The Book Review

by Joy Lewis

Nancy Atwell is an educator that many of us only dream of being. She understands adolescents, connects them with a love of reading and writing, and stays true to her love of teaching. Her book, In the Middle, is a wonderful guide of inspiration for teachers. When I am down and feel that this profession is too trying, I get that needed inspiration from her stories and words such as the following: “Surviving adolescence is no small matter; neither is surviving adolescents. It's a hard age to be and to teach. The worst things that ever happened to anybody happen everyday. But some of the best things can happen, too, and they're more likely to happen when middle school teachers understand the nature of middle school kids and teach in ways that help them grow” (54).

Atwell knows of the horrors and heartache that can happen in middle school. Many of these are due to new social roles that the students are adjusting to, but many are also due to the pressures of school subjects. Far to many students spend the ELA hour watching the clock. They are not engaged in learning about our language and the wonderful texts that us English teachers have come to love. Most of us have entered this profession because we want to instill our love of the English language into our students. But the sad truth is that our students could care less.

The traditional version of teaching writing and literature are isolated from each other and become a list of definitions that must be learned. No one likes definitions. When a writing assignment is given, students push out a draft and hand in the first thing that gets written on a piece of paper. The teacher's response to this is frustration and anger. “Why can't children these days take something seriously and stop being so lazy.” I believe that the answer to this questions lies in a new approach to teaching writing: the genre study. When we as teachers start to understand that our students need for us to teach them how to become writers, we will begin to find what Nancy Atwell has already discovered: respect and a true understanding of our students' learning needs. They will become writers when we teach them how to become writers; the genre study does just that.

A genre study is a form of teaching writing that takes our students through a series of writing steps. It assumes nothing and teaches everything. There are a number of ways and steps that the genre study can be taught, which I will explain more throughly in the upcoming chapter. The most important aspect of a genre study is that it teaches students everything about a particular genre and forces them to completely understand and appreciate the genre before they are expected to write in that genre. Students are then guided through a writing process that will improve their craft and conventions when writing in this genre. Everything is intertwined: reading writing, and language development.


Lucy Calkins, who has developed and used her own genre approach, says in The Art of Teaching Writing, “When an entire class inquires into a genre, it is life-giving. It opens doors and leaves a lot of room for variety and choice, while also allowing the classroom community to inquire deeply into something together” (363).

This quote by Calkins is a wonderful defense of a genre study. As teachers, we want our students to have unity and trust so that the heartache that Atwell speaks of is not caused by us as teachers. An instrumental way to build trust between classmates is to discover a new technique together. The genre study allows for this journey. Calkins argues that just because the students are all writing the same genre doesn't mean that they are not allowed to make their own choices. They are given freedom in that genre, and they are provided with the tools that will allow them to delve into other genres of writing.

Randy Bomer, another researcher of the genre approach, also suggests that students learn best through a genre approach to writing. He says, “Helping students learn how to learn about different genres of writing empowers them to find a way of writing that counts in the different communities they will move through in their lives... I want them to develop habits of mind related to learning in a genre, so that they can learn in whatever genres they need” (119). He wants his students to “develop the habits of thought that will allow them to rediscover.” If students realize that their best writing comes from a process approach, they will use this technique outside of the classroom: a central goal for all teachers.

Now that you will be spending more classroom time on a limited number of genres, it is important to choose a genre that will produce the most valuable learning potential. Since you will be teaching many mini-lessons on craft and conventions, and you will have to assign the students a certain amount of text to read throughout the year, the genre of the book review is an excellent way to incorporate all of these necessities with a genre that is widely written and read. After all, why teach a genre that most students will never see again.

Students are expected to write persuasion essays on the regents all the time. And in Reading Response Logs, by Mary Kooy and Jan Well, they are also required to interpret literature on a daily basis into three levels: surface encounter, understanding and appreciation, and synthesis and evaluation. Teaching a genre study on the book review will allow the students to think on all three levels, as well as, understanding the techniques of characterization, summary, audience, research, and point of view. It is well worth the time spent on the study.




What is a Book Review?

“No one writes book reports except students in school; no one reads them except teachers. But the book review, a genre that exists in the real world, invites students to discover their passions— and their prejudices---- as readers and to teach others what they find in a book so engagingly that others will want to look for it, to.” — Nancy Atwell

A book review is an evaluation of a book that contains the necessary information to find the book and the evaluator's opinions about the book. There should be a short summary of the book that includes enough information to let readers know if they would be interested in reading the book. There is usually an introduction, summary/ analysis, and conclusion statement. More exact criteria will be discussed later in the chapter.

What a Book Review is Not

A book review is not a book report or a response to literature. A book report focuses on a book's summary and content without evaluations and depth. Writing about literature focuses on an evaluation and personal response to a book. A book review has the qualities of both and more.


