The CCSS asks students in third grade and up to write opinion essays. It’s a difficult task for nine-year olds because developmentally, they haven’t yet learned to reason. They are concrete thinkers. Let’s look at what can help students in writing opinion essays: topics, prewriting, and essay structure.
Students Dazed by Opinion Essays? HERE'S HELP! | MimsHouseBooks.com

GOOD TOPICS FOR OPINION ESSAYS

Let’s take a typical topic: I think we need a longer recess.

It’s a difficult topic because it just seems logical to kids that recess should be longer! They find it hard to develop concrete reasons around this. It’s an emotional response, with no concrete reasons. They have no criteria that help them decide among alternatives. Research to expand this topic is difficult to find. Essays on this topic tend to be generalized:

  • Kids need more exercise.
  • A longer recess would be more fun.

Instead, good essay topics have logical, easily-identified alternatives. When employees are faced with a situation that demands persuasion, there are usually alternatives. For example, should we keep our store open until 10 pm. Alternatives might be opening earlier, staying open until midnight, or closing at 8 pm. Among those alternatives, you could develop criteria:

  • which would bring the greatest sales?
  • which would be better for employees?
  • which would be better for customers?

I Want a Dog: My Opinion Essay and I Want a Cat: My Opinion Essay might seem to take a tired subject of what kind of pet should a kid get. But if you look at the topic closer, you’ll see that it’s a gem. First, the American Kennel Club recognizes 167 breeds, and the information on them is readily available. The Cat Fancier’s Association lists cat breeds. Each breed is a distinct alternative; each would make a different kind of pet. This is a real topic that allows students to think through issues and develop an opinion. It’s not a canned opinion: Of course, you know you want a longer recess. Instead, it’s a rich topic for discussion.

RICH PREWRITING MAKES FOR STRONG ESSAYS

The Read and Write Series: Dogs, cats, and writing--it's a natural combination in this series of fun books.

Students need a rich pre-writing environment with many activities. Most important is a discussion that leads to developing their own opinions.

Reading through the book, I WANT A DOG: My Opinion Essay, students are exposed to the 20 most favorite dog breeds in the U.S. This helps to narrow the choices, while still allowing students to choose an alternate dog, as Dennis does. Because there are many choices here, they need something to help them narrow the field. They use ten broad criteria: size, energy level, exercise needs, play needs, level of affection, getting along with other pets, easy to train, guard dog, and grooming needs.

These criteria mirror those used in Animal Planet’s Breed Selection Tool, (Also see the Cat Breed Selector Tool.) so it makes a great internet activity to add to the class discussion. But there are additional criteria such as allergies, weather related issues, family traditions, price, male or female, availability in your area, and specific needs such as a dog trained in duck hunting.

The book presents the discussion of cousins, Dennis and Mellie, as they decide on dogs. It presents two distinct opinions and demonstrates that opinions can differ. In discussion, students can easily apply the criteria to their own family. Here’s how a pre-writing class discussion might go:

Question: Do you think a big dog or little dog is better for your family?

  1. Response: I want a big dog because we already have two big dogs and it needs to get along with them.
    Discussion: This puts together the criteria of big and getting along with other pets. To extend the discussion, you might ask, “Do you think that any small dog would get along with the big ones?” The Breed Selection Tool might help answer that question, or perhaps someone has personal experience one way or another.
  2. Response: I want a big dog because my Dad has a bad back and can’t bend over to pet a small dog.
    Discussion: Considering the health needs of a family is often crucial in choosing a dog. What are some other health reasons for a certain dog? Allergies and blindness are two simple answers.
  3. Response: I want a big dog because they are better guard dogs.
    Discussion: This makes an interesting assumption that size equals aggression. You could use the Animal Planet tool to test this assumption by choosing a small, guard dogs as your criteria.

The most important thing here is the discussion because it gives students a rich prewriting environment in which to DEVELOP an opinion. We must give students the opportunity to learn about a topic before we ask them to give an opinion.

The topic of recess is dull because there are no viable alternatives. Of course, a child’s opinion is that they want more recess time. Why? Because it’s fun. It’s an automatic emotional response from a kid. If you ask them to manufacture reasons, the essays turn out dull and uninteresting.

