Are You a Book Whisperer? A Book Review

Welcome!  It's Lauren from Teacher Mom of 3 with you today to share some highlights and applications for one of my favorite professional books of all times, The Book Whisperer, by Donalyn Miller.  


 Many times over my career, teachers and administrators have viewed independent reading (read to self) as not "teaching" and something that students can do at home.  If an administrator walked into a classroom and students were reading silently, many  teachers would feel guilty.  Some admins expected that the students should be actively involved and engaged in a project or lesson; or they expected the teacher to be delivering whole or small group explicit instruction.  However, I have always felt as a teacher and literacy coach, that if I did not observe students reading independently during a 90-120 minute literacy block then something needed to change.  Like Miller, I suggest 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted independent reading daily in addition to other literacy frameworks you may use such as Daily 5, Guided Reading, etc.

Now, I am far, very far from being "Polly the perfect teacher".  When I was in the classroom if something had to give because of time restraints, I admit that it was usually my D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) time.  Although I felt guilty for doing so, I also felt that I needed to give my students time for direct instruction and small group time.  After reading The Book Whisperer, I know now more than ever that something that looks so simple is very, very important. And besides, I have always held the philosophy that students should be doing most of the work and talking in the classroom.  Independent reading fosters a student-centered climate, allows students to practice and apply reading skills and strategies, and promotes reading for enjoyment.

I'll begin with an overview of the book if you haven't read it and offer a review for those that have.  Then, I'll move on to some authentic applications for the classroom.


 The premise of this book is that to create passionate, life-long readers, teachers must create a learning environment that stimulates and nurtures independent reading. Independent reading is more than the ten or so minutes of D.E.A.R. time we try to squeeze into our literacy block. It is a restructuring of our literacy instruction to intentionally carve out as much time as possible to let kids read. As a side note, if you are a Reader’s Workshop fan or if your teaching has been inspired by the research of Nancie Atwell (In the Middle), you will adore this book!

For years, I have been using the research of Atwell, Allington, Wilhelm, Routman, et al, to support my plea for teachers to stop the barrage of worksheets, journal entries, quizzes, tests, and book reports for kids read. We don’t need to work kids to death when reading a book. We don’t need to develop a beautiful book or novel unit that is crammed with pages and pages of written work for students to complete. And, with the reading of The Book Whisperer, I have found yet another researcher and classroom teacher who begs us to change our ways, if in fact our goal is to motivate and create life-long readers and not just effective test-takers.  And that is the gist of this brilliant book- that our job as literacy teachers is not only to teach students how to read and how to read to learn, but to instill a love of reading in them that will last a lifetime.

Highlights and Take-Aways

  • Although this book is geared toward middle-level teachers (the author is a sixth grade ELA and Social Studies teacher), much  can be adapted for early and intermediate elementary grades.    
  • Miller explains and details how her students achieve her expectation that they read *40* books a year.  
  •  Miller cites researcher Stephen Krashen who identified fifty-one studies that “…prove that students in free-reading programs perform better than or equal to students in any other type of reading program” (p.3).

  • Students’ goal: read for pleasure, not to complete endless activities.  Let me clarify:  this does not mean that students never respond to their reading, complete vocabulary tasks, or are not held accountable for their reading, comprehension, and learning.  Miller delves deeply into this topic later on in the book including preparing students for state tests.
  • Implement a workshop approach to reading and writing that works for you and the needs of your students. 
  • Allow for individual choice of reading selections with expectations.

  • The classroom library is paramount and powerful if we are to guide our students toward developing and internalizing a love for reading. As for me, although I loved having a Smart Board in my classroom, I would rather have an extensive classroom library!  Miller suggests that schools invest in classroom libraries rather than expensive reading programs and professional development sessions.

  •  Listen to what students need instead of us teachers telling them what they need. Offer students choice in what they read and you have instant buy-in. Miller shares that self-selected books empower and encourage students, it develops self-confidence, and gives control- all in the name of independent learners.  Reading choices should not always be dictated by the teacher.  Gone are the days of everyone reading the same novel at the same time throughout the year.
  • Choosing not to read isn’t discussed and it is not an option.
  • View each student as a reader no matter their reading level.
  •   Students need to learn how to select books for themselves instead of being a passive learner and relying on the teacher.   