How to Teach the Book Review Genre Study :

Teaching a genre study involves a series of carefully thought out steps. I like the steps that Randy Bomer has developed in Time For Meaning. There are ten steps, and even though that may seem like a lot, the steps allow our students to become the writers of whatever genre we are teaching; they become immersed in what it is like to be a writer. Bomer believes that teaching in this way is how we as teachers will create lifelong writers of any genre. He asks, “What do writers in this genre do? What are the conditions under which they do it? What are the main things that they have to pay attention to? How can those things become part of my class, both in the physical room and also in structures of time and activity?” (132). Following Bomer's ten steps, we can answer these questions.

His first step is that the genre be carefully chosen and authentic. There are sub-categories to this step: students should encounter this genre in real-life situations, the boundaries of the genre topic should be wide enough to allow for individual choice in the genre, and the ability and needs of the student's writing be considered (122).

The book review fits into each of these categories. Book reviews are in newspapers, on the internet and included in books themselves. Most people want to read a book review before they take the time to read the book. A book review is also a topic that the students would be able to have individuality with. They get to determine how to interpret a book of their choice and what to say about the book. The book review also allows for many writing craft and convention mini-lessons.

Bomer's second step is that the teacher should be a co-learner with her students. When you are teaching the genre study, you should model the technique and writing process for your students. Bomer says, “ I don't want to mystify ‘good writing' by handing out a list of a good poem's attributes that seems to have been composed by the gods. Rather, I want the kids on the journey of inquiry with me, collaboratively creating shared knowledge about the genre” (124).

The third step is that students should participate in selecting and evaluating materials. When teaching the book review, you should have the students bring in examples of book reviews along with your examples of reviews. Give them a list of the following web-sites to find the reviews.

Because anthologies of book reviews are not easily available and they would not make much sense, I have listed below a series of internet sites that your students can access in order to read sample book reviews. The older grades will benefit from the newspaper review section or even from reviews in journals, but most students need to read sample book reviews about books that they may be interested in or would write about themselves. The following web-sites are exactly that: reviews either done for young adults or by young adults.





Have the students analyze the reviews in groups. Bomer suggests to let the students know that they can bring in good and bad examples of reviews because it will be helpful to draw distinctions of qualities (125).

Know that your class has read many examples of reviews, it is time to choose the fourth step of the genre study, selecting a couple of texts to use as examples throughout the study. Bomer suggests to select models based on the diverse ways that job can be done (125). Each student will have a copy of the different reviews. I have selected two reviews that have many of the elements of a good book review. The first one is from Carol Hurst; she reviews Lois Lowry's, The Giver.

I have to confess that I don't like most science fiction. I also have a hard time enjoying many fantasies although the fantasies that have been able to break through my initial resistance are among my favorite books. It's only that I like Lois Lowry's work so much that I kept reading her latest book, The Giver after I discovered that it was both science fiction and fantasy. I had first been drawn to it by the cover of the book, which has to be the most intriguing one I've seen in a long time. To find out that Lois designed it herself and took that wonderful photograph makes it harder to like her. Too much talent, I think, is bad for the soul.

But on to the story. The society we find there seems ideal. Everyone has a job for which he or she is suited emotionally, physically and mentally. The elderly are lovingly cared for as are the newest members of this place. Every family has a mother, father, and two children, one of each sex. There is much laughter and obvious joy. There is no rudeness, no crime and no disease.

We see it all through the eyes of Jonas, a young boy about to receive his life's assignment along with others of his age group. To his astonishment he is given the most respected job of all. He is to be trained to become the "Receiver of Memory". You see, in the Utopian society Lowry has created for us, the people don't want to be burdened with memories. However, they also don't want to make decisions or changes which, in the past, have led to disaster so they have assigned one person to keep all the memories of history, their own and that of all societies.

The Receiver's job is to listen to their proposals and just tell them whether or not they should do it based on the lessons of history. The present Receiver now sets about giving the memories- all of them - to Jonas. He does so through all of the senses. Jonas learns of war and hate, of snow and trees and colors.. all of which are not present in this society. He also learns of the horror all around him. This novel is not difficult to read. Fifth graders should have no trouble reading it. You need to read it. Then decide what kids you're going to share it with. It's very special. You can't put it down. You can't forget it.

The second review is a perfect example for the students to use as a model: It is done by Rodman Philbrick, from whom I obtained much of my criteria for how to write a book review.