Instead, engage them in a topic that has real alternatives. Give them criteria to use as they consider alternatives. Listen and discuss the alternatives and help them to find the real reasons for an opinions. Help form an opinion.

If you take time to read and discuss I WANT A CAT: My Opinion Essay, you’ll experience the process of forming an opinion in a different but related context.

STRUCTURE OF THE ESSAY

The model essays in I Want a Dog: My Opinion Essay and I Want a Cat: My Opinion Essay follow a simple structure. It begins by stating the problem.

I want a dog. Here are some things I thought about.

Then, the essay develops reasons based on criteria. In the first paragraph, Dennis wants a big dog that likes some exercise and loves to play. These criteria (size, exercise, play) all fall into the category of how Dennis will interact with the dog. That paragraph topic is implied instead of stated outright, as is typical in professional writing. Notice however, that paragraphs two and three DO have topic sentences. It’s acceptable to include or imply the topic sentence; of course, your lesson plan might require it.

Learn to Write Multiple Paragraphs. If students are at the stage of writing multiple paragraphs, a great exercise is to pre-group criteria for use in essays. Students will need to look at the criteria and decide on some sort of grouping. Discussions are the crucial element here, because there are no rights or wrongs.

For example, size, affection, exercise needs, play needs and training might be grouped into How I Interact With My Dog. Other criteria groups could be How My Dog Acts at Home, How My Dog Acts with Other People or Pets, How My Dog Stays Healthy. Some might argue that exercise needs are in the group How My Dog Stays Healthy, while others will emphasize that exercise is how you interact with a dog. Either grouping is fine. The point is to have some reason for where you put the criteria and ideas. Allowing students to create their own groupings means you’ll have a wide variety of essays!

Dennis’s essay has this structure:

State the problem.
Criteria 1: How I interact with my dog.
Details:
Criteria 2: I want a dog that’s easily trained.
Details:
Criteria 3: How my dog acts at home.
Details:
Give my opinion and summarize reasons.

Some opinion essay lesson plans suggest an OREO approach:
O – State your opinion
R – give a reason
E – expand or elaborate on the reason
O – Restate your opinion

While that approach works, it doesn’t show the reasoning process behind the opinion. I think a stronger approach is to start by stating the problem or issue. Then develop criteria that help narrow the choices. Next, elaborate on the choices. This builds the tension in the essay until the opinion is revealed in the last paragraph. The reasoning process is clear because it’s based on criteria that narrow the choices. The big reveal at the end is exciting and makes a better conclusion.

The topic of choosing a dog or cat is a rich environment for kids to write in. Out of 167 dog breeds or 43 cat breeds, there’s a dog or cat for each child. Clear, definite criteria help narrow the fields. Students immediately have an opinion about multiple criteria, often combining a couple (as we saw when big equals aggressive). To help teach multiple paragraphs, you can pre-sort the criteria into topics. The student writes a paragraph about each broader topic, thus breaking the task into manageable parts.

Opinion essays require students to have an opinion. Often, children haven’t had enough life experience to develop opinions based on anything other than emotion. Giving them a rich topic with real choices provides a time for them to develop an opinion.

It’s not just learning to WRITE an opinion that students need. They also need to learn to think through the ideas, to experience the process of FORMING an opinion. This book provides all of that, and it’s wrapped in a fun story.

FREE: I Want a Dog and I Want a Cat Printable Worksheets, CLICK HERE.

To buy the Powerpoint version of the books, click here for DOG and click here for CAT.

The worksheets are included in the powerpoint package.
Now available as a Powerpoint, I WANT A DOG and I WANT A CAT. | MimsHouse.com

Wisdom, the Midway Albatross is Back!

PW Starred Review.
PW Starred Review.
In 2012, I wrote the story of the oldest bird in the world and how she survived the 2011 Japanese tsunami. At that time, she was almost 60 years old and had lived far beyond the 25 years expected of Laysan albatrosses. Each November/December, when the albatrosses return to Midway, I hold my breath. Did she survive another year or not?

