Monday, February 27, 2012

My Quest to Become a Book Whisperer

Friday I made a trip to the Tysons Mall to go to The American Girl Store. Molly's birthday is this week and she had a few things on her birthday list. After picking up what I needed there, I made my way down to Barnes and Noble. I love book stores and was so sad when the Borders by us went out of business. I love to pick up the books, read the jackets, skim the first few pages, and just see what's new. I am also a big Amazon fan. At this moment I know there are at least three books in my cart but it is not the same as holding that book in your hand and deciding if you want to enter into this world that the author has created for their reader.

This past year I have read a lot of middle school literature and YA literature. When I was teaching second grade, I read aloud to my class everyday. I would read picture books about the upcoming seasons and holidays, I would read biographies of the historical people we needed to know, I would read chapter books beyond their reading comprehension but not beyond their listening comprehension. And I would talk to them. I would talk to them about the books. I would say, "This book reminds me of the time when I was little and...This book reminds me of the book we read last month...This book reminds me of the Kidpost we read together last week because...So read aloud was not just me reading and 20 kids just sitting quietly listening, we were all engaged in the book. We were all participants. Some people may not see the value in this, but every time a student makes a connection to a book, he is more likely to keep on reading, more likely to pick-up another book that reminds him of a  book he read before and enjoyed, more likely to read another book by an author he fell in love with.

Now as a stay-at-home mom, I am trying to get my own kids to become readers for life. When Shannon entered fifth grade, I started reading books that I thought she would enjoy. I was not as familiar with upper elementary books and middle school books as I was with the lower grades. But when you're trying to match a book up with your kid, it really helps if you read it yourself. I slowly started reading books and would pass them on to her. I remember reading Esperanza Rising and falling in love with the story. I then read Becoming Naomi Leon another story by Pam Munoz Ryan. I would read a book and put it in her room, read a book and put it in her room.

From this one small pile of books in her closet, I have read Charlotte's Web, of course, but also Savvy, Elsewhere, The Teacher's Funeral, A Long Way from Chicago, and Tuck Everlasting. All great stories.

Then a teacher friend recommended a book to me, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. I fell in love with this book! It is written by a sixth grade teacher and it is about how she gets her students to read 40 books by the end of the school year. Yes, 40 books! I read this book with a pencil in my hand. I underlined sentences and circled whole paragraphs that struck me as "AH HA" moments. I wrote down my own thought in the margins and thought about how I was going to apply all this in my own house as a mom and not as a teacher in the classroom. I loved this book so much that I went out and bought it for all my kids' teacher that year. That same year I was having a conversation with the principal and I asked her if she had read the book. She had heard of it, but hadn't read it yet. The week after Thanksgiving break, I got an email from her saying that she had just read it and that she recommended it to her staff to read it. I told her that there were at least three other copies of the book in the building because I had bought them.

Donalyn Miller's basic philosophy to get kids to read is that she reads what they read. She knows all the books because she has read them herself. She can say, "Joe, I read this book last night and it reminded me of you, I thought you would like it." She gets to know her kids. She knows what they like. She knows who likes sci-fi and who doesn't. She knows who to give a sports book to and who not to. She knows their favorite authors. And eventually as the kids start to read, she has kids coming to her saying, "Mrs. Miller, I just finished reading this book and I think you should add it to your "To Be Read" pile. Her students know that she has read a lot of books, so when they find one that they have read and she hasn't, it just gives them a great feeling.  She gives the kids the power to choose what to read. Choice is a powerful thing and in order to give kids a choice, her classroom is filled with books. And that is what my house looks like.


We have books in the basement.

I have categorized books...

...and I have bins by authors as well.

And you always need a comfy places to read.

So back to last Friday in the Barnes and Noble. Even though I have been trying to expand my knowledge of middle school books and YA literature, there are books or genres that don't draw me in. I am not one for vampires, slayers, and witches.

And then there is a whole section called Teen Paranormal Romance, shelves and shelves of Paranormal Romance. 

I then move on to New Teen Fiction and find Wuthering Heights there. Really, in the "New" Teen Fiction? Hmmm, is this book misplaced or is it a new publishing with a updated cover and they are hoping to get teens to read this classic?

 After my own quest to read more middle school books and YA literature began, I realized that I really love these stories and that more and more adults are falling in love with YA lit as well. What is it about these stories that we are drawn to? Last night I was up until 1 o'clock finishing The Hunger Games because Timmy kept asking me, "What are you up to?...What are you up to?" I wanted to finish it for him so we could talk about it but I really loved the book myself, this book that was published by Scholastic Inc., meant for young adults. 

I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin a few years ago and she talks about her love of kidlit and actually belongs to several book clubs that read kidlit for fun. There was a great article in the New York Times about this upward trend of adults reading kidlit and YA literature.

So after finishing The Hunger Games last night at 1 am, do I read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green? I've read on a few blogs that his books are great.

Do I continue with Catching Fire so that Timmy and I can keep our discussions open?

But then I need to read this book that Ryan has started to read. He is my toughest one to get to read. Trying to find a book for him is difficult. So I really need to read this one so we can talk about it together as well.

 This is Shannon's night stand. A book that she has read a few times already and that is just fine by me.

And these are Molly's books that she is reading. She still loves her picture books but pushes herself as a reader to read the chapter books. Her recent find is The Molly Moon series.

This morning I was reading The Nerdy Book Club blog. A great blog if you are looking for YA lit and kidlit to read. There was a link to another website and I watched this awesome video about what is happening to our kids in middle school and high school in traditional English classrooms when it comes to reading compared to what happens when you surround them with books to choose from and give them the power to choose their own books to read. I think I watched it three times. I love the part when the kids make piles of the books that they read in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade compared to their 12th grade. The power of choice!!! You can watch it here.


  1. Oh, Kathleen - we are kindred spirits. I loved The Book made me want to go back to the classroom so badly. Instead, I'm taking what I learned (the highlighting was out of control) and I'm sharing it with the teachers I work with. Student choice is such a big part of it, but getting teachers to see that can be tricky sometimes. Have you read The Read Aloud Handbook? I'm reading that my spare time!

  2. Erika- I haven't read that one yet...I'll have to add it to my list. Two books that I have but haven't read yet are The Cafe Book and The Daily Five. Molly's second grade teacher's classroom is based on these two books and she is an awesome teacher. The Daily Five also fosters independence and choice. The kids do rotations of read to self, read to someone, listen to reading, writing, or word work...the students' choice!!! While they are rotating, she is either working with a student one-on-one or a small guided reading group.