Most end up reading more!

The only requirement she has is that they also dabble in genres they wouldn’t normally read.  A student, for example, could read mostly science fiction as long as she scattered some poetry, historical romance, fiction, foreign literature or classics onto her list.

As homeschoolers I led the charge into the fabulously diverse world of the written word.  I encouraged  independent reading and audio books as well as family read-alouds.  We could have up to eight or ten books on the go at any given time as we included whole books in our curriculum.  The library was our favorite place to go and compiling the lists of books read by each child at the end of the year was the highlight of our re-cap.

40 books each was no big deal at all.

As a lifelong reader I was thrilled by this book!


The list of required reading books at schools is very dry to say the least and cannot possibly please every student.

Among the pages of difficult language and outmoded plots, friends, places, horrors, scares, adventures and travels get lost in the dreary mechanics of reading.

Titles like The Red Badge of Courage, Huckleberry Finn, Great Expectations and, dare I say it, The Merchant of Venice are tough going for even the most skilled reader and a thankless chore for those who struggle.

None of these books that have to be picked apart and analyzed show up on standardised tests…

Random paragraphs are used to measure understanding.

It really doesn’t make sense to me to choose a handful of stuffy books to be read across America and leave hundreds of thousands of books on the shelves unread by hundreds of thousands of children who need to be enticed into literacy.

When I was at school I instinctively baulked at anything that was required…and our O and A levels were based on these required books.  Because of this I read them begrudgingly; I had to.

I was forever grateful that my preferred literature, anything by Hardy, Zola, Tolstoy, Faulkner and Christie never made it to the Oxford/Cambridge Board of Examiner’s list and I could soar and wallow in all the angst and excitement I wanted to!


Did you notice that left to my own devices my choices weren’t shabby at all?  Donalyn Miller believes, as I proved when I was growing up, that given unlimited access to age appropriate books and left to choose what interests them, children will become fluent readers and lovers of books.

I left a note for the head of Directed Studies,

“Are you going to introduce this marvelous idea to your students?”

to which she replied,


She won’t regret it!

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