These birds are known to take a sabbatical every four or five years, to lay out a year from having chicks. Wisdom has been continuously laying eggs since at least 2006, so she’s overdue for a year off. If she doesn’t return, it may simply be that she’s vacationing instead of being lost to the wild.

So, it’s exciting to hear that she’s back! On December 4, the staff at Midway Island spotted her with a new egg. Here’s a short video of Wisdom incubating the egg. When they sit on the nest, they will not budge for anything. I’ve been told that if you drove a truck toward them, a nesting bird would be run over rather than move out of the way.

Home sweet home!
If you can’t see this video, click here
Oldest bird in world lays new egg at age 66. Read her story. | DarcyPattison.com
Photo by Kristina McOmber/Kupu Conservation Leadership Program & USFWS

The eggs usually hatch somewhere in late January to early February. We’ll be watching to see if Wisdom and her mate, Akeakamai (a Hawaiian word that means a love of wisdom, seeker after knowledge, philosopher, scientist, scholar), can raise a new chick.

There’s something inspiring about this brave old lady. She’s a seabird, soaring over the north Pacific for much of her life. And she’s survived another year to lay an egg and raise a new chick. The survival is almost against all odds–which gives me a shaky sort of awe for her.

For more:

A ROUSING TALE OF DANGER ON THE HIGH SEAS

August 9, 2016

Pigs are unlikely sailors. But they follow their dreams, through all the difficulties. Follow them on the journey of a lifetime! | MimsHouse.com

Liberty launches into the world next week! Well, it’s already available as an ebook a week early.

When Santiago is thrust into the farm’s pigsty, Penelope is captivated by Santiago Talbert’s boast, “I plan to sail the Seven Seas.” Together, these extraordinary pigs escape the farm and cross into the land of Liberty, a parallel world where an intelligent human or animal can get ahead. They follow their dream to Boston harbor, where they try to convince sea captains that pigs can sail. First, though, Santiago learns mapmaking, while Penelope works on the docks loading ships. Eventually Penelope signs onto the Ice King’s crew as he cuts and packs ice to ship to the far-flung corners of the world.

When the fleet of ice ships sails, Penelope and Santiago join the crew of the flagship, captained by Captain Kingsley, the Ice King himself. A massive polar bear, he harbors dark secrets, and the pigs face the shocking truth: they alone can save the friendly sea serpents from the Ice King’s clutches. From the fascinating world of tall ships comes this unlikely tale of humble pigs who follow their dream.

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by Darcy Pattison

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Since 1999, I’ve taught a Novel Revision retreat. In order to come, you must have a full draft of a novel. We spend a weekend discussing how to revise the novel. Invite me to teach in your area!

Popular Workbook Now an eBook

The popular workbook for Darcy Pattison's Novel Revision Retreat is Novel Metarmorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise. Hurrah! It's now available as an ebook. | MimsHouse.comIn 2008, I published Novel Metamorphosis: UnCommon Ways to Revise, the workbook for the retreat. Because it has several interactive sections–it really is a WORK book; you’re supposed to write in it–I resisted the idea of an ebook for a long time. But I kept getting requests for it as an ebook. I listened. It’s now available as an ebook on your favorite platform.

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING ABOUT NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS

“I found many books useful, but I found your Novel Metamorphosis absolutely the best for a workshop. For the first time in 18 years of doing The Manuscript Workshop in Vermont, I offered one this year for novels – for those who had a first draft or more that needed revision. The most interesting session was the one where we dealt with the Shrunken Manuscript, and we were all really impressed about how much we learned from this hands on activity.”

—Barbara Seuling, Director
The Manuscript Workshop in Vermont
www.barbaraseuling.com

“Darcy Pattison’s shrunken manuscript technique for analyzing the overall flow and pacing of my novel was the single most helpful tip I have ever picked up at a workshop. Highly recommended!”
—Carole Estby Dagg
www.caroleestbydagg.com
The Year We Were Famous, Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
2011. Would you walk over four thousand miles to save your family’s home?

