November 6, 2014

By Sue Pulvermacher-Alt, Former Educator

Can you guess America’s most-ordered ice cream flavor?  It’s not butter pecan, and it’s not blueberry cheesecake, and it’s not mint chocolate chip. (These, however, are my most-ordered flavors….) A year-long study by GrubHub revealed that the most-ordered ice cream flavor in America is…(drum roll please)…vanilla.

My daughter’s “vanilla” was the Olsen twins. When she was young, she loved books that were in any way tied to Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen. She is their age and in essence grew up with them. She wanted to know all about them, so she read everything she could that included these twins. My goal was to open her world to other flavors of strong female characters in books—Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie, Ramona Quimby’s adventures, Nancy Drew’s sleuthing, and all of the girls featured in the historical fiction of the American Girl series—to take her interest in girls like her and expand the horizon. I wanted to give her choices, knowing sometimes she would choose to come back to her favorite vanilla.


How can we help kids discover things they might be interested in but not even know it yet? We have Baskin-Robbins to thank for opening up the world of ice cream flavors (which by the way is now, nearly 70 years later, over 1,000 flavors). And we have tens of thousands of children’s books published every year. We know learner interest matters. When a topic connects to what students like to do, engagement deepens.  (A great article on strategies for empowering student choice is here.)

Matching kids to books of interest is what great librarians have always done.  But a librarian isn’t always there when a child finishes a book and begins looking for the next one.How can we introduce kids to titles that may be of interest to them? How can we easily (and safely) open new worlds of books for our students?

At Renaissance, we believe the key is using learning analytics to inform suggestions, and then putting those suggestions right in front of students every day. Our database includes reading records for more than 10.7 million K–12 students from more than 36,000 schools worldwide. That means we have:

  • Data to know each student’s reading level so we know where they are on the spectrum of learning to read and reading to learn.
  • Data to differentiate by interest, enabling us to know what students care about and in turn choose to read.
  • Data on the grade level of each student so we can suggest books that are developmentally appropriate.
  • Data and research around target reading ranges so we can suggest a personalized range for reading success.
  • Data around what other kids, with similar characteristics, choose to read so we can make book suggestions based on kids like them.

When used together, this data allows us to offer each student personalized suggestions for the next book to read.

The “Top Books for You” shelf greets students each time they log in to Renaissance Accelerated Reader. These suggestions complement what librarians do every day—get kids excited about the next book to read.


Whether books or ice cream, we want kids to know there are thousands of choices out there, and we want to encourage them to try new flavors now and then. My daughter expanded her reading interests and has grown up to become her own strong female character in her own story of life.  When she has ice cream, she frequently chooses vanilla.  And that’s perfectly fine.

“Eat Ice Cream. Read Books. Be Happy.” ― Carew Papritz

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