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Book Report Detective Work

Book reports are demanding of the student because they require analytical thinking. They require that the student come to a conclusion based on evidence, and then prove the conclusion by writing about the evidence.

We parents can help our children realize that a book report is like detective work. Just as Sherlock Holmes or Father Brown collects all the clues—hidden and obvious—and then comes to a conclusion, so does the book report writer.

As children, most of us were told not to write in books. For book reports, the opposite is encouraged (as long as your child is not using a library book). Students should mark up the assigned book in the margins, with a word or two noting the importance of specific paragraphs or sections.

At the first reading, perhaps students would mark only a few incidents which look like they might be important. Until the book is read to the end, it is difficult for the student to know every important point, since the importance of early passages might not be clear until the end.

When a student has read through the entire book once, it is time to go back and skim-read and recognize incidents or conversations which would prove their conclusion. These incidents are what the characters did and the conversations are what help to prove the conclusion.

Authors usually try to show what a character is like, rather than telling what he is like. For example, consider the following two passages:

  1. Jimmy was always helpful.
  2. Mom walked in the door holding two bags of groceries. “I’ve got more bags in the car,” she said. “I’ll get them, Mom,” Jimmy replied.

The first passage merely asserts that Jimmy was helpful, but the second passage shows Jimmy actually being helpful. The author doesn’t need to tell us that Jimmy is helpful because we see it for ourselves.

What others say about the main character is also important. For example, if the tenants of the apartment report that the night watchman was “hanging around” a little too much, he might be a potential suspect.

The book reports ask the students to come up with three main characteristics, one for each middle paragraph. Then the student should find three examples or proofs for each of these characteristics. They may be something the character said or did, but could include something others said about what the character said or did.

The authors of the books we assign make the examples or proofs very clear and very strong, so the student should find the strongest proofs. The student should have three or four or five examples of each characteristic he is considering to prove. Then the student should make a list of things under each characteristic, itemizing what the character did or said, or what others said about the character. This kind of analysis will eventually show the student the three most clear and strong characteristics.

Your student should discuss the book with you so he can clarify his thoughts. If you read, or skim-read the book yourself, you can help your student decide which are the most important proofs.

Writing book reports can be an exciting detective adventure! Join in the fun!