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Tips on Writing Book Reports
Tips on Writing Book Reports
If you're scared of book reports, don't be! A book report is probably among the easiest writing assignments you could get. Here we'll give you a quick idea as to what a book report is and how to get started, and then we'll go over the different parts of the actual report. You can look to our sample book report to get a basic idea of what a typical book report should look like.

(A note of caution, however - if you have been assigned one of these for school, you'd better ask your teacher exactly what he or she wants to see in your book report. Different teachers have different ideas of what should go in a book report.)

What is a book report?

A book report is a short paper summarizing the important parts of a certain book. You can include a few of your opinions in the conclusion - but a book report is not entirely about whether you liked the book, or whether you thought a certain character was poorly written, or whether you would have changed the ending, etc. A book report is mainly a way to show what a book is about and a way to highlight the book's important parts.

We know, we know - sounds boring! You may even be wondering what the point of writing one is at all, if you don't get to include your thoughts and opinions. Well, the person assigning you the book report wants to be sure of three things:

  1. that you really read the book!
  2. that you can identify important characters and plot points
  3. that you are capable of writing in a clear and grammatically correct manner
So, accomplish those three things and you are all set.

Where do I start?

  1. Reading

    If you don't enjoy reading, we hate to tell you this - but you must read the book. We mean really read it; Cliff's Notes don't count! Your teacher will probably be able to tell whether you actually read the book or just read a summary of it somewhere. (And if it was the latter, your teacher won't be very happy with you.)

    Also, when we say "Read the book," we don't mean "Sprawl out on the couch with your book while your little brother is playing Mortal Kombat III and your dad is vacuuming the living room." You need to find a quiet place where you can concentrate on what you're reading, or you won't remember what's important by the time you reach the end of the book.

  2. Taking Notes

    We would also recommend taking notes while you read. This doesn't mean you have to record every little thing that happens, or the name of every minor character in the book. When something interesting happens in the book, or when something significant about a character's personality is revealed, jot it down in your notebook along with the page number you found it on. If you prefer, you can also just write a short, five- or six-sentence paragraph summary of each chapter as you finish it. This will make it easier for you to remember all these things when you have to write about them in your report.

    After you're done reading and taking notes, it's time to put it in a format you can use.

  3. Organizing Information

    Start by answering the following questions:

    1. What is the setting of the book? In other words - where does the main action of this book take place, and during what time period?
    2. Who is the main character of the book? List some interesting facts or descriptions of the main character and include, if you can, specific details about his or her history and personality. If there is more than one important character, write descriptions for the others as well.
    3. What is the main problem in the book? By problem, we mean the central conflict - what drives the action of the book? What makes the main character do the things he or she does? If you need help with this, try to step back and examine the book as one long problem-solving journey for the main character. All books contain some sort of conflict, or they would be boring because nothing would happen in them. It may help you to know that the conflict probably falls into one or more of the following categories:
      • Person versus Person/Persons. This type of conflict happens when the main character's problem has to do with another person or group of people. For instance, if the main character desperately wants to be a part of the popular crowd at school, that would be an example of a person vs. persons conflict.
      • Person versus Nature (or some other power). This type of conflict covers almost everything else - a tornado hitting the main character's house and destroying it; the main character's mother getting cancer; killer bees invading the main character's town.
      • Person versus Self. This type of conflict has to do with a character's inner struggle. For instance, let's say your main character kills someone in the first few chapters: for the rest of the book, he tries to decide whether or not to turn himself in and confess. This is a person vs. self struggle.

    4. How is the problem solved? How does the plot finish up?

      After you answer those questions, write a basic plot summary for the book. Pick out the most important things that happened in the book, and connect them together to create a good idea of what the book is about. Now you're ready to start writing.

    How do I write it?

    1. Introduction

      Your first paragraph should tell the reader a few basic things (but you can choose the order):
      1. The name of the author
      2. The title of the book (remember to underline it!)
      3. The setting of the book (where and when the action of the book takes place)
      4. What the book is basically about - the main idea of the book, in other words
      Pretty basic, right? (Click here to read the introduction of our sample book report.)