“My initial reaction after finishing a first draft is to ask myself “Now What?” That question is answered and then some in Darcy’s novel revision retreats (I’ve done two so far). The large group sessions where Darcy discusses things like character, plot, setting and word choice help you wrap your brain around where your novel needs work. The break-out sessions with your critique group help you apply Darcy’s revision principles to your specific story. In the end, you walk away with a clear picture of how to take your novel apart and put it back together in a way that will make it a much stronger story. Hanging out with Darcy and other writers (at a retreat) who are in your shoes is a big bonus too!”

—Christina Mandelski
The Sweetest Thing, Egmont USA, 2011
www.christinamandelski.com

www.willwrite4cake.com
“Darcy gets you to see through your own words to find the heart and bones of your story, then gives you strategies that help you cut the fat away from that heart and keep it singing while you rearrange the bones and sinew to make the structure strong.”

—Sue Cowing
You Will Call Me Drog, Carolrhoda, 2011.

A debut middle-grade novel and a cleverly framed story of self-determination and family relationships. Fresh, funny, unexpected and, at times, just a little dark. “I revised a manuscript for an editor at Scholastic before it was accepted. His offer letter said, “The ability to have such insight about one’s own work is as rare as the talent to generate a fun and meaningful story.” Darcy Pattison taught me how to look at my own work with a powerful set of tools for considering voice, structure, action, sensory detail, and more. “It always feels magical to make a story better, but it’s not magic. It’s a matter of understanding and using the tools we writers have. Darcy built the toolbox for us with her blog, her workshops, and her book, Novel Metamorphosis. We still have to do the heavy lifting, but we’re not doing it alone.”

—Martha Brockenbrough
Devine Inspiration, Arthur Levine/Scholastic, 2012
http://marthabrockenbrough.com

Darcy Pattison’s shrunken manuscript technique pushed me to see my book in its entirety — what was working and what needed to change. On the micro level, I appreciated Darcy’s emphasis on imagery and the senses — particularly taste, touch, and smell — which bring to a story texture and depth.

—Caroline Starr Rose
May B., Schwartz and Wade/Random House Children’s Books, 2012
www.carolinestarrrose.com

“I’ve used the techniques that Darcy lays forth in Novel Metamorphosis, and my guess is you will copy, dogear, highlight, flag, and write all over this book. And while you’re marking up this text, your own novel will emerge cleaner, sharper, and more publishable.”

—Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, author of middle-grade historical novel,
Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different (Delacorte 2008), which was accepted by the first editor who read it after Tubb revised it at Darcy Pattison’s workshop. Class of 2k8. www.kristintubb.com

How to Order

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Opening lines are often difficult for writers. They spend time rewriting that first sentence endlessly in hopes of grabbing a reader. Readers just browsing in a bookstore or online will often turn to the first line of a book to decide if they’ll read further.

Here are the first lines of Mims House books. Which book(s) would you like to read more about?

“When Laurel disappeared, her father and the villagers and the priest of the Cathedral of St. Stephens searched and lit candles in prayer and pleaded with the heavens for news of her, but they never thought to look up.” Read more.

“I bent over the giant state of Texas.” Read more.

“Ba-boom, Ba-boom, Ba-boom.” Read more.

“‘Kell, did you know that my birthday party is next month?'” Bree Hendricks said to me. Read more.

“My hands dripped with blue paint.” Read more.

“Above the armadillo’s den, the western sky was ablaze with red, coral, and dark purple, while the eastern sky was just dark enough for stars to begin twinkling.” Read more.

“Saucy Dillard loved gingerbread days.” Read more.

“‘Kell, we need to plan the Friends of Police parade,’ Mary Lee Glendale said.” Read more.


When I read these OPENING LINES, I want to read several of these children's novels! Which would you like to read?| MimsHouse.com

When people ask questions about writing for kids, two questions pop up over and over. Author and writing teacher Darcy Pattison says, “People want to know what to do about illustrations and how many pages in a children’s picture book.”

Writing for Kids Means Art

I like the simple instructions on writing for kids in this ebook. There are sections on writing ABC books, nonfiction, mysteries, and more. | MimsHouse.comChildren’s picture books can’t exist without the art that graces their pages. Everyone knows that. But where does the art come from?

