Writing the Right Book Report
by Elizabeth Kamath
Book reports prove to be one of the biggest problems for many students, so we thought we’d take this opportunity to give you a better idea of why we ask for the types of book reports that we do.
Most students enter ninth grade expecting to do book reports like they've always done them, which means giving a summary of the plot. Summarizing the plot of a book can be a good idea for younger students when a more basic level of comprehension is still being refined. However, by the time most students enter ninth grade, we feel that basic comprehension (like basic grammar) should be pretty well mastered. We assume that a ninth grader will be able to state the who, what, where, when, and even why of most books. Therefore, we’re looking for something more.
There are really two prongs behind this approach. The first is refining thinking skills. To simply retell the plot of a book takes the most basic level of understanding. However, to analyze some idea or aspect of a book requires both an understanding of the plot and a deeper level of thought about the book. To make an example of a commonly read story, let’s take The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. If you simply write about the adventures of Aslan, the witch, and the children, you are showing a basic understanding. However, if you can write about Aslan as symbolic of Christ, the Witch as symbolic of Satan, etc., then you demonstrate that you have thought about and understood this book on a deeper level. If you can give reasonable theories as to why Lewis might have chosen a Lion to represent Christ and a witch to represent Satan, you have gone even deeper in your analysis. As you begin to analyze literature, you develop your thinking skills and your appreciation of literature. You can begin to see more aspects and depth to the books you are reading. It will become easier to analyze future books. For example, if you can see the methods Lewis used to symbolize the battle between good and evil, you will be better prepared to see the methods Tolkien used to show the same idea in Lord of the Rings. However, this level of thinking doesn’t stop with reading fiction. As you become more adept at analysis of literature, you exercise your mind to become more adept at analysis of argument, facts, opinion, and other information that you encounter every day.
The second prong of this approach is to improve your writing. Most writing (except perhaps private writings like journals) should have two things: a point and an audience. This approach encourages you to think about the book, then have something interesting to say (a point) about it. Summarizing the plot is not really saying anything; it’s simply restating what someone else said. What you want to do when you write is communicate your own ideas—in this case an idea you have about the book. The second thing to consider when writing is that every paper has an audience. In this case your audience can confidently be broken into two groups: those who have read the book you’re reporting on and those who haven’t. Those who have read the book certainly don’t want to read a summary of the plot (Would you want someone to describe a movie to you that you’ve already seen?) and those who haven’t are probably not going to be inspired to read the book after hearing the whole story in detail. What will interest someone who has read the book is to read a thought on it that they may not have had. Perhaps the reader (of your paper) has read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe but completely missed the analogy to Christ. Your paper now introduces a whole new dimension of the story to them. Alternatively, if your reader has not read the book, he might find an analogy of the Christ story an intriguing idea. In short, read a good book, think of something interesting to write, then write it. That’s all we’re asking.
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