Reading Joy

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


In The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, originally published in 2009, Donalyn Miller explains her philosophy of teaching, and how she creates a rich reading environment in her classroom with structures, practices and support for independent reading with her students. I appreciated her long-term view of the importance of developing students as readers for life, not just for a test. I respect that the author has endured the test-happy environment in the great state of Texas as a Language Arts teacher.

Miller shows an obvious interest in her students through her support of their interest-based reading. She challenges students to read 40 books in a school year. There is precious little talk of this kind from most pedagogues. It seems everywhere in education the dominant mindset is that students have to prove everything through skill-based activities and multiple choice tests and that we have to hold their hand and spoon-feed everything. Sadly, this is the lowest common denominator and has not improved society’s literacy at all. It’s as if, “If it ain’t on the test then it doesn’t exist.” Getting kids to love reading in this environment is rather like trying to get someone to savor the flavors, scents, and sights of a gourmet meal while the chef is quizzing them about their daily calorie intake.

I recognize that if I am to embrace this kind of approach, then my first step is to contend with my own life as a reader and step it up a few notches. I love non-fiction, and am a self-professed nerd when it comes to reading. I have my own “Miller Mountain” at home of books I want to read. I also like to write, blog and write songs. I primarily “read to learn,” read/write poetry, love philosophy, ancient mythology and stories that connect to the great mysteries of life. But mostly, I love to read non-fiction.


I love books like The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference and Malcolm Gladwell’s other books. I love Shannon Lee’s biography of her father, Bruce Lee, titled, Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee. It was a blend of philosophy, life wisdom, and biographical accounts.

I do want to connect my students with books they love too though, and in order to do that I need to be reading more of those books myself. I have to admit, she shamed me into reading more. My goal this year already was to read 25 books, which I think I will make this goal. But I set that goal before I read her book. To be a better language arts teacher, Donalyn convinced me I need to read more of the books my students will want to read, which I tend to avoid doing during my free time because it feels like “work.” So yesterday I pulled 4-5 titles from my classroom bookshelves that I want to read and who knows, I may make 40 books yet by December. I have convinced myself that it isn’t really “work” if I choose titles I am interested in. I hope I can convince my students of the same.



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Book Review: Flow by Mihaly C.

Though written quite a while ago, this is one of the best books I have encountered. It is full of life hacks for greater happiness, and it so good that it is worth coming back to again and again to understand what it takes to be in a state of flow more often in your life. The author researched the state of FLOW, defined as the optimal state between boredom and anxiety.

According to Mihaly’s research of over 50 years, people report the following EIGHT characteristics consistently when they are in a state of FLOW:

1. Goals are clear.
2. Feedback on how they are doing is clear.
3. Their ability to do a task matches the demands of the task.
4. They are able to apply concentration and focus.
5. Everyday worries and cares disappear.
6. They feel in control of their destiny, or experience self-determination.
7. They are not worried about how they appear to others, no worry of judgement.
8. They feel they are contributing toward the common symphony of life and as such sense a timelessness, or transcendence of time.

Then, the author provides gentle, attainable suggestions for each area of life, reminding the reader about all of the possibilities that exist in our lives to achieve greater flow.

The author strongly suggests avoiding passive consumption of media and television because of the apathy and boredom it can engender. One way to do this, he cites, is to become an active critic. Actively reflecting on your media consumption by posting reviews, or becoming involved in the public dialogue over the content will help to change this experience from one of passivity to one of activity.

Here is an animated summary of FLOW:

If you want to hear from the author himself, there are many TED Talks available as well, but I highly recommend the book and then looking for ways to give yourself consistent feedback and greater happiness.

Book Review: Thrive

Thrive: The Purpose of Schools in a Changing World by Valerie Hannon

Several years ago I subscribed to a newsletter put out by Education Re-Imagined, a non-profit organization that connects people and programs that work on the frontiers of educational innovation. It was through reading one of their recent newsletter issues I learned of this book, Thrive. Its co-authors are Valerie Hannon and Amelia Peterson.

Thrive: The Purpose of Schools in a Changing World Thrive: The Purpose of Schools in a Changing World

Hannon is co-founder of the Innovation Unit of Global Leader Partnership and Peterson, has a PhD in Education from Harvard University.