If you’re writing for a traditional market, you don’t have to do anything about the art. In fact, you hurt your chances of getting published if you try to provide art. The art director and editor at the publishing house choose the artist. They match up stories with illustrators who have a proven track record of selling well, which pulls the books sales up. Seldom will they match an unknown author with an unknown illustrator because that’s bad business. So, if you show up with your wife’s neice’s husband’s art – you’ve cut your chances of selling in half. The editor must LOVE the text, and the art director must LOVE the art. If that nice fella does indeed have a professional portfolio of artwork and is just making the jump into children’s books, you might be in luck. But I doubt it.

Instead, write your story. Format it in a standard manuscript format (typed, double-spaced). And submit it through the usual channels.

Writing for Kids Means a Strict Format

Children’s picture books are almost always 32 pages. This is because of the way paper is folded and how most printing presses are set up. With the advent of ebooks, there is more flexibility. However, if you want to convert easily from print to digital, you’ll still want to stick to the 32 page limit.

Need answers to more questions about writing a children’s picture book? Award-winning author, Darcy Pattison, walks you step by step through the process of writing, editing, and submitting a picture book story to a publisher. This book is only available as an ebook.


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Summer reading should be fun and humorous, light and entertaining! The Aliens, Inc. Series fits that description.

When I was looking for a great summer read for kids, I found this series. The Aliens, Inc. Series is great summer reading for kids going into 3rd-5th grades. I love series because it makes the choice of what to read next so easy. | MimsHouse.com

These are the stories of Kell, an alien from the planet of Bix, who is shipwrecked because his father’s drink spills onto the control panel of their spaceship. With technology’s help, they learn English and have to face the problem of making a living on Earth. Kell enters third grade and must avoid the principal, who is the President of the Alien Chaser’s Society.

In this fun early chapter series, the Smith family (you couldn't pronounce their alien name!) is shipwrecked on Earth. How can they make a living? | MimsHouse.com

Summer Reading to Keep 2nd-5th Graders Happy!

Author Darcy Pattison says, “This was a fun series to write because there were repeating elements, and yet each book had to stand alone.”

Each book starts in an art class. They draw, paint themselves into a corner, and create a “found art” bulletin board that Mrs. Crux calls The Accidental Art board. Nutrition, social studies, choir and nutrition teachers get their say also, as each book includes assignments from one of those classes.

To up the tension, the Principal, Mrs. Lynx is President of the Alien Chaser’s Society. She’s sure that someone in third grade is an alien, if she could just catch them. She employs a different technique in each book, coming close, closer and closer.
I love the drama added by the Alien Chaser's Society. In each book of The Aliens, Inc. Series, they get closer to capturing Kell and his family. | MimsHouse.com
Someone, it also worked out to have a song in each book. If you try the audiobooks, narrator Josiah Bildner does an amazing job of pulling off “The Star Spangled Banner.” The audiobooks are great listening in the car or on a child’s ipod.

With all that fun, we almost hesitate to add (Shhh!) that there are complete lesson plans (PDF download) for the series.

Start The Aliens, Inc. Series Today

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Pretend you’re a kid walking into your school’s library. Now, pretend you have the task of choosing a good book. Information overload takes over and in fact, the overwhelming number of books could mean you’d freeze up and choose nothing.

In a recent survey on MimsHouse.com, teachers were asked, “What is the biggest challenge you face when you try to get kids to read more books?” Not surprisingly, 38% said kids don’t have enough time. Kids are scheduled with sports, electronics compete for their time, and homework schedules are heavy; in school time is taken up with subject matter or test prep. More surprising, 45% reported that students have a hard time choosing a good book.
I love how this article explains kids' decision making process and how we can help them choose great books. Breaks it down into actionable steps. | MimsHouse.com


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Yet, 91% of kids say their favorite books are ones they have picked out themselves. And 90% say they are more likely to finish reading a book that they’ve picked out for themselves.

It’s clear that teachers and librarians need to take a new look at how we teach kids to choose a book to read. In fact, 73% of kids say they would read more if they could find a book they like to read.