To Kill a Mockingbirdby Harper LeeReview by Rodman Philbrick

I've never been to Alabama, but novelist Harper Lee made me feel as if I had been there in the long, hot summer of 1935, when a lawyer named Atticus Finch decided to defend an innocent black man accused of a horrible crime. The story of how the whole town reacted to the trial is told by the lawyer's daughter, Scout, who remembers exactly what it was like to be eight years old in 1935, in Maycomb, Alabama.

Scout is the reason I loved this book, because her voice rings so clear and true. Not only does she make me see the things she sees, she makes me feel the things she feels. There's a lot more going on than just the trial, and Scout tells you all about it.

A man called Boo Radley lives next door. Very few people have ever seen Boo, and Scout and her friends have a lot of fun telling scary stories about him. The mystery about Boo Radley is just one of the reasons you want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens in To Kill a Mockingbird .

Scout and her big brother, Jem, run wild and play games and have a great time while their father is busy with the trial. One of their friends is a strange boy called Dill. Actually Dill isn't really so strange once you get to know him. He says things like "I'm little but I'm old," which is funny but also pretty sad, because some of the time Dill acts more like a little old man than a seven–year–old boy.

To Kill a Mockingbird is filled with interesting characters like Dill, and Scout makes them all seem just as real as the people in your own hometown. Here's how Scout describes Miss Caroline, who wore a red–striped dress: "She looked and smelled like a peppermint drop."

Dill and Boo and Jem are all fascinating, but the most important character in the book is Scout's father, Atticus Finch. You get the idea that Scout is writing the story down because she wants the world to know what a good man her dad was, and how hard he tried to do the right thing, even though the deck was stacked against him.

The larger theme of the story is about racial intolerance, but Scout never tries to make it a "lesson," it's simply part of the world she describes. That's why To Kill a Mockingbird rings true, and why it all seems so real.

The trial of the wrongly accused Tom Robinson takes place during the time of segregation, when black people were not allowed to socialize with white people. In that era, when a white man said a black man committed a crime, the black man was presumed to be guilty. The law required that they have a trial, but everybody knew the defendant was going to be convicted.

Atticus Finch, the quiet hero of the book, tries to persuade the jury that bigotry is wrong. His words are eloquent and heartfelt. He demonstrates that Tom Robinson couldn't possibly have assaulted the victim. Atticus even reveals the identity of the real villain, which enrages a very dangerous enemy. This act of courage endangers not only Atticus Finch but his family as well. They become the target of hate mongers and bigots.

Even though the story took place many years ago, you get the idea that parts of it could happen today, in any town where people distrust and fear each other's differences.

In a just world an innocent man should be found not guilty. But if you want to know what this particular jury finally decides and what happens to Scout and Jem and Dill and Boo Radley and the rest of the people who live and breathe in To Kill a Mockingbird , you'll have to read the book!

The last model that you should use for one of your models is the book review that you wrote in front of the class. The only way for the students to know exactly what you expect from them is to give them a perfect example as a corner stone.


The next step is the most valuable step; it allows for our students to enjoy reading and to discover the power of the written word. In order to produce good writing, students need to feel what good writing can do for them. Kirby and Liner write in Inside Out, “ good writing is writing that touches me on a personal level” (107). And Brown and Stephens in Teaching Young Adult Literature say, “written language has the power to evoke memories and emotions, to create pictures in our minds, to soothe or arouse passions, to persuade or dissuade, and to provide insights and flashes of brilliance” (67).

We want our students to see these qualities before they begin writing. If they are inspired by examples of something, they will be more likely to want to create that type of writing; even if the genre is a book review. Show them how influential a book review can be and how one can inspire a person to want to read a book because of a positive, good review.

At this point, your class is ready for Bomer's sixth step, developing its own metalanguage for describing the genre's features. Make a list with your students of the criteria in a good book review. They can attempt this list in groups or as a whole class discussion. The class should refer to the touchstone texts that you have selected. It is important that you provide the labels of the criteria but allow the students to come up with examples. The following list is a good example of the elements of a good book review from Scolastic and Atwell.

1. Introducing the book

* have a grabbing lead

* mention the author, book title, and page numbers

* include the setting, genre, contexts (biographical, historical, and cultural)

* theme

2. Reviewing: summary/analysis

* use paragraphs that are logical for each point you are making

* speak to the reader as if she were your friend

* make comparisons to other books

* express what you liked about the writer's style

* incorporate quotations

* research the author to give the piece depth

3. Conclusion

* include your feelings and opinions to persuade the reader

* sum up the strengths and weaknesses

* give suggestions of who might like the book

4. Other Areas of Importance

* describe the setting

* describe the main characters

* give the reader a taste of the plot but not too much

These criteria will be an aspect of the rubric

Once the class has developed the criteria, produce a large poster that has the aspects and put it on the wall of the classroom. The criteria should be in their words because doing so allows them to construct their own personal knowledge.