Classroom Applications

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  • On the first day of school have a “Book Frenzy”.  Let students select books from the classroom library for in-class and for reading at home.  Have an array of varying genres and themes and allow students to choose the books they are interested in reading.  And then, let them read!  As a result, you will set the tone that reading is prominent and this activity allows you to interact with students and get to know a little about them.  I can think of no other important activity such as this.  Discussing classroom rules and procedures can wait! 
  • Research shows that student choice is not only the number one motivator for reluctant male readers, but for all students. When students have the freedom to choose their own books, it empowers them, strengthens their self-confidence, rewards their interests, gives them control, and promotes a positive attitude about reading.  Miller mentions that she does not “micromanage” their reading choices and allows students to choose books that are too hard or too easy.  Why?  Because if readers have an invested interest in a book they will read it, and isn’t that the ultimate goal?  There will be plenty of time during the remainder of the school year to nudge students toward reading material that is more on their level or that you think they need to read to meet curricular standards.  However, Miller states, “Listen to what your students need- don’t tell them what you think they need to hear.”
  •  Show students that reading is fun and engaging. To accomplish this, allow students to make choices, to abandon books that are not appealing or that are too difficult.  Show them that reading is often done for pleasure, not just for work.  The goal of reading is not to complete a book report, take a quiz, complete worksheets, or vocabulary activities.  The goal is to read, enjoy it, and learn from it. Administer reading interest surveys, multiple intelligence assessments, informal and formal reading assessments to allow you to successfully match readers to books.
  • Snatch every spare minute you have to allow students to read independently.  This includes having students read at the beginning of class instead of having them complete morning work, a warm up, or “bell ringer” work- worksheets, DOL, etc.  For students who finish their work early, instead of having them complete “fast finisher” work- again worksheet or centers type activities- let them read!  If your class is interrupted by a phone call or visitor, teach students that they are to pull out their books and read until you are able to resume teaching.  Condition students to carry a book wherever they go.  At my previous school, we had this expectation for our middle school students.  If they were finished with their work in a content class, they were expected to pull out their book and read.  The Principal rewarded students he "caught" reading as he made his rounds throughout the school.


Are you a book whisperer?  How do you create a culture of readers in your classroom?  Which of the ideas in Miller's book have you had success with over the years?

Next time, I will share a review of Miller's follow-up book, Reading in the Wild, which by the way, did not disappoint!

Graphics:  Bunting and section separators by Ashley Hughes


  1. Thank you for the very detailed review! This is one of my favorite books. It definitely opened my eyes to some things I didn't even realize I was doing. It also reminded me that I need to be an avid reader if I want to promote that for my students. I just started her second book Reading in the Wild and am loving it so far!

    Eclectic Educating

    1. Hi Amy- I loved READING IN THE WILD as much as THE BOOK WHISPERER. When we show our students that we are passionate about reading, it becomes contagious! I love how Ms. Miller gets the kids pumped up about reading, gets their buy-in, and then they are motivated to written work once they perceive themselves as readers. :-) Lauren

  2. Thanks for sharing a few insights about this book. I have been hearing about it for awhile but I thought it was for elementary students in 3-5. I was reluctant to pick it up because I am a 6th grade teacher. I'll have to check into it further.
    Enjoy your day!

    Coffee Cups and Lesson Plans

    1. Hi, Michelle, Yes, Ms. Miller is a 6th grade teacher, and as a former middle school teacher (6-8), this book is perfect. As a specialist now with the little ones, I found a lot that I can adapt to them as well. The book is easy to read and makes for great summer reading. :-) Lauren

  3. Lauren, what a wonderful summary you provided of this book! There were so many "Ah-ha"" moments for me as I read this book. I agree that sometimes teachers feel the need to worksheet a book to death just to prove that they taught it or students read it. The real learning happens in the discussions that unfold from reading. Students work harder at a text they choose to read than anything we may assign them. Isn't choice a powerful tool?!

    1. Hi Wendy- I agree! I was nodding my head "YES!" the entire time I read this. And yes, choice is a powerful motivator, especially for reluctant readers. My students would ask me all the time, "Can't we just read?" My response was usually, "Yes- read and enjoy!". :-) Lauren

    2. First, Lauren great post! I've never read this book because my school uses the basal (long story) and has a strict schedule for it. But I have heard great things about it. I loved your review.

