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Minds Made for Stories

How We Really Read and Write Informational and Persuasive Texts

By Thomas Newkirk

This groundbreaking book challenges the assumption that narrative is an “easy” type of writing, by inviting readers to imagine narrative as something more—as the primary way we understand our world and ourselves.  

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In this highly readable and provocative book, Thomas Newkirk explodes the long standing habit of opposing abstract argument with telling stories.  Newkirk convincingly shows that effective argument is already a kind of narrative and is deeply "entwined with narrative."

--Gerald Graff, former MLA President and author of Clueless in Academe

Narrative is regularly considered a type of writing—often an “easy” one, appropriate for early grades but giving way to argument and analysis in later grades. This groundbreaking book challenges all that. It invites readers to imagine narrative as something more—as the primary way we understand our world and ourselves.  

 “To deny the centrality of narrative is to deny our own nature,” Newkirk explains.  “We seek companionship of a narrator who maintains our attention, and perhaps affection.  We are not made for objectivity and pure abstraction—for timelessness.  We have ‘literary minds” that respond to plot, character, and details in all kind of writing.  As humans, we must tell stories.”

When we are engaged readers, we are following a story constructed by the author, regardless of  the type of writing.  To sustain a reading—in a novel, an opinion essay, or a research article— we need a “plot” that helps us comprehend  specific information,  or  experience the significance of an argument.   As Robert Frost reminds us, all good memorable writing is “dramatic.” 

Minds Made for Stories  is a needed corrective to the narrow and compartmentalized approaches often imposed on schools—approaches which are at odds with the way writing really works outside school walls.  

Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)


Part 1:  Stay With Me

Ch. 1:  Sustained Reading

Ch. 2:  Minds Made for Stories

Ch. 3:  Itch and Scratch:  How Form Really Works

Part 2:  The Art of Informing

Ch. 4:  The Seven Deadly Sins of Textbooks

Ch. 5:  All Writing Is Narrated

Ch. 6:  On Miss Frizzle's Bus: Or, How We Really Want to Learn Science

Part 3:  Stories Where You Least Expect Them

Ch. 7:  Can an Argument Be a Story?

Ch. 8:  Numbers That Tell a Story

Ch. 9:  Space, Rigor, and Time: Or, Our Metaphors Really Matter



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.

—Regie Routman

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