Jeffery D. Wilhelm’s “You Gotta Be the Book” is truly one of the most insightful and helpful books I have had the pleasure of reading. This text is organized around helping struggling or reluctant readers and learners become part of a community of readers through meaningful instructional strategies that can be easily implemented into any classroom.
What I truly love about this book is how relatable it is to any teacher who has ever had a struggling or reluctant reader in their classroom. Wilhelm very honestly explains how when he taught high school English and speech he felt extremely confident, even a bit smug, about his teaching ability. “I’m getting it down cold,” he wrote in one of his daily journals. “I’m cruising down the curricular highway, nailing lesson after lesson, skill after skill. I feel like a batter on a hitting streak” (March 1984). This all changed he explains, when he transferred to a middle school to teach language arts and remedial reading. Teaching remedial students made him realize that he no longer had the confidence in his teaching theories and practices. He explains that this experience is what changed his way of thinking about teaching the act of reading. He does not sugar coat how difficult it can be reaching out to reluctant readers as most of us already know. In another journal entry Wilhelm wrote about his frustration with two students who no matter what fun and supportive things he assigned them to do would not even try! There were days where he says he would just give up and let them sit there. “If we had prizes for ‘Frontal Lobe Headache Maker of the Day,’ Walter and Tommy would get my vote every single election” (October 1992).
Clearly, Wilhelm is not afraid to be honest about his own failures in the classroom which is what makes this book different. This text includes different instructional strategies that he implemented in his own classroom with thorough descriptions and explanations on the different methods and projects used. Wilhelm’s candid account of his student’s journey in becoming competent and independent readers is what I found extremely helpful to my teaching. I highly recommend this book for teachers that are looking for meaningful ways to truly engage their students and help them become successful readers!