      Wendy, I agree that some teachers will worksheet a book to death. Last year after testing, we read Charlotte's Web. I bought a review pack from TpT. It was good, but I added a lot of interesting and engaging elements - we created word clouds, we did a STEM challenge and a t-shirt design contest. I think the students got so much out of the book. Many of them still talk about it every time I see them. I think the engaging activities and the read-aloud aspects really had them buy into the book.

  4. I have tried to read The Book Whisperer several times since I did buy it after hearing so much about it. I have tried to implement the reading for pleasure, but my students don't enjoy silent reading - even when they pick their own books from my classroom library. Over vacation - which is this week - I went in and rearranged and reorganized my classroom library so I can reenergize my class so they can be excited about reading. What do you do when the kids are not interested in reading?

    1. Hi Susan, this is Deniece from This Little Piggy Reads & Literacy Land. I would suggest doing read alouds to get them interested. I also would look into more non-fiction. Boys normally want to read non-fiction. I'm not sure what grade you teach, but find a genre they like and buy a lot of it! I've had both types of kiddos - the ones who "fake read" and those that couldn't get enough. Last year my 3rd Graders fell in LOVE with fractured fairy tales. I bought a ton of them and they loved them. They also liked the Who Would Win Series. The year prior, they would "fake read". I'm sure you've seen it. They get a book, look at the pictures and move on. For this group, I bought a lot of comic books, graphic novels and magazines - anything short. One way to increase their buy in is to do really good read alouds! If I would read a book aloud, they would read it. Why? They knew what it said already - less effort. I did read alouds all the time. Sometimes they were short like The Goldfish Memoirs or A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon and sometimes I would do short chapter books (not the whole book, just excerpts).

      When I would order books from Scholastic - I would put out 5 books per day. I would highlight the books. I would pull the book out and tell a little about it. It would sound something like this, "This book is Memoirs of a Goldfish. It's all about this little goldfish who wants something but when he gets what he wants he isn't sure he wants it. If you liked Finding Nemo, you might like this book." See, I gave just a bite and I compared it to a movie they probably know. I would put those 5 books on display and they were ALWAYS the first ones picked for DEAR time.

      Hope these help or give you ideas for those kiddos who are uninterested.

    2. Deniece has given great ideas! I, too, used read-alouds and lots of book talks and "shelf talks" (brief book talks as students were browsing in the classroom library). Students did book talks as well which was highly motivating for my reluctant readers. I also gave reading interest surveys, gathered and bought books to match interests, and allowed students to read books at their easy level. Finding out why students do not enjoy reading is a good first step. Student choice both for independent reading and for book clubs or literacy circles is huge. Such a great question! Hope some of these ideas are helpful. :-) Lauren

  5. I just dropped about $60 on my order from Amazon, but guess what...Donalyn Miller is speaking at the Virginia State Reading Conference, and I get to attend. :-) Thanks so much for the great review, Lauren.

    1. Yay! I get to be there with you too! This book has been on my list for quite some time, and I think I am going to have to buy this book and read it. Thanks, Lauren, for a great review and reminder to read this book!


  6. I love, love, love this book. I have some thoughts, but I think I might write them in a blog post soon :)

  7. I am in 100% agreement...we all have our non-negotiables...mine is giving students time to read, in books of their choice and then talk about them, EVERY single day for at LEAST 20 minutes. I teach 1st so I am sure it looks very different in my room than what is explained in this book. I personally believe it is more important than centers or small group. I meet one on one, conference with them, take notes. We set goals, and graph those goals. I reward them frequently for making goals. But I also celebrate their thinking and use of strategies. It is the best tool for growing readers!

    1. Terry- Finally, someone else that believes that independent reading is more important than centers! Actually, when I did centers and Daily 5, read to self or listen to reading was the most popular with both students and with me! Having students of any age keep a book box or books in their desk or in a book pocket on the student's chair allows them access to the books at any time, especially down time. I like how Miller stresses that the 30 minutes of reading a day doesn't have to be in one sitting. You can snatch those minutes at any time during the day. Thanks so much for your encouraging comment! :-) Lauren

  8. Love this book. It is why I switched from a literature circle/book club approach to an altered Daily 5 approach. :)

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    1. Wow! I am excited about this book! This year is my first yr. in middle school after being in lower grades for 10 yrs. I taught in public school for all that time and now I am at a private school teaching 8th grade. I love it and I am always looking for a new approach to things. We don't really have a set curriculum so it helps to pull the best ideas together for the classroom.Thanks for the review!

  10. I love this book! It has excellent suggestions to motivate kids to read.