In light of these statistics, I looked at psychological studies on making choices, especially regarding information overload.

Early studies of the psychology of making choices said that the more items to choose from the harder the choice. For example, there’s the well-known jelly study.

“They had 348 different kinds of jam. We set up a little tasting booth right near the entrance of the store. We there put out six different flavors of jam or 24 different flavors of jam, and we looked at two things: First, in which case were people more likely to stop, sample some jam? More people stopped when there were 24, about 60 percent, than when there were six, about 40 percent. The next thing we looked at is in which case were people more likely to buy a jar of jam. Now we see the opposite effect. Of the people who stopped when there were 24, only three percent of them actually bought a jar of jam. Of the people who stopped when there were six, well now we saw that 30 percent of them actually bought a jar of jam. Now if you do the math, people were at least six times more likely to buy a jar of jam if they encountered six than if they encountered 24.”

24 choices: 60% stopped to sample. 3% bought. 1.8 sales/100 customers
6 choices: 40% sampled; 30% bought. 12 sales/100 customers

However the idea that the sample size determines the rate of choices has been reviewed and found lacking.

Benjamin Scheibehenne, Rainer Greifeneder, and Peter M. Todd (“Can There Ever Be too Many Options? A Meta-Analytic Review of Choice Overload. Journal of Consumer Research, Inc. Vol 37, October 2010) did a meta-analysis of a number of studies that looked at choice overload. They found that the number of choices wasn’t the key factor. Instead, it’s more nuanced. While the whole area needs more research and study, there are some ideas that could help us as we help students choose a book. I’m extrapolating many of these ideas because the studies weren’t specifically looking at students choosing books. However, these ideas give us places to start in helping students find a good book.

Make it Easier to Choose a Good book: Preconditions for Choice Overload

Some situations make information overload more likely.

Lack of familiarity with choice assortment. For young students, this is certainly their state when they enter a library. Everything is unfamiliar and they have no preferences to help them choose a book. Even older students, if they have little experience with books at home, will find the library unfamiliar.

There’s no obvious dominant choice. Ever wonder why Wimpy Kid gets checked out so much? It’s because it’s the default, the obvious choice. When there’s no obvious choice, though, students can fall into a choice overload. Try making an alternate book the obvious choice.

Too many choices. It is true that sometimes there can be too many items to choose among. The problem with this assumption is the question of “how many is too many?” In general, familiarity with the choice assortment means a larger group can be offered. For younger students and when you introduce a new genre, narrow the choices. For older students looking at familiar genres, widen the choices.

Categorize Books to Help Students Choose

Before a student steps into the library, it matters how you organize your library and how you display the books.

Categorize the Choices. A well-organized library facilitates the decision making process for students. When books are categorized, the cognitive burden of choosing is less. Every librarian understands this! It’s helpful to separate fiction from non-fiction, picture books from novels, and so on. Teaching the Dewey Decimal system of categorization helps students choose books because they narrow the choices to a pre-defined set.

But you can also go farther, especially in presenting books for a certain unit of study. Books can be categorized by genre, age level, author, illustrator, amount of illustrations, medium (ebook, print, audio), and so on.

Avoid Difficult Trade-offs. Don’t present books that are too similar. So, three Harry-Potter look-alikes would make it difficult for a student to choose. When the choice is between items that are too similar, the process can become one of difficult trade-offs. These choices can affect satisfaction, regret and motivation. Because there’s always another book to read next week, the regret might be ignored. But satisfaction and motivation need to be considered. Presenting books that display a wider variation would help students make the choices easier. Instead, of a displaying three Harry-Potter look-alikes, you might display together one fantasy, one contemporary and one historical book.

To address the question of satisfaction and regret, always remind the student that if they don’t like this book, it’s not a big deal. They can always check out a different one next time.

These two recommendations can seem to counteract each other: narrow the choices, but don’t present items that are too similar. But remember that simply by setting up a book display, you’ve narrowed choices. If the display forces too narrow a category, though—only Harry Potter look-alikes—it’s hard for students to choose because they are making trade-offs. Make sure books are presented in useful categories, probably dependent on the classroom topics or goals. If the class is studying pets, it won’t be helpful to display choices such as ebooks v. audio v. print books. Instead, it would be helpful to pre-categorize choices into books about cats, dogs, hamsters and so on.