Thrive gives a research-based overview of existing evidence and case studies of innovative school programs world-wide with a framework of suggestions to realign educational goals towards creating conditions that promote “thriving.” First, the authors set about defining what they mean by “thriving.” They give four levels of thriving:

A. Global
B. Societal
C. Interpersonal
D. Intrapersonal

Then they identify four key questions:

1. How can all learners best prepare for economies with technology-driven opportunities and development?
2. What tasks can humans perform better than machines and conversely, what tasks can machines perform better than humans?
3. What knowledge and skills do humans need to shape and direct computing power?
4. How can people best be prepared to learn and relearn skills to do human work, rather than be second class robots?


There is a central theme throughout the book of generating a more sustainable relationship with the Earth and its resources in the future. The authors identify both economic globalization and migration as key issues effecting the future.

They prioritize a different relationship between humans and our environment as a key desired outcome. The authors make the claim that education’s purpose is not to merely position kids for wealth acquisition in the job marketplace.

Hannon provides ample school examples already creating conditions for thriving with descriptions of their programs. She discusses an Ecosystems Approach that addresses:

A. Equipping learners for a disrupted jobs/work landscape (published post-Covid)
B. Educating for building respectful relationships in diverse, technologized societies
C. Creating local sustainability endeavors that address problems in local communities
D. Providing real-life application of knowledge, addressing “learner agency”

I liked hearing about how innovative schools in others locations are already adressing and accomplishing these tasks. I would have liked to have seen more data about learner outcomes attached to this overview of innovation. More could be done to follow up on these outcomes. How well did students of these types of programs do on measured learning standards, and perhaps for the more established programs, how did the graduates measure in terms of life happiness, mental health, employability, and the broader goals of interpersonal and intrapersonal thriving as they became adults? Where results were available, it would have been nice to hear more of it although the lack of data is not the necessarily the fault of the author.

The book does accomplish the goal of helping the audience become aware of what is currently being done in schools across a broad range of issues to address global problems we face. Teachers interested in innovation and change will be interested in this book.



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Book Review: Electric Body, Electric HEalth

Electric Body, Electric Health: Using the Electromagnetism Within (and Around) You to Rewire, Recharge, and Raise Your Voltage by Eileen Day McKusick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

McKusick’s second book conveys a broad explanation of the body as an electrical entity living in an electric universe. It is divided into two main sections. The first deals with this general paradigm shift in thinking, and the story of how she came to work with subtle energy fields. The writing style is easy to read and easy to understand.

In the second part, one chapter is devoted to each chakra where she discusses how to optimally maintain the vibrancy of that energy center through affirmation, choices, habits of speech, thought, and attitude.

As another reviewer already pointed out, this book explains more of the what and why, but almost none of the how. If you want a taste of the the “how”, check out her first book, Tuning the Human Biofield.

Biofield Tuning training classes are currently sold out on McKusick’s website. Foundation classes of this healing approach are going for about $1600 with an additional $1600 for the complete practitioner training.

After reading McKusick’s first book I was curious enough to contact a local practitioner for a session to try it out. I was really surprised by how different it felt from say, a Reiki session, or other kinds of energy work. It felt powerful and yet I was at a loss for words of how to explain it other than saying, “it definitely rearranged some stuff energetically.”

Many questions remained for me. Would recorded sound waves work just as well? Can people effectively treat themselves using tuning forks? Do different frequencies have any negative effects?

Though many efforts are made to call this a hypothesis, much more research will need to be done to validate it and understand it fully. Still, it certainly opens some new doors of possibility.







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Book Review: Pronoia

Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World is Conspiring to Shower You With Blessings by Rob Brezsny

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Playful, witty, and eccentric, Brezsny gives readers a compendium of “888 tricks for becoming a wildly disciplined, fiercely tender, ironically sincere, scrupulously curious, aggressively sensitive, blasphemously reverent, lyrically logical, lustfully compassionate master of rowdy bliss.”

Brezsny is the author of one the most widely syndicated astrology columns, Free Will Astrology.

This is not the kind of book you would read in a linear way. I purchased this book a few years ago when my father’s best friend mentioned he went to high school with Brezsny. Short, 1-2 page themes are woven together which makes for great bathroom reading. Brezsny is does a wonderful job at putting his tips together with quotes, original writing style, and interesting and funny factoids.

Rigid or sexually repressed folks will likely not enjoy this book, as he does not exclude words like orgasm and masturbation, though he carefully avoids the four main expletives so common in our lexicon and considers the elevation of our common vocabulary as an important goal we all should contribute to. His main message is one of optimism over cynicism.

He quotes from a variety of religious traditions, historical and cultural figures, as well as pop culture. This is an uplifting and optimistic book, at times completely silly, and at other times ingenious. Readers will either love it or hate. It is not your typical book.



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