    2. Body paragraphs

      These are the paragraphs that tell the reader what happened in the book. A natural way to group paragraphs is by using the action of the book: when looking at your plot outline you will see that there are certain places where it seems "right" to start a new paragraph. For instance, you may want to spend the first body paragraph describing the basic setting in a more in-depth manner than you did in the introduction, and then describing who the main character is. You can introduce the main problem of the book in the second body paragraph, and in the following paragraphs you can go on to describe the different ways the character tries to solve this problem. The final body paragraph should tell the reader how the problem is resolved (but try not to give away surprise endings in too much detail!). You can also write about how the character has changed by the end of the story.

      Use the present tense to write about the action that takes place in the book. (Why? Because that's how papers and book reports are written - it's just the way things are done.) Also, don't use contractions in your writing: "can't," "don't," "isn't," and all the rest. Contractions are informal, so you shouldn't use them for formal or academic writing.

      The biggest thing to avoid in the body paragraphs is something we call "The Kindergartner's Field Trip Problem." This happens when you describe the plot of the book in the same way a kindergartner might tell someone about his or her field trip: "First we got on the bus. Then we went to the zoo. Then we saw some monkeys. Then we saw some lions. Then we had lunch." Well, you get the picture.

      No one, least of all your teacher - who probably has to grade thirty or more book reports - wants to hear a laundry list of the things that happen in your book. You can avoid this by varying your sentence structure (which means using a mixture of simple and compound sentences, as well as a mixture of long, medium, and short sentence lengths) and picking only the important plot points to report. You can also include a few details or quotations to make the paragraphs more interesting. Also, re-read what you've written after each paragraph. If it sounds boring to you, it's definitely not going to be exciting for your teacher or reader. (Click here to take a look at the body paragraphs in our sample book report.)

    3. Conclusion

      Your concluding paragraph is where you can give your evaluation of the book. Tell what you liked about it, what you didn't - but you should give supporting evidence from the book to back up your opinions. In other words, don't simply write, "I thought the character of Tiffany wasn't good." Instead you could say something like, "I thought the character of Tiffany was too simplistic and one-dimensional: the author describes her as such an evil villain that she does not seem realistic." The second sentence describes why you don't think Tiffany was good. In general, it is almost never a smart idea to use phrases such as "I thought ____ was good" or "I thought ____ was bad," "I liked it" or "I didn't like it," without telling the reader why. If you want to, you can finish up the report with your opinion of the book as a whole. (Click here to read the conclusion of the sample book report.)

      (Again, your teacher might have a different idea of what a conclusion is, so remember to ask him or her what a concluding paragraph should look like.)