Another important aspect of a genre study is the interweaving of reading and writing. Most English Language Arts classrooms emphasize reading literature, and a genre study might be seen as a disturbance to that reading. Bomer is suggesting that reading is a integral pat to a genre study. Students need to read many aspects of the genre that they are writing in order to understand how to write it. Though teaching any genre study, they learn that there are many different reasons for reading and that each reason may develop into a reason to write; the genre study will show than how to turn what they have to read into what they are expected to write. When we teach the book review this aspect will be even more prevalent. In order to write a book review, you need to read a book, analyze the book, and critique the book.

The writer's notebook is Bomer's eighth step. Using the writer's notebook in our genre study of the book review is an important step. The book review begins with reading a book. As the students read their chosen books, have them write down any important or interesting quotations, questions, and personal responses. These will be used later in the drafting process.

The ninth step is closely related to the previous one: students will want to write about the same types of topics that keep occurring in their writer's notebook. Bomer believes that we should allow this to happen because writers usually stick to the same type of topics that they are interested in. In writing about similar themes, our students can see how different genres really work. The book and issues that the students pull out for the book review can become the topic of the next genre study on poetry or evaluative essay. Bomer writes, “As her [his student] teacher, I was hoping she would learn that whatever her present passions are, they can fuel her work in whatever discourse to which she sets her hand” (131).

The final step of the genre study is to make the classroom environment a concrete reflection of the genre's peculiar modes of thought: “Writers need intentions and purposes, so teachers, rather than assigning topics, teach strategies for finding them” (Bomer, 131). Your classroom should be the reflection of what genre you are teaching and learning. The class needs to be surrounded by examples of the genre. In this case, there should be examples of book reviews on the walls and in a sections of the room where the students can take out books. The students should be able to see their work and talk and think about how that work was produced. Doing so, will allow them to understand the importance and validity of the study.


The Writing Process of the Book Review

“Writing is like falling in love in that we know it happens but no one is quite sure how it happens. A person's best writing is often all mixed up with his worst” (Kirby and Liner, 108).


In whatever genre steps we choose, it is important to include all of the steps for the writing process. Bomer's genre steps are, in my opinion, the best way to make sure that your class steps into the minds of writers of a genre, but little is said about the actual steps of writing. Margot Soven includes such steps in her book, Teaching Writing.

The first writing step for teaching the book review is to read a book as a whole class. During this reading phase, is a good time to model the process of the genre study as defined by Bomer in step two. While the class is reading the given book, take notes with them or in front of them in the writer's notebook. Kirby and Liner have a wonderful writing lesson that is perfect for this stage of the book review modeling phase. This exercise may take a couple of days, but it will be worth the time; after all, this is a genre study.

1. Setting the scene. Have the students write about the setting of whatever book the class is reading. Have them visualize the details and why it is so important to the story.

2. The slide show: Put together a slide show of pictures that would be suitable for the book. You could also incorporate an Arts class to draw the pictures. During the slide show, play appropriate music for the pictures that the students have selected. This will also teach setting.

3. Reading aloud: Read short excerpts from the story in conversation form.

4. Short reading: discuss the writing and how you interpreted it and responded to the small sections.

5. Summary: Write a summary of one section. The students may choose their own section. This will help with the summary part of the book review.

6. Character: Have them describe a character in their writer's notebooks and then to sketch this person with their interpretation.

7. Mister author: Have the students skim though their notebooks and sections of the book to think about the kind of person who wrote the book. Have them free-write their responses and share with the class.

8. Creative response: Have the students choose a section of the text and write a creative piece that is modeled after the author's craft. This could also be used for sentence structure work.

9. Wrapping up: Share the responses and writings with the class as a whole. Write an overall reaction in our journals (178-179).


This exercise can be modified to fit with your time demands, but it is a great way to get the students opening up to their responses to literature, which is what is cental to a good book review.

After you have done the pre-writing activity, it is time to have the students read examples of good book reviews, choose the touchstone texts, and list their criteria of a good book review- as listed in Bomer's ten steps. I believe that in order to inspire the most creativity and acquisition of knowledge from your students, you need to choose the examples of the book reviews based on books other than the one the class is reading as a whole. Since you will eventually write a book review in front of your class, you do not want to have different subject matter to show the criteria with. Here are two well done book reviews that you could use as examples for the students.

The next step is to write a review together in a modeling format. Use the sample reviews and the list of criteria that the class has acquired. Show them each step of your writing development. Do everything in front of them. Including, researching the author on-line or in the library if you do not have a class computer. Show them your writer's notebook entries, and have the students see how you will revise the paper for organization, ideas, vocab, and then for editing errors. Modeling includes everything that you except them to do.

