Raising “Wild” Readers

How do you teach the pleasure of reading to non-readers?

Convinced by research studies and personal experience that worksheets and conventional methods of teaching literary appreciation weren’t working, sixth-grade language arts teacher Donalyn Miller took a different approach. Rather than insisting on award-winning classics or assuming that every child will like a prescribed canon, she had a goal for her students to find reading a pleasure, not a chore. So instead of assigning her whole class to read and discuss the same book over the school year, she challenged each of them to choose and read FORTY books across a broad range of genres.

After describing her initial results in her first book, The Book Whisperer, Miller was not completely satisfied that her students had become lifelong avid readers after one year in her class.

Reading in the Wild digs deeper into the habits of avid readers. In this sequel to The Book Whisperer, Miller teams up with Susan Kelley, drawing insight from surveys on her blog to suggest improvements to her method that teachers can use to help students learn to enjoy reading for a lifetime.  They demonstrate how “wild readers” dedicate time to read, choose their own reading materials, share books with other readers, make plans, and develop personal canons.

Miller and Kelley are classroom teachers, so they are not writing to parents about how to model reading and create a home environment where reading is encouraged. Nevertheless, I gleaned some helpful ideas in nurturing my own young readers from Miller’s two books, and gained insight into my personal reading practices.

Based on Miller’s approach, I challenged my seven-year-old to read 100 books by the end of the year. He willingly agreed. Honestly, if he reads eighty I’ll be satisfied, and I figure that if he reads a few easier books, they will balance out the harder ones. All I ask him to do is write down the titles. Setting a goal, as Mrs. Miller did, gives us something to strive for. (Maybe next year I will also require a variety of genres.)

One difference I have with Miller is that I would not recommend all of the titles her students choose. She raised no objection when her students read books that contained questionable content.  Reading should be a pleasurable activity, but some themes and issues should not be ignored when they are encountered either in life or in literature. Redemptive reading requires discernment, and book discussions with other readers are a great tool to hone those skills and discuss ideas that are outside of your experience, to determine whether the book offers truth and redemption or sin and emptiness without hope.

17196305Overall, both books were helpful. Here is what I took away from Miller’s books:

Take opportunities to build relationships with developing readers. Take note of their interests and be open to reading their recommendations even as you offer them suggestions. I have been humbled to realize that my seven-year-old’s reading taste is not the same as my own, but he wants to share his literary enthusiasm with me as much as I want to share mine with him. If I want to encourage him to take genuine pleasure in reading, it is good for me to let him participate in choosing books, rather than forcing him to read books on a list of classics and complain that something is wrong if he doesn’t get excited right away. It is better for me to allow him to make decisions, offer input, participate in his reading experiences, and discuss themes as they arise. If I want him to know the classics, I need to be willing to sit down and read aloud, or listen to audiobooks together. I expect we’ll both grow in our family relationship, as well as becoming fellow redemptive readers.


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Megan is Associate Editor for Redeemed Reader who loves nothing more than helping readers (and non-readers) find books which are not only a good fit for them, but also combine Truth and Story. She has never regretted reading all those fairy tales in childhood, even though she didn’t realize at the time how much they matter to real life. She is the founder of Literaritea Press and plans to publish her first picture book soon. Megan lives with her husband and five boys in Virginia where she enjoys knitting, playing with words, and mountain views.


  1. Betsy on May 21, 2014 at 7:24 am

    Great write-up, friend!

  2. Betsy on May 23, 2014 at 7:36 am

    One other thing I liked about Miller’s first book–she made a distinction for young, precocious readers: read fiction on their age/maturity level and nonfiction on their reading level. So helpful for those of us with young readers who are reading years above their grade level.

  3. Megan on May 24, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    Ah yes, I forgot that excellent suggestion. Thanks for mentioning it!

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