A book report is a common assignment in high schools and elementary schools. It’s the first step to a full-fledged book review or essay. The format varies, but teachers typically expect students to summarize the plot and express some opinion about the merits of the book.
If you know you have to write a book report, you might as well take some notes while you’re reading. Try to mark passages you like (or hate), jot down some details about the setting and the characters, and look for quotable lines. However, since these are just your first impressions, you don’t have to be all that rigorous. In addition, it’s a sign of a good book if you can fully immerse yourself in it, so don’t feel too bad if you forget to take notes.
Once you’ve finished reading, try analyze the book by using the following categories. For this example we’ve used E. B. White’s Stuart Little.
Title: Stuart Little
Author: E. B. White
Date of publication: 1945
Setting (time and place): The time period is the 1930s or 1940s. Since no exact date is given, the story is somewhat timeless. The story takes place in various locations. These include Stuart’s home, New York (including Central Park), and a little town called Ames’ Crossing. The story gradually moves from the city into the country side.
Plot: When Mrs. Little gives birth to Stuart Little, he looks remarkably like a mouse. Due to his size, Stuart has to work hard to overcome adversity. As he grows up he goes on various adventures. He befriends a bird named Margalo, and when she disappears he leaves his home to try find her. His friend Dr. Carey gives him a tiny car, and so he drives off in search of Margalo. On the trip he spends some time as a substitute teacher, and stops briefly in a little town called Ames’ Crossing. There he falls in love with a tiny girl called Harriet Ames. However, the relationship is a disaster, and Stuart decides to move on. In the end, Stuart has not found Margalo, but he has discovered that the journey itself can be a beautiful thing.
Main Characters: Stuart Little, Stuart’s family (mother, father, George), Snowbell (the cat), Margalo (the bird), Dr. Carey (the dentist), Harriet Ames (Stuart’s love interest).
Illustrations: by Garth Williams. Black and white cross-hatched sketches.
Lessons: The story has many lessons:
- Despite being small you can strive for great things.
- Don’t be afraid to go on an adventure.
- Growing up often means saying goodbye to your family home.
- Friendship and love are hard to find, but you shouldn’t give up.
- The world is a beautiful place, and even the smallest things are important.
- If you fail, try again.
Ideas: Stuart Little deals with topics such as friendship, heroism, government, and nature.
Audience: Ages 6+
Comparison to Other Books: This book is not as happy as Charlotte’s Web, another book by E. B. White. It reminds me of books like The Littles, where we see the world from the perspective of very small people.
Feelings and Impressions: I wish the book hadn’t ended so abruptly. I wanted Stuart to find Margalo. My favourite scene is the schoolhouse chapter, because I love the strange discussion about what’s important.
Don’t confuse a book report with a proper essay. Reports are much more personal. You get to talk about your feelings—whether you enjoyed the book or not. Literature essays are more analytical, and should explain the meaning of the text.
How you structure your book report depends a lot on what your teacher is looking for. If your teacher gives you a handout (like the template below), then you can just fill in the different sections. If you’re asked to write a general paragraph then you have more freedom. We recommend that as a minimum you talk about the following aspects:
Some students may be turned off by literature if all they get to do is write book reports. It’s not always easy to write about one’s feelings, and students may also feel pressure to heap praise on a book they did not actually enjoy. That’s why it’s important that teachers don’t assign too many book reports and allow students to talk about their dislikes in equal measure.
Finally, some teachers assign book reports just to check if students have read a book. In such cases a few lines of plot summary should be sufficient. A full book report is a challenging assignment, and requires proper guidance and attention.
To get started, try our book report template. This is just one suggestion, however, and more experienced writers can structure their report as they see fit.