How to Start a Book Report

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No matter what you're writing, be it the next great novel, an essay for school, or a book report, you have to capture your audience's attention with a great introduction. Most students will introduce the title of the book and its author, but there's so much more you can do. A strong introduction will help you engage your readers, hold their attention and explain what is coming up in the rest of your report.

Giving your audience something to look forward to, and perhaps even creating a little mystery and excitement, can be great ways to make sure your readers stay engaged with your report. How do you do this? Check out these three simple steps:

1. Hook their attention

Think about what you experience in your daily life that captures your attention. The news and radio shows "promo" upcoming stories with a little teaser, often called a hook (because it "hooks" your attention). Corporations use snappy subject lines in emails and enticing headlines in social media to get you to open their messages; these are often called "clickbait" as they get the reader to click on the content. So how can you grab your reader's attention? Start by writing a great 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.

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?

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, consider this opening to a book report about "The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton:

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.

Another idea to hook someone's attention is, 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 his novel, "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. 

2. Summarize the Content and Share Details

A book report is meant to discuss the contents of the book at hand, and your introductory paragraph should give a little overview. This isn't the place to delve into details, but draw off your hook to share a little more information that is crucial to the storyline. 

For example, sometimes, a novel's 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. The author 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 might include a reference to the book's setting and plot in that first paragraph:

Set in the sleepy town of Maycomb, Alabama during the Depression, we learn about Scout Finch and her father, a prominent lawyer, as he desperately works to prove the innocence of a black man wrongly accused of rape. The controversial trial leads to some unexpected interactions and some terrifying situations for the Finch Family.

Authors make a deliberate choice when selecting the setting of a book. After all, the location