Information Overload. While the number of choices alone wasn’t significant in the studies analyzed, the amount of information was important. Choice overload is a subset of information overload. When presenting books, refrain from presenting everything about the books from which a student can choose. Present enough information to make the choices clear, but not enough to overload the student.

For example, you might discuss the differences in the main characters. The One and Only Ivan is about a gorilla who had to live at a shopping mall for years by himself. Harry Potter is about an orphaned boy who becomes a famous wizard. Wonder is about a boy with a strange disease that leaves him with a deformed face.

Or, for younger classes, you may want to set aside a small bookshelf of books about pets, instead of directing them to the entire shelf based on the Dewey Decimal system.

Time Pressure. The studies also showed that when decision makers were rushed, they tended to be less satisfied with their choices. Within the context of a scheduled library hour, schedule enough time for students to choose a book.


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How Kids Make Choices – Decision Strategies

Once the librarian has organized the choices, the student still must choose. How can we make it easier for them?

Relative v. Absolute Evaluations. When choosing a book, students will often compare a book to a group of other books. Some studies indicate the importance of the sequence of the decision making process. Should students narrow options first and then choose; or should they choose a specific book first and then compare it to all the other choices?

People tend to be happier with their choices when they narrow options first. This relates back to the idea of categorization of choices, which is a way of narrowing options. In other words, teaching kids to categorize books is a helpful skill. There are a couple ways to bring this to the process of choosing a book.

Students will be more satisfied in these situations:

  • The student decides to read a humorous story; within the category of humorous stories, s/he decides to read Captain Underpants.
  • The student decides to read a Rick Riordian book. S/he decides to read Percy Jackson and the Olympian series. Actually, if Book 1 is good, then the decision making process is even easier because they are dealing with a known quality. Book 2 is the likely choice. Series actually facilitate happy readers because it alleviates the decision making process.

In other words, help students to verbalize what sort of book they are looking for. Then present a narrow choice within those parameters.

Good Enough v. Best. Another question is whether a student is looking for a book that is “good enough,” or something that is the “best.” Those looking for the Best want a large assortment of books, but even then have trouble deciding. Talk to students about finding a good book and not worrying about finding the best book. This could be a problem with students who resist reading because it’s a waste of time or they just don’t like reading. For them, a wide variety of experiences can teach them that a Good Book can be enjoyed and they don’t necessarily have to have the Best Book.

Choice Justification. Another area studied is whether a student must take personal responsibility for a choice. When people are asked to justify a choice, it’s more difficult to make a decision. It’s especially hard when choices are too similar and sorting out the deciding factor is too subtle. In other words, a difficult question for kids is this: “Why did you choose this book?” Even worse is to be asked, “Why did you choose this book instead of that one?” In those cases, students have trouble analyzing and verbalizing their choice. If they know the question is coming, it’s the hardest of all.

Peer pressure enters in here, because when a student carries around a book, friends will inevitably ask, “What are you reading?” Justifying a certain book to themselves can be hard, but justifying it to friends is even worse. No wonder students stick to the most popular books without branching out.

What if we teach kids how to anticipate and deal with that question? Help students to find ways to make their choices look admirable:

  • “I’m taking a chance by reading something a bit different.”
  • “I’m reading outside my normal genre, just to stretch a bit.”
  • “It’s a new author for me. I’m not sure I’ll like it, but I’m the kind of person who likes to take risks sometimes.”

By giving them strategies and models of how to discuss choices, it could ease the peer pressure and extend choices.

A Summary of Decision Making Strategies

When faced with a choice of too many items, there are several strategies that seem to work. Teaching all three strategies over the course of a year would help expand the students options for finding a good book.