The Assignment :

After you have modeled a sample book review, it is time for the students to be given their own book review assignment. Bomer suggests that we do not allow them the opportunity to choose twenty different topics because you will be stretched too thin and accomplish too little. Literature circles is a creative way to solve this problem yet to also give the students the freedom of choice.

Choose four to five books that have a variety of different themes and interests. Have the students list their top two choices and assign the appropriate books to groups of four or five. Have each group go though the previous pre-writing activity deleting the slide show. In their literature groups, the students should also research their author.

It is now time to begin the drafting process. Soven quotes Phillip Lopate in saying, “ Writing is an entirely different activity than discussion and urges teachers not to fail to take into account the wide gulf that separates the social euphoria of the collective poem from the lonely individual effort” (42).

Another piece of advice from Soven is to provide the students with a model or outline for writing the piece. This has been provided in the previous steps from Bomer. Make sure that the students are referring to the criteria of a review and their writer's notebooks during this part of the drafting phase. Once the students have completed a draft, it is time to teach a mini-lesson on craft. This is a good time to teach this because their initial thoughts and reactions are out on paper. They have been allowed the opportunity to be creative. It is now time to improve on their style. The following mini-lesson examples are areas of craft that would improve the book reviews.

Mini-lesson on using Quotations: from Kirby, p170

Have them choose their own quotes from their text. They will write a response to the text using the quote in any way they wish. They can write about it's meaning, write their own creative piece incorporating the quote, or analyze the quote.

The teacher will then lead in a guided discussion on the effectiveness of the quotes used and why it is important to find key examples. Choose a important part of the book that you used to write the model review. Take the quote that you used in the review out of the review. Have each of the students refer to this section. Give them a list of five quotations that may have some relevance to the point you were making in your review. Then have each group interpret one quotation as inserted into the model review. On a Venn Diagram, Have the students compare and contrast the similarities and weaknesses of the quote that you chose and the quote that they inserted. They should see that choosing a quotation can change the meaning of what they are trying to say or make it less impactive.

For homework have the students do the same activity with quotations from the book they are reading in the literature circles. This will help to ensure that they have chosen the best quote for their reviews.


Mini-lesson on understanding the author: from kirby, p170

1.Write a letter to the author of your book that asks questions, complains, or talks to the author about your opinion of their book. This activity will help them get in the frame of writing to evaluate the work and it will also force them to think about how to find the author. Have them actually mail out their letters. This new information will also be assigned to be added to the reviews.


2. Have the students bring in research that they can find on the authors of the books they are assigned. Read as a class the biography that is attached and anything that they bring in. Discuss together the most interesting and relevant things that would make the book review most interesting.



Mini-lesson on discovering audience Kirby, p161

1. Have the students profile their audiences for the book reviews

*what age

*where do they live

* their educational background

*political beliefs

*leisure activities

In class, have them read the attached article and draft an appeal to their parents in need of something. Brainstorm anticipated arguments that the parents may make. Have them pair up to read and comment on each other's argument. Then have them use the touchstone texts that I have previously shown to find anticipated arguments or questions.


This is about a mini-bike. Chris is only nine and his parents let him have one.

[peer pressure- anticipates my “you're too young” argument]


I would be real careful and ride it when you're there to watch me. I would always wear a helmet and watch out for cars and trees.

[anticipates my concern for his safety]


I will always put it in the garage. And I could ride it to soccer practice and I wouldn't bug you about being bored and I would learn how to take care of something.

[anticipates my concern for responsibility]


I'll save my money and maybe we can find a used one cheap. I'll read the want ads. It saves gas. Dad, you could ride it to work.

[anticipates my “we can't afford it” final line. And involves me in the final line.]

For homework, have them go through their book reviews and put in the anticipated responses that they have created. If they do not find effective anticipated responses, have them re-write that section with their audience in mind.

The anticipated responses you should give to the students: is it a genre that I would like, since the main character is a girl/boy, will I like if I am the opposite sex, why should I waste my time on 300 pages. Also have them use the ones that they pulled from the touchstone texts.


Mini-lesson on characterization, Kirby, p160

1. Conduct an interview with a character from a novel. Plan questions to probe his actions and thoughts and feelings. Do this with the entire class.

2. Have the students find a quote that reveals what type of person the character is.

3. Rewrite a brief version of a narrated novel from another character's point of view.

4. In groups, have the students write criteria of effective characterization and discuss what they have discovered as a class.

The students should look back through their reviews and see if they have effectively shown a character's point of view.




