What Can You Say
About a Book?

Ideas and Inspiration for Improving Book Talk
and Book Reviews

by Steve Peha

What’s a Book Review?

Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat: a book review is not a book report. A book review is a real form of writing real writers use to write real things about real books that really matter to them. A book report is a made up form of writing, used only in school, that some teachers ask kids to write in order to prove that they have read a particular book. A book report most often involves reciting information from a text and answering someone else’s questions about it. A book review most often involves creating new and original information about a text and answering one’s own questions about it.

Book reviews can contain just about any type of information related to the text, to the reader, or to the world of books and readers in general. Here are some typical things book reviews include:

An interesting lead. Reviewers will often start out their reviews with some kind of catchy phrase that glosses something interesting from the book.

A brief plot summary. Reviewers don’t retell the story. They just give you a quick summary of the plot, rarely more than a paragraph or two.

The reviewer’s favorite part. Assuming the book was enjoyable to the reviewer, it’s always fun to talk about one’s favorite part and what makes it special.

The reviewer’s interpretation of the main idea. This is the one most important thing the writer wants the reader to know. Most reviewers will address this directly because it is often the key to understanding what the book is really all about.

An evaluation. In most book reviews, reviewers will come right out and say whether they think the books is good or not, or what parts were better than others.

A recommendation. Since one of the purposes of writing book reviews is to get other readers to read certain books, book reviewers often end their reviews with a recommendation.

A Model Review

Here’s a terrific book review of, from a talented 3rd grade writer, of "Ramona Quimby, Age 8" by Beverly Cleary:

“Ramona Quimby, Age 8” by Beverly Cleary

    Touch of the flu? Egg in her hair? Poor Ramona!
    “Ramona Quimby, Age 8” is a nine chapter, one hundred and ninety page book about an eight year old girl in third grade. She started school with a surprise gift from her dad, only to have it stolen by a boy she called “Yard Ape.” One day at lunch she tried to be cool and show off for her friends by cracking an egg on her head and found herself in a big mess. When flu season hit she learned how awful it felt to throw up in class. She and her sister learn about using good manners at the dinner table. As time goes on, Ramona and her family solve their problems, and learn to be more caring for each other. They also learn to be more considerate for each other when time alone is needed.
    My favorite part was during a scene where Ramona’s class is at lunch:

“She took a firm hold on her egg, waited until everyone at her table was watching, and whack—she found herself with a hand full of crumbled shell and something cool and slimy running down her face.” (“Ramona Quimby, Age 8”, Beverly Cleary, p. 60)

    I thought that was funny because she wanted to be cool like the rest of her class, by breaking a hard boiled egg on her head. But guess what, her mother was in such a hurry she gave Ramona a raw egg! Whoops!
    I think the one thing the author wants me to know is that when my family may be having problems I can be of help by obeying them and not fussing, disturbing, and/or annoying them.
    “Ramona Quimby, Age 8” is one of the best Beverly Cleary books I’ve ever read because it pulled me in better than any other book in her series. (I have read 6 of her books.) It made pictures in my mind (Word Choice) and sounded like a real person wrote it (Voice). It also sounded good as I read it, flowed easily from sentence to sentence (Sentence Fluency), and sounded like a real 8 year old girl’s life. These traits made me want to keep on reading until the end of the book.
    I recommend this book to good readers who enjoy good long lasting chapters.

Getting Started

The site I go to most frequently for book reviews is Amazon. Make a list of several books that you have read recently, ones that you liked. Then, head over to www.amazon.com, pull those titles up, and check out all the book reviews. Some of the most popular books have been reviewed hundreds of times by readers just like you.