  • Find and accept the first option that exceeds our expectations. A student may decide that s/he wants a funny book that is short. As soon as s/he finds a short, funny book, s/he decides to check it out.
  • Eliminate, using some criteria. If a student is considering three books and only one has black-and-white illustrations throughout, s/he might eliminate the other two because s/he wants some illustrations to help him/her understand the text better.
  • Default. As we said before, a default option often helps students make choices. This strategy has worked well for book clubs in the past. They shipped a certain book UNLESS you told them different. What if we set up a list of reading books for students? If they want to choose something else, that’s fine. But if not, this is the default book for them for today. It would be an interesting idea to try!

    Another way students discover the default is my popular opinion and word-of-mouth: everyone in 6th grade is reading Wimpy Kid; therefore, I must read it.

Helping students make choices about books is crucial for education today. We need a wide variety of techniques and strategies for helping them make those choices. Which of these strategies works best in your school?

Other recommended reading

  1. Scholastic The Kids & Family Reading Report: Fifth Edition In fall 2014, Scholastic, in conjunction with YouGov, conducted a survey to explore family attitudes and behaviors around reading books for fun.
  2. 2016 What Kids Are Reading Report
    During the 2014–2015 school year, 9.8 million students from 31,327 US schools read over 334 million books and nonfiction articles, per data captured by Accelerated Reader 360TM. Search for the books kids read most below.

Get a copy of this blog post in a form you can read and share with others. FREE Report: How to Help Kids Choose a Great Book!

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Mims House titles are now available on Overdrive's Marketplace.
Mims House titles are now available on Overdrive’s Marketplace.

Mims House is pleased to announce that our catalog of titles is now available for purchase by schools and libraries through OverDrive Marketplace. Our reasonable priced children’s fiction and nonfiction titles are a great way to grow your digital library and give your patrons exceptional new titles to discover and fall in love with.

Purchase through OverDrive to make these great titles available to your patrons today.
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All of our backlist and spring titles are currently available and as new titles become available, you can find them there also. This expands our distribution to make it easier and more efficient for you to purchase Mims House titles at the vendor of your choice. Our other distribution partners for books and ebooks include Ingram, Follett School Solutions, Mackin, Child’s Plus, Permabound, Amazon, Nook, iBook, and Kobo. Selected titles are available in audio through iTunes, Audible, Amazon, and Findaway (which distributes to Ingram, Follett, Mackin, etc.).

2016 Fall Catalog

Our Fall catalog is now available, too! CLICK the cover to download the 2016 Mims House Fall Catalog.

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Featured Titles 2016 Mims House

The true story of Nefertiti, the Johnson Jumping Spider, who clocked 100 days in space, during which time she circled Earth about 1584 times, traveling about 41,580,000 miles. The true story of Nefertiti, the Johnson Jumping Spider, who clocked 100 days in space, during which time she circled Earth about 1584 times, traveling about 41,580,000 miles.
This is a story of change: through the dark and cold, in spite of being weightless and isolated, this amazing spider adapted and learned to hunt. She survived to return to Earth, where she had to re-adapt to Earth’s gravity. Nefertiti’s story of survival inspires hope that we, too, can adapt to a changing world.


Liberty -From the fascinating world of tall ships comes this unlikely tale of humble pigs who follow their dream. | MimsHouse.com
From the fascinating world of tall ships comes this unlikely tale of humble pigs who follow their dream.

A ROUSING TALE OF DANGER ON THE HIGH SEAS —
When Santiago is thrust into the farm’s pigsty, Penelope is captivated by Santiago Talbert’s boast, “I plan to sail the Seven Seas.” Together, these extraordinary pigs escape the farm and cross into the land of Liberty, a parallel world where an intelligent human or animal can get ahead. They follow their dream to Boston harbor, where they try to convince sea captains that pigs can sail. First, though, Santiago learns mapmaking, while Penelope works on the docks loading ships. Eventually Penelope signs onto the Ice King’s crew as he cuts and packs ice to ship to the far-flung corners of the world.

When the fleet of ice ships sails, Penelope and Santiago join the crew of the flagship, captained by Captain Kingsley, the Ice King himself. A massive polar bear, he harbors dark secrets, and the pigs face the shocking truth: they alone can save the friendly sea serpents from the Ice King’s clutches.

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