At the end of the writing process, students need to have their works evaluated. Soven defines “evaluation” as, “Your assessment of the writing. Your knowledge of the characteristics of various kinds of writing and of the developmental writing norms for your class or school will help you to judge the quality of your student's writing” (114). She says, “it starts when you first communicate expectations for the assignment, and it does not end until you grade the last paper of the semester” (115). Soven gives five necessary steps to developing successful evaluations for student writing: develop a specific set of criteria which reflects the skills you have taught, a develop a grading scale that describes qualities a paper must demonstrate to receive a certain grade, distribute the evaluation criteria to the students at the same time you give the assignment, choose a form of response, choose a method of reviewing the student's progress throughout the assignment (115).

A way to review the student's progress throughout the study is to assign due dates throughout the writing process. A sample “Due Dates” list is listed below.


Book Review Due Dates: February 1- March 20


2/1 Choose top two book choices


2/14 Book should be completed. Turn in writer's notebook


2/21 Author biography completed in groups


2/28 Review draft due for peer review


3/2 Return peer review comments


3/8 Revised book review handed to me


3/10- 3/13 Conferences with teacher


3/25 Edited polished final copy of book review


Peer review is an important aspect of the writing process. In Creating the Writing Portfolio, Alan Purves writes, “Every classroom has many resources in it, and the other people are the most important ones” (181). The first way that Purves says other students can help is to provide the first friendly audience outside of yourself. The other reason he gives is that having another person read your work forces you to be clear and specific about your meaning before you take a grading risk.

As the teacher, you should have a peer review sheet with specific questions already prepared for the students to complete. They will not be able to respond effectively if they are not given the proper criteria. The peer review questions should also be task specific. I have produced a model peer review sheet from the advice of Purves and have designed it to be task specific to the book review study.

















Elements of Revision


Name of Author______________ Partner_____________________



Title of Paper_______________________ Date____________



I.. Revising Partner:

1. What is the main point of this book review? Are the three parts, introduction, summary/analysis, and conclusion included?



2. Does the review give you a good understanding of the nature of the book and whether or not you would want to read the book, or do you have questions about the book?


3. What specific areas did you have questions on or think needed more detail? Go through the specific criteria under each section and make sure that the author has included each of them.


4. Has the author done a creative and effective job of using quotations?


5. Do the elements flow into each other or is the review confusing and lacking organization?


6. How well chosen is the author's vocabulary and sentence structure: is it boring and simple, or is it interesting, intelligent, and diverse?


7. Go through the review again and see if you can detect any grammatical mistakes.


Once the students have responded and changed there papers after the peer review and you have read their papers for the conferences, it is time to teach a mini-lesson on convention. Since a major aspect of this paper is focusing on the use of quotations and the effective use of vocabulary and sentence structure, a mini-lesson on quotations would be a good choice. Looking at quotations from literature is a great way to show the students not only how to choose an effective quote, but they will also be able to look at different sentence structures and active vocabulary.


The New York State Rubric for the Regents Exam is a good model to use when developing the grading scale and evaluating the students on the expected criteria of the assignment. A sample rubric follows for the Book Review Assignment:

An “6” Book Review


Meaning : has an in-depth understanding of all the criteria essential to a book review.

Development : The review includes in-depth detail and opinions about the book. The reader has a clear understanding of what the book involves.

Organization : There is a clear cut introduction, summary and analysis, and conclusion to the book review. The transitions between the sections are smooth.

Language: The writer uses meaningful language for the expected audience. The word choice and language is interesting, and there is effective use of quotations from the book.

Conventions: there is control of conventions with no errors that have been taught throughout the year.

A “5” Book Review -

Meaning : Most of the essential criteria to a book review are included. A clear understanding of these criteria are included.

Development : There are good details and opinions about the book in the review. The reader has a good idea about the nature of the book.

Organization : Most of the aspects of the introductory, summary, and conclusion of the review are included with appropriate transitions.

Language: The writer uses appropriate language for the expected audience. The quotations make sense.

Conventions : Demonstrates a control of the taught conventions. Very few errors that happen when sophisticated language is being used of untaught conventions.


A “4” Book Review - average job


Meaning : There is a basic understanding of the criteria. Aspects of these criteria are missing or implied.

Development : There are some details and opinions about the book. The reader knows the basic features of the book.

Organization : There are many aspects of the introduction, summary, and conclusion. The transitions need to be more clearly demonstrated in order to help the reader understand what part of the review he or she is reading.

Language: The is appropriate language with some awareness of the audience. The Quotations could be better chosen.

Conventions : Demonstrates partial control. The occasional errors do not impede comprehension.


A “3" Book Review

Meaning : The student includes some of the criteria. This criteria is not central to the book review.

Development : There is very little details or opinions about the book. The reader is left with questions.

Organization : There are a few aspects of the three parts of the review. These are scattered through out the review with few transitions.

