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Are You a Wild Reader? If Not, Read This!


Do you worry about reading emergencies–getting caught waiting somewhere without a good book in hand?

Do you have to-read lists, piles, shelves, and/or book cases?

Do you have a reading plan–what you’ll be reading next, what title you’re saving for vacation, how you’ll proceed when your favorite list of award winners is announced?

You do? Oh, can we share title recommendations? Please???

You don’t? You think you don’t have time to read? Or that reading simply shouldn’t be a priority right now?

Then Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelly is for you. Really. Yes it was written for educators, but its message is for all of us: Reading opens doors. Reading improves our brain power. Learning to love reading means cultivating key habits. It’s never too late.

Chances are your local library has a copy of this brand-new book that most members of my professional learning network devoured the instant it came out this month. If any of the following reasons are keeping you from going wild over reading, know that its pages contain solid advice, like the sample tips below, for activating a hunger for page after page of great books.

  • Parenting? Yep, between work, home life, and the demands of children, parents may have less time to read than anyone. But guess what? Children who see parents reading are more likely to become wild readers. AND, children who read for 21 minutes a day average being in the 90th percentile on standardized tests, according to the research Miller cites. Those who read for over an hour a day end up on average in the 98th percentile. Sprawl out together on the couch with books chosen purely for pleasure by both parent and child. My daughter would read for ages if a back rub from me came with it–plenty of time to progress through fun books. No work reading allowed!
  • Guilt? Somehow, many people internalized that reading wastes time that should be used for chores or paying bills or other duties. Reading has too many benefits to be a waste of time:
    • Leaders who read quality fiction develop better empathy skills than those who only read nonfiction. And, empathy is one of the most vital emotional intelligence skills a leader can have.
    • Whereas watching television–whether it’s PBS or the latest sitcom–pretty much turns off your brain, reading “exercises” it, producing healthy brain activity. Reading promotes learning, staving off the effects of aging.
  • Nothing to read? Miller provides all kinds of tips on how to help children learn to find books they can’t wait to read. If no one helped you learn where to find titles you can’t put down, here are a few quick ideas.
    • Join and ask your “wild reader” friends and relatives to do the same. It’s a site where you can keep track of what you and your friends are reading. “Friend” me there and you can catch my reviews on a wide variety of books, from fiction to psychology to young adult literature to business books to, well, just about everything.
    • Post or email me a list of the last few books you enjoyed and I’ll send some suggestions.
    • Check out the list I created on goodreads, Books for People Who Don’t Think They Have Time To Read. Rather than list my own favorites, I went through all the titles that I’ve rated 5* and chose the ones that appealed to the most diverse friends I have. For example, EVERYONE in our neighborhood book club enjoyed Freakonomics, a rare phenomenon for our group. Chances are, just about anyone else would find interesting ideas in its pages as well! Hopefully my circle of friends there will be adding to it.
  • No time? Again, Miller has lots of suggestions, many of them what she refers to as “Reading in the edges.” Instead of looking for big blocks of time, do what wild readers do. Download the Kindle, Nook or other app to your smartphone or other device. Or, always slip a small paperback in your purse or backpack. Then, read in line at the bank. Read while waiting in the school drop-off/pick-up line. Read in the dentist’s waiting room. Read during television commercials. A little here and a little there adds up.

It takes planning, though. Miller has core suggestions (oh, parents, read this book and help your children if their school lacks this emphasis!) for helping her students become wild readers:

  • She helps them identify just why they like a title
  • She gives permission to abandon books they don’t like (yes, we wild readers actually have criteria like “50 pages had better capture my attention” or “If it starts slow, I often check the ending to see whether I want to keep going” (yes, the last is used by many of those of us who can’t imagine life un-surrounded by books…)
  • She holds classroom conversations about vacation reading goals and has the children identify titles.

Like any new habit, becoming a truly wild reader takes practice. And time. And perhaps a few mentors or encouragers, or friends committed to finding time for this truly worthwhile activity. Imagine, if all adults valued time spent reading, we’d insist that our schools teach children to be wild readers. We’d know when well-meaning policies actually create barriers to reading (check this post from Miller on choosing books by a reader’s ability level, for example) And that would put them on the path to being truly lifelong learners.

Meanwhile, read on!

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Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

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