Writing Great Book Reports: Fiction and Nonfiction
You probably began writing book reports in elementary school. When you were younger, it seemed like an easy assignment.
Sanjaya began by reading the first few pages of several books. He told the library about the kind of books he likes. The librarian made several suggestions. This one combines interesting characters and some wild adventures. It’s so good that Sanjaya hates to put the book down for meals.
Book Reports in lower grades were easy. They included
1. Reading a book – usually a book you wanted to read anyway.
2. Writing about the story, without telling the ending.
3. Writing your opinion of the book including what you liked best and what you didn’t like.
4. Students often ended y oral reports by telling classmates it was a great book and they should “Read the book and find out what happened.”
Two things have changed
1. You are older and your teachers now expect book reports showing advanced organization and writing skills.
2. Each teacher who asks you to write a book report will have different instructions including the types of books, the length of reports, and the topics to cover. Some teachers might give you a list of books to choose from. If you really don’t like any books on the list you could always ask the teacher if something you like – of equal or greater difficulty – could be substituted.
Writing a Book Report on Works of Fiction
An English teacher will ask you to read fiction, possibly from a certain time period or by a certain author. They might tell you to include:
1. the setting (place, time, weather)
2. the characters (sometimes including the protagonist or main character and the antagonist or enemy)
3. the genre (category such as romance, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, adventure, suspense, horror, historical, or literary fiction.) If you aren’t sure of the genre, ask a librarian to help. Some books are a combination of genres. One of my favorite authors writes mysteries on other plants: It is both mystery and science fiction. Others combine mysteries and romance. Vampire stories seem to have become a separate genre, at least for now.
4. a summary of the plot. This might include the type of conflict (if you have studied this) and a description of the climax. Be sure to find out if the teacher wants you to include the ending or resolution of the conflict.
5. the tone, mood, or theme of the book
6. the Point of View – who is the narrator of the book?
7. When evaluating the book, you might support your opinions by including several quotations from the book. Your teacher might consider “You should read this book to see what happens,” to be out of place at your age. You might instead describe the strong and weak points in the book.
Writing a Book Report on a work of Nonfiction
This is less common but could be assigned in classes such as history or science. This will seem strange. You won’t use setting, characters, genre, plot, theme, or point of view. Instead of a report on a book, you might be asked to report on an article. Your teacher will probably explain what they do expect. They will probably want:
1. The main idea of the entire book. This is the reason the author wrote the book. Sometimes there is a question that the writer attempts to answer. Sometimes it is an analysis of a situation. Look for the author’s thesis, the brief statement of their main idea. Use this as the introduction to your report.
2. You cannot summarize every chapter in the book. Choose three or four of the most important ideas that support the author’s thesis. These should form the three or four paragraphs in the body of the report.
3. In nonfiction, the background of the author is important. What qualifies this author to write on this topic? Look at the bibliography and see how much research the author has done. Are the books in the bibliography all from one particular perspective or from many different points of view? You might check the Internet for more information about the author. This along with the analysis of the author’s thinking might form the conclusion if it is brief. If they are detailed and significant, they can be additional paragraphs in the body of the report, followed by a conclusion.
4. It is important to use critical thinking. Does the author separate facts and opinions? Are the “facts” they use accepted as true by educated people in the field? Does the author look at a topic from many points of view? Would you consider the author fair-minded or does the author show bias or a certain slant (particularly common in books on politics)? Does the author “jump to conclusions” without sufficient proof?
Before you start to write
Know what your report should include BEFORE you begin to read.
As you read, take notes on appropriate topics. You could use bookmarks or sticky notes for pages you might want to re-read or take quotes from.
Your outline is easy. You will use the categories above or what your teacher recommends. Be sure you have three or four main ideas in each category. With this, the report should be easy to write.
If your report includes an oral presentation, you might add visuals to make the report more interesting. Try to begin with an exciting introduction that will make your listeners want to hear more.
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