How to Start a Book Report

Sixteen year old girl studying and writing notes next to window
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There are several ways to grab your reader's attention with your introductory sentence. You may choose to begin by asking your reader a question to hook his or her interest. Or you may opt for a title that hints at the topic of your report with a dash of drama. Regardless of the way you choose to start a book report, the four strategies outlined here can help you write an engaging essay.

Begin With a Question

Starting your book report with a question is a good way to grab your reader's interest because you're addressing them directly.

Consider the following sentences:

  • Do you believe in happy endings?
  • Have you ever felt like a total outsider?
  • Do you love a good mystery?
  • What would you do if you discovered a secret that changed everything?
  • Do you believe a person can really change?
  • Are you afraid of the dark?
  • Do you have a hero?

Most people have a ready answer for questions like these because they speak to common experiences we share. It's a means of creating empathy between the person reading your book report and the book itself. For example:

"Have you ever been judged by your appearance? In 'The Outsiders,' S. E. Hinton gives readers a glimpse inside the tough exterior of a social outcast."

Not everyone's teenage years are as dramatic as those in Hinton's coming-of-age novel. But everyone was once an adolescent, and odds are everyone had moments when they felt misunderstood or alone.

A Fact About the Author's Life or Times

If you're discussing a book by a well-known or popular author, you might start with an interesting fact about the era when the author was alive and how it influenced his or her writing.

For example:

"As a young child, Charles Dickens was forced to work in a shoe polish factory. In 'Hard Times,' Dickens taps into his childhood experience to explore the evils of social injustice and hypocrisy."

Not everyone has read Dickens, but many people have heard his name. By starting your book report with a fact, you're appealing to your reader's curiosity.

Similarly, you may choose an experience from the author’s life that had an impact on his or her work. Consider this example about Samuel Clemens, who took the pen name Mark Twain from his days as a riverboat pilot:

"Mark Twain spent much of his childhood on the banks of the Mississippi River, so it is little wonder that his greatest works took place on and around that famous waterway."

It’s easy to locate an interesting fact to use as a starting point for your report. Simply find a biography of your author and then identify a life experience that relates to the particular work you’re reviewing. Remember to list the biography in your bibliography.

The Novel's Title and Setting

Sometimes, a novel's title or setting is what makes it so powerful. "To Kill a Mockingbird," the award-winning book by Harper Lee, takes place in a small town in Alabama during the Great Depression. She draws on her own experiences in recalling a time when a small Southern town's sleepy exterior ​hid a vague sense of impending change. In this example, the reviewer starts with a reference to the book's setting:​​

"The novel 'To Kill a Mockingbird' takes place in a time when everything moved slowly and seethed below the surface.

As Lee writes, 'There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.'"

Authors make a deliberate choice when selecting the setting of a book. After all, the location and setting can set a very distinct mood. The location has particular significance in any storyline, so you can use the setting as a footstep into the analysis of an entire book. 

A Meaningful Quote

Authors also choose dialogue carefully, and a single phrase from a character can often represent a major theme in the book. A well-chosen quote included in your book report's introduction can have a powerful impact on your readers, as in this example:

"At its heart, the novel 'To Kill A Mockingbird' is a plea for tolerance in an atmosphere of intolerance.

As the character Atticus Finch tells his daughter, 'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.'"

Quoting Finch is effective because his words sum up the novel's theme concisely and also appeal to the reader's own sense of tolerance.

Conclusion

Don't worry if your first attempt at writing an introductory sentence is less than perfect. Writing is an act of fine-tuning. The idea is to start your book report by identifying your general theme so that you can move on to the body of your essay. After you've written the entire book report, you can (and should) return to the introduction to refine it.