Language : There is basis vocabulary and sentence structure with little attention to the audience. The quotes are used to much or not enough and do not help the reader in understanding.

Conventions : Demonstrates some control. There are more than three errors that have been taught during the year and that hinder comprehension.


A “2" Book Review

Meaning: Only a couple of the criteria are included. There is no sense that the criteria is explaining what the book is about.

Development : There are almost all opinions about the book. The reader has little knowledge of what the book is about.

Organization: There is an attempt to include the three aspects of the review, but there are no transitions that make it possible to understand where they are.

Language: The language is unsuitable for the audience. The sentences are all the same and achieve no effect.

Conventions: There are frequent errors that make comprehension difficult.


A “1" Book Review

Meaning: There is minimal evidence that there was expected criteria involved in writing a book review.

Development: Little is being said about the book. The reader is not sure what he is reading.

Organization: There are no aspects of a review anywhere in the paper.

Language : Inappropriate language with no sign that the writer is writing for an audience.

Conventions: The paper is illegible and unreliable.


Kirby and Liner believe strongly in publication of student writing: “Writing becomes real when it has an audience.... We learn ways to make it more effective by seeing its effect on others” (237). They say, “Publishing gives the writer an audience, and the writing task becomes a real effort at communication, publishing is the only reason for writing to be important enough for the hard work of editing and proofreading, and it involves ego, which is the strongest incentive for the student writer to keep going” (237).

The best way for book reviews to be published is for a book to be produced near the “library” section of your room. Students will be able to look at a review to discover if they think they will like the book. Easy access to reviews by peers will prevent frustration from “wasting precious time” on a book.

Another good way to incorporate a technology component into your classroom, is to have the students post their reviews on a class or school website or school newspaper. Have a review section. People love the review section of the newspaper. Whatever you do, make sure that your students see examples all over your room of their work. Make them proud of it and what they have accomplished.



This stage of any genre study is extremely important. You have spent a large portion of your school year on this genre study. Your students will need closure and the ability to discuss what they have learned and how effective the learning was to them. They need to vent, share success, and think about the process of writing after the fact. A reflection opportunity is a time to wind down and relax: to have a little fun. They should discuss how beneficial the book reviews were to them finding a book that interested them.


The Regents Essay

Using the genre approach to teaching the book review can also help you prepare your students for their regents exam. The most important thing that your students can take into this exam is to include the “process of writing” approach. They should incorporate some sort of graphic organizer or other pre-writing technique and remember to proofread for revision and editing level mistakes. The genre approach will help them to understand how important these steps are in successful writing.

The book review has many different elements that are used in writing about literature as suggested by Charles Cooper: interpretive, evaluative, and reflective (25). When writing a book review, the writer needs to interpret the author's intent and themes, evaluate how effective and interesting the book is, and reflect on who might enjoy the book or what it did personally for that writer. The majority of regents essay expectations will expect one or all of these levels.

A appropriate practice regents question would be to write a persuasive essay about the qualities of two different book reviews. The students should be expected to write why one is better than the other, or why there are elements of good and bad in each review. The students will have to explain themselves and make a convincing argument for their case. This exercise will show the teacher how well the students understand the qualities that are important in a book review. It will also demonstrate their ability to compare and contrast and to come to a conclusion based on supporting details.

The Regents Assignment

Read the following two book reviews, and compare their styles by writing a persuasive essay. You should incorporate the similarities and differences of the two reviews as well as provide an argument as to why one is more effective than the other, or whether there are different strengths that should be used to form a good book review. Use specific examples from the reviews as well as the criteria that make for an effective book review.

•  THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN Mitch Albom Hyperion Press Fiction 198 pages

