Tom Newkirk has made a career of acting upon that rebellious playground question: “Who says?” In Minds Made for Stories he challenges those who dismiss narrative writing as immature and unsophisticated, altogether unsuitable for inclusion in a rigorous, academic curriculum. Such a stance, Newkirk maintains, denies our literary minds, our minds made for stories. Human beings crave stories. They are our fundamental way of understanding the world, and that includes how we best understand disciplines like science, history, and mathematics. Good writers, moreover, use narrative to keep readers with them through plot, tension, and a little well-placed mystery as they argue and inform. If you care about how we learn, if you value writing that compels your attention with voice, story, and informed subjectivity, Minds Made for Stories is must reading for you.
—Tom Romano, author of Fearless Writing
In Minds Made for Stories, Newkirk broadens my own belief that narrative, though narrowly defined in school, needs to be expanded to include informational writing as well. Newkirk persuasively argues, and I applaud him for it, that the best nonfiction writing is also narrative and that the historical modes of writing—description, narration, exposition, and argumentation—cannot and need not be so distinct, which actually makes the teaching process harder. He supports his position with many examples and evidence from his own teaching, work as a writer, experiences as a reader, and work of other writers and researchers. “It also seems to me that if we look—honestly—at how we prefer to learn information, we seek out writers who can embed it in narrative” (p.12, italics are the author’s). “Locate any widely read writer on science or medicine or the environment and you will find someone skilled at narrative writing, one who keeps before our eyes the human consequences of policies and discoveries” (p.19). Newkirk also notes that the reading of well-structured nonfiction is not so different than we way we read well-structured fiction. Regardless of the grade level or content you teach, Minds Made for Stories will help make you a better and more thoughtful reader, writer, and teacher—and will also help to put any set of required standards in useful perspective.
It’s not often that I read aloud to my husband from “teacher” books, but I found myself doing so from Tom Newkirk’s latest work. Minds Made For Stories: How We Really Read and Write Informational and Persuasive Texts, knocked me out with its treasure trove of facts (not all related to writing).
But it wasn’t just the excerpts that Newkirk included from disparate pieces on everything from cancer research to corn sex – look it up; it’s not what you think - that impressed me. Instead it was how Newkirk used them to build his argument that narrative shouldn’t be divorced from the other modes of discourse. With chapters like “Itch and Scratch: How Form Really Works” and “Numbers That Tell a Story”, Newkirk’s work is not intended just for English teachers. He wants all of us to stop assigning the five paragraph essay with its preformulated thesis statement and return to Montaigne’s original conception of an essay as a means of trying out a thought or as Newkirk puts it “scratching an itch.”
Not convinced yet to pony up for Minds Made for Stories yet? Newkirk spends a chapter listing the seven deadly sins of textbook writing as well as what we should look for in great nonfiction: humor, surprise, use of speech, grounding the complex in the familiar, strategic self-disclosure, and finally, affection for the material. Newkirk scores on every point throughout this text. As we begin this new year, let’s resolve to read more to improve our craft. Adding Mind Made For Stories to your TBR pile will certainly help you meet this goal.
—Third and Rosedale