One assignment has lasted the test of time, uniting generations of students in a common learning exercise: book reports. While many students dread these assignments, book reports can help students learn how to interpret texts and gain a broader understanding of the world around them. Well-written books can open your eyes to new experiences, people, places, and life situations that you may have never thought about before. In turn, a book report is a tool that allows you, the reader, to demonstrate that you have understood all the nuances of the text you just read.
What's a Book Report?
In the broadest terms, a book report describes and summarizes a work of fiction or nonfiction. It sometimes - but not always - includes a personal evaluation of the text. In general, regardless of grade level, a book report will include an introductory paragraph that shares the title of the book and its author. Students will often develop their own opinions about the underlying meaning of the texts through developing thesis statements, typically presented in the opening of a book report, and then using examples from the text and interpretations to support those statements.
Before You Start Writing
A good book report will address a specific question or point of view and back up this topic with specific examples, in the form of symbols and themes. These steps will help you identify and incorporate those important elements. It shouldn't be too hard to do, provided you're prepared, and you can expect to spend, on average, 3-4 days working on the assignment. Check out these tips to ensure you're successful:
- Have an objective in mind. This is the main point you want to present or the question you plan to answer in your report.
- Keep supplies on hand when you read. This is very important. Keep sticky-note flags, pen, and paper nearby as you read. If you're reading an eBook, make sure you know how to use the annotation function of your app/program.
- Read the book. It seems obvious, but too many students try to take a shortcut and simply read summaries or watch movies, but you often miss important details that can make or break your book report.
- Pay attention to detail. Keep an eye out for clues that the author has provided in the form of symbolism. These will indicate some important point that supports the overall theme. For instance, a spot of blood on the floor, a quick glance, a nervous habit, an impulsive action, a repetitive action… These are worth noting.
- Use your sticky flags to mark pages. When you run into clues or interesting passages, mark the page by placing the sticky note at the beginning of the relevant line.
- Look for themes. As you read, you should begin to see an emerging theme. On a notepad, write down some notes on how you came to determine the theme.
- Develop a rough outline. By the time you finish reading the book, you will have recorded several possible themes or approaches to your objective. Review your notes and find points that you can back up with good examples (symbols).
Your Book Report Introduction
The start of your book report provides an opportunity to make a solid introduction to the material and your own personal assessment of the work. You should try to write a strong introductory paragraph that grabs your reader's attention. Somewhere in your first paragraph, you should also state the book's title and the author's name.
High school-level papers should include publication information as well as brief statements about the book's angle, the genre, the theme, and a hint about the writer's feelings in the introduction.
First Paragraph Example: Middle School Level
"The Red Badge of Courage", by Stephen Crane, is a book about a young man growing up during the Civil War. Henry Fleming is the main character of the book. As Henry watches and experiences the tragic events of the war, he grows up and changes his attitudes about life.
First Paragraph Example: High School Level
Can you identify one experience that changed your entire view of the world around you? Henry Fleming, the main character in "The Red Badge of Courage", begins his life-changing adventure as a naive young man, eager to experience the glory of war. He soon faces the truth about life, war, and his own self-identity on the battlefield, however. "The Red Badge of Courage", by Stephen Crane, is a coming of age novel published by D. Appleton and Company in 1895, about thirty years after the Civil War ended. In this book, the author reveals the ugliness of war and examines its relationship to the pain of growing up.
The Body of the Book Report
Before you get started on the body of the report, take a few minutes to jot down some helpful information by considering the following points.
- Did you enjoy the book?
- Was it well written?
- What was the genre?
- (fiction) Which characters play important roles that relate to the overall theme?
- Did you notice reoccurring symbols?
- Is this book a part of a series?
- (nonfiction) Can you identify the writer's thesis?
- What is the writing style?
- Did you notice a tone?
- Was there an obvious slant or bias?
In the body of your book report, you will use your notes to guide you through an extended summary of the book. You will weave your own thoughts and impressions into the plot summary. As you review the text, you'll want to focus on key moments in the storyline and relate them to the perceived theme of the book, and how the characters and setting all bring the details together. You'll want to be sure that you discuss the plot, any examples of conflict that you encounter, and how the story resolves itself. It can be helpful to use strong quotes from the book to enhance your writing.
As you lead to your final paragraph, consider some additional impressions and opinions:
- Was the ending satisfactory (for fiction)?
- Was the thesis supported by strong evidence (for nonfiction)?
- What interesting or notable facts do you know about the author?
- Would you recommend this book?
Conclude your report with a paragraph or two that covers these additional points. Some teachers prefer that you re-state the name and author of the book in the concluding paragraph. As always, consult your specific assignment guide or ask your teacher if you have questions about what is expected of you.