I’m a reader. I’ve always been a reader. And, while I do believe it’s okay to just read and move on, I personally need to process what I read. When I reflect on a book I’ve read and when I connect the book I’ve read to myself and to the outside world, I am changed. That book becomes a part of me.
I’ve created a three-paragraph structure that helps me consider all the ways I learn about any story I read. The good news—it’s a great model for students too!
Yesterday I finished a fantastic book called It All Comes Down to This by Karen English. I’m going to use this book and my reflection of it to show how to write an awesome book review in three parts. Start doing this now and by the time school starts you’ll have several examples to show your students so they can do it too!
1. Make a personal connection
In the first paragraphs, I write about my personal connection to the book being reviewed:
When I was 12 years old, I remember the first time I realized my parents were just people. It’s always a bit of a disheartening, coming of age moment, isn’t it? My mom was mad at my dad for something. This wasn’t unusual, as they had been divorced since I was four. On this day, though, my mom told me that she thought my dad’s wife dressed poorly. “Imagine,” she said, “wearing black socks with sandals. Ridiculous.” At an earlier age I might have incorporated this comment into my mental list of don’ts about dressing, but at 12 I knew it meant something bigger.
My mother didn’t want me to like Alice. She was just like any other friend who might tell me something about another girl to ensure her friendship with me. This kind of more grown up thinking is the start of adulthood. In It All Comes Down to This by Karen English, Sophie discovers that her father may be seeing another woman behind her mother’s back. She also realizes that she may have to spend her entire life being accused of things she didn’t do just because of the color of her skin. These are the discoveries that bring Sophie headlong into the start of adulthood. Following along as someone bridges the gap between being a child and being an adult is fascinating because there isn’t a soul out there who hasn’t had those moments.
2. Include a summary of the story
In the second paragraph, I sum up what the story was about. I don’t dwell too much on this because I think the author tells the story, it is my job to introduce the reader to the text. In fact, I oftentimes tell students to just copy the summary from the book flap or from Amazon as long as they credit the source. The point of this writing is about reflection and connection, not summary assessment. So this one’s from Amazon.
It’s 1965, Los Angeles. All 12-year-old Sophie wants to do is write her book, star in the community play, and hang out with her friend Jennifer. But she’s the new black kid in a nearly all-white neighborhood; her beloved sister, Lily, is going away to college soon; and her parents’ marriage is rocky. There’s also her family’s new, disapproving housekeeper to deal with. When riots erupt in nearby Watts and a friend is unfairly arrested, Sophie learns that life—and her own place in it—is even more complicated than she’d once thought.
3. Make a connection to the larger world
Finally, I share why I think this book helped me connect to the world around me:
I’m a 48-year-old white woman who grew up in New York City with a housekeeper/nanny who was African American. Margaret was the light of my childhood. She talked to my mother when I couldn’t say what needed to be said. She bought me a blue jar of Noxema and showed me how to wash my face at night. She made fried chicken every Friday afternoon before she went home for the weekend. Sophie, the main character in It All Comes Down to This by Karen English had a housekeeper too. The difference is that Sophie and Mrs. Baylor are both black.
This book made me want to hear other African American voices and be wide open to really listening. This book speaks to coming of age, but also to coming to understand how race changes the way we live in our world. As a result of reading English’s book, I ordered several other books about and by African Americans. It’s also opened my eyes to really see and read articles like 10 Books I Wish My White Teachers Had Read.
This review writing process helps me learn so much about who I am as a person, as well as a writer and a reader. It also helps me reflect in a really purposeful way. I’ve used it to teach third graders, fifth graders, and middle schoolers. They loved it. I’ve also taught it to teachers to see if they might be able to use it to reflect on the reading they do. They loved it as well.
The format generates intense discussions. Everyone tell me how much they enjoy sharing their personal feelings about a book and how great it is not to have to summarize as they’ve always done.
Want to try this? Tell us how you like it in the comments.