How to Write a Killer Book Report

by Melissa Taylor

Photo credit: Johner Images, Brand X Pictures/ Getty Images

Book reports (also called book reviews or critiques) check for a student’s reading comprehension skills and ability to express his or her thoughts about the book in writing.

Depending on the grade level and the teacher’s specific assignment, a book report can be from one to five or more paragraphs. But no matter the length, book reports need to include these essential elements:

  • Book Report Checklist

_____   Title and Author

Always include the book’s title and the author’s name. If you’re writing an essay, this goes in the first sentence or first paragraph.

_____   Summary

Fiction: Summaries can be challenging. So here’s how to pare down everything that happened in the book.

Remember doing story maps? If your book is fiction, start with a story map to jot down the story elements: setting; beginning, middle, and end (or problem and resolution); and main characters. You can find story map examples here. Take the information from the story map and combine it into sentences to form a concise summary.

Fiction summary example: A blond girl entered a house in the woods where she broke furniture, ate cereal, and took a nap. When the bear homeowners returned, the little girl ran away.

Another way to summarize is to use the “somebody-wanted-but-so-then” method. For each word (i.e. somebody), write the story element. For example: Somebody = the aliens, wanted = underpants, but = mom came outside to get laundry, so then = they zoomed back to space. Put this all together and you have a short and sweet summary: The aliens wanted underpants but the mom came outside to get the laundry so they zoomed back to space.

Nonfiction: If your book is nonfiction, instead of a story map, start with a graphic organizer or thinking map to organize the most important information. Use this information to write your summary.

Nonfiction summary example: Each strata of the rainforest is home to diverse animals, from the upper canopy to the lower forest floor.

Adapt the “somebody-wanted-but-so-then” method for nonfiction using this formula: “something-happened-and-then”. Here’s an example: The hurricane destroyed the small village and made it difficult for residents to get clean water and shelter.

Reminder: Don’t put in any of those oh-so-interesting details in your summary. We don’t need to know that the main character stubbed her toe or her favorite band is The Rolling Stones. Only include the most important information.

_____   Analysis

Your teacher wants to know what you thought about the book and why. Depending on your grade level, she’ll want either your most basic thoughts (What made it good or not good and why?) or a more complex analysis (What was the book’s theme?).

Here are questions to consider when you write your analysis: (Remember to always justify your reasons with an explanation. In other words, always answer WHY after you state your thoughts.)

  • Did you like this book?
  • Could you relate to something in the character’s life?
  • Did the book teach you anything?
  • What made the book difficult or interesting?
  • What surprised you and why?
  • What do you know now that you didn’t know before?
  • Would you read another book by this author?
  • What motivated the main character?
  • How did the main character change throughout the story?
  • Talk about author’s craft. What about the writing was notable?
  • What was the symbolism in the book?
  • What wisdom did older characters impart to younger ones?

_____   Examples from the Text

Most teachers require citations, or specific examples, to support analysis, especially after a close reading. You’ll have two choices: paraphrase the part in the book in your own words or quote directly from the text.

When using a direct quote, elementary students are required to put quotation marks around the passage as well as indicate the page where the quote is found. Example: “But wherever these friends of mine are — that’s my home.” (480)

For middle and high school students, teachers require MLA or APA style citations. MLA citations are (last name page number) while APA citations are (last name, publication year). For more specifics, visit this helpful tutorial.

Book reports are important for a student’s academic success.  An Anchor Common Core Standard for Reading confirms this, saying that students should be able to: “Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.”

If you or your kiddos need a bit of book report inspiration, and a laugh or two along the way, check out this classic “Peanuts” video.