When I finished the last page of Mitch Albom's TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, I knew I had to share the book with as many people as I could. I proceeded to buy 41 copies, inscribe them all to my friends and family members, hand them out, mail them --- whatever I had to do to spread the word. The book was that moving, in my opinion. So I was eagerly looking forward to THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN and I am happy to report that Albom did not disappoint me. He is a first-rate storyteller, and THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN is an imaginative, creative tale in the tradition of the best fairy tales or folklore.Eddie is a maintenance man who keeps the rides safe at the Ruby Pier amusement park. His 83rd birthday seems like any other day --- he inspects the rides, watches the people, makes pipe cleaner animals for the children. However on this day he dies unexpectedly, trying to rescue a young girl in harm's way.Eddie wakes up in heaven --- but not to the "paradise garden, a place where (we) can float on clouds and laze in rivers and mountains," not the idyllic place that heaven has been described as throughout time. Eddie awakens to a series of introductions --- or reintroductions --- to five people whom he had met during his life, either in passing or at length. They each carry answers to the whys and hows of Eddie's life. With each meeting he relives in part that time of his life, but now the gaps are filled in. For maybe the first time he sees what REALLY happened. "There are five people you meet in heaven," the Blue Man, Eddie's first encounter, explains. "Each of us was in your life for a reason. You may not have known the reason at the time, and that is what heaven is for. For understanding your life on earth."All five are of course deceased, and they all impart knowledge of Eddie's life and life in general. For instance, the Blue Man asks, "Why do people gather when others die," and his explanation is at the very core of the meaning of Albom's book: "It is because the human spirit knows, deep down, that all lives intersect. That death doesn't just take someone, it misses someone else, and in the small distance between being taken and being missed lives are changed." It is insights like these that leave the reader asking, "What does Mitch Albom know that we don't?"What he knows is that we all seek answers. We look for meaning behind the experiences in our lives. More often than not, we never get the answers but we continue --- we plod on, happy or unhappy, fulfilled or unfulfilled, pain-free or in pain. We live. Albom doesn't pretend to offer us the answers, but he does offer us an almost Taoist interpretation of life. It is. It just is. The answers may never be revealed. And do they need to be?THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN is a beautiful story. Eddie is human and likable for his foibles, fears and faults. The writing is often lyrical and fable-like. And though the book is fiction, behind it lies Albom's lifelong love of his uncle, which lends a tenderness and intimacy to the tale on par with TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE. You'll want to share this with your friends, family, acquaintances, and even those nameless people you pass on the street who may have played a larger role in your life than you ever could have imagined.--- Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara



NIGHTS IN RODANTHE Nicholas Sparks Warner Books Romance 224 pages

To get in the mood for vacation, I read this book on the drive to the Outer Banks. While we were not heading as far south as Rodanthe, North Carolina, it seemed fitting that this was the book to unwind with. To me, Nicholas Sparks is one great beach read. All his books are filled with a healthy dose of romance and emotion. They are a great way to exit everyday life and take a holiday. Before we talk about the book, let's talk about the title. For all those who are wondering --- and you know you are --- the correct pronunciation is Ro-dan-thee. I don't want any of you trying to figure out how to pronounce this when you head towards the bookstore! The story is about middle-aged love, reminding readers that this wonderful emotion is not just owned by the young. Adrienne Willis, a reluctant divorcee in her mid-forties, meets Paul Flanner, a middle-aged doctor who also has left a marriage, as well as a prominent career in the small coastal town of Rodanthe, and sparks do fly. Adrienne is housesitting for a friend who owns an inn; Paul is a guest. During the visit, an angry storm forces them to batten down the house and hunker together till it passes. For two people who are both lonely and longing, these moments kindle a romance. For anyone who sees striking similarities between this plot and that of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, you win a bonus point. There are so many thematic overlaps that we are calling this "Bridges for the new century." In NIGHTS IN RODANTHE, Adrienne confesses the story of her days with Paul to her daughter, who is grieving the loss of her young husband. Trying to shake her out of her own world, Adrienne offers much more detail than I think most mothers and daughters share. Her tale does roust her daughter from her depression and gives her the energy she needed to turn her attention back to her children who need her desperately. There are moments when Sparks can paint a picture with a line. When Adrienne returns from the surprise 40th birthday party her husband threw her and undresses in the bedroom, her husband ignores her. This is a signal that his interest in elsewhere, despite the overt show he put on earlier in the evening. Paul gives Adrienne two major gifts --- one is a chance to feel alive again and the other is an opportunity to care for her father the way she wants. While their physical relationship only lasts a few days, the ramifications of what they both share will fuel a lifetime. While this was not my favorite Sparks book --- no title has been as strong as THE NOTEBOOK --- I still enjoyed the time I spent with it and feel that any Sparks fan, or fan of a nice easy story will feel the same. ---- Reviewed by Carol Fitzgerald






Works Cited


Atwell, Nancy. (1998). In the Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading, and Learning. Portsmouth, N.H.: Boynton-Cook.


Bomer, Randy. (1995). Time for Meaning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Brown, Jean. , Stephens, Elaine. (1995). Teaching Young Adult Literature: Sharing the Connection. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth


Cooper, Charles. (1999). Evaluating Writing: The Role of Teachers' Knowledge about Text, Learning, and Culture.


Kirby, D., Liner, T. (1988). Inside Out. Portsmouth, N.H.: Boynton/Cook.


Kooy, M., Wells, J. (1996). Reading Response Logs . Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann.


Scholastic. Write a Book Review. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 11-13-04. Http://


Soven, M. I. (1999). Teaching Writing: In Middle and Secondary Schools. Needham Heights, M.A.: Allyn & Bacon.


The Bushranger Site. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 11-13-04. Http://




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SUNY Cortland