Sample Book Report with Commentary

Sample Book Report Commentary
What would you do if you discovered that your sixth-grade teacher was actually an alien? That is the problem facing Susan Simmons, the main character of Bruce Coville's book, My Teacher Is an Alien. Attending a typical school in a typical town much like any other in America today, Susan finds out that her new teacher, Mr. Smith, has been sent from outer space to kidnap human specimens from her classroom. She has to find a way to stop him and save her real sixth-grade teacher before it is too late. This is the INTRODUCTION. The first sentence captures the reader's attention. Remember that the main character, author, and title of the book must all be given in this paragraph. We also learn the setting of the book - "a typical school in a typical town much like any other in America today." The last two sentences briefly tell us the main problem facing Susan and give us an idea as to what the book is about.
Susan is a normal sixth-grader. She enjoys going to school and playing the piccolo in the school band. But one thing that sets her apart is her bravery: when the class bully, Duncan, tries to beat someone up, she gets a black eye by trying to stop him. That bravery becomes important when her beloved teacher, Ms. Schwartz, suddenly disappears and a strange substitute takes her place. The new teacher, Mr. John Smith, is very strict and hates the sound of music. One day, Mr. Smith accidentally picks up a mean note about him that Susan has written, and packs it into his briefcase. Susan decides that she has no choice but to follow him home and attempt to retrieve the note. This is the first BODY PARAGRAPH. It tells us about the character of Susan and we find out she is brave. But note that the report doesn't just say, "Susan is brave": we also get an example of her bravery with the Duncan anecdote. We then discover more about the plot, and get a little bit of information about Mr. Smith. The paragraph ends at a natural but suspenseful point, to draw the reader on to the next paragraph.
That is when her problems really begin. While Susan is hiding in his house, she sees him peel off his face to reveal the face of a horrible alien underneath. She hears him talking to his leader and finds out that his real name is Broxholm; his mission is to kidnap some students to examine back on his home planet. Horrified, she tries to tell one of her classmates, Peter Thompson, about Broxholm the next day. Peter is a quiet, bookish boy who reads a lot of science fiction, which is why Susan thinks he will believe her when she tells him the truth about "Mr. Smith." Together, they decide to go back to Broxholm's house to find more evidence that he is an alien. More plot summary. Notice that the description of Peter, an important secondary character, is brief, but still tells us what we need to know about him.
The two of them make new discoveries in the house that make the situation even more urgent. In Broxholm's attic they find a force field imprisoning Ms. Schwartz, their real teacher, who is frozen inside of it. But by placing her hands on the force field, Susan can somehow hear what Ms. Schwartz is thinking. Ms. Schwartz tells Susan and Peter that Broxholm is planning to kidnap five students from their class - by the next week, the day of Susan's big band concert. If they do not unmask Broxholm soon, he will be gone, and take the students with him. The next day at school, Susan tries to unmask him, but fails. Peter suggests that they take a picture of the force field so they can prove Broxholm is an alien, so the two of them skip school and return yet again to Broxholm's house. The first sentence gives us a basic idea of what this paragraph is about - the situation growing more urgent - and the sentences that follow reveal how and why. Notice that the paragraph reminds us that Ms. Schwartz is Susan's real teacher, since Ms. Schwartz has only been mentioned once, briefly, in the first body paragraph. The paragraph ends by telling us about another trip to Broxholm's house, which is how the other two body paragraphs ended as well. This gives a sense of organization to the book report.
Although Susan and Peter take the pictures, the photos do not turn out well, and they are again left without evidence that Broxholm is an alien. Time is running out. Susan finds it hard to practice her piccolo solo for the concert because she is so worried about the classmates of hers who might get kidnapped. When the night of the concert - and the alien kidnapping - arrives, all the kids who have heard the rumor about Broxholm are nervous. Susan tries one last plan to unmask Broxholm: she knows he cannot stand the sound of music, so when he escorts the band to the practice room for their concert, she and the others start playing their instruments. The sound is so painful to Broxholm that he has no choice but to take his mask off, in front of everyone. He runs away, unable to kidnap anyone, and Susan leads the police to his house. Ms. Schwartz is saved. By the end of the book, almost everything is back to normal - but Susan realizes she is smarter and braver than she gave herself credit for, and starts to consider space exploration as a future career. This is the last body paragraph. It gives us the climax of the plot and tells us how the book turns out. (Note that an important fact about Broxholm is that he hates music, so the writer of this report made sure to mention that fact in the first body paragraph, too.) This paragraph ends with an account of how Susan has changed by the end of the book.
My Teacher Is an Alien really surprised me, because I was expecting it to be a crazy action-adventure or science fiction book. But it is actually a well-written account about a couple of normal kids who find themselves in a strange situation. I liked how the author described the way Susan thought; it seemed as though he really knew how sixth-graders think and act. Also, even when the author was describing something really unbelievable, like a teacher peeling his own face off, he made it convincing by writing about Susan's totally shocked reaction, which I think would be similar to my own reaction to seeing an alien. The author's realistic writing makes My Teacher Is an Alien a fun, easy-to-read book. I look forward to reading the sequel. The paragraph starts off with the writer's initial expectation of the book, and then goes on to reveal the writer's opinion of the book after reading it. The writer backs up her opinions ("I liked how the author described the way Susan thought") with reasons ("it seemed as though he really knew how sixth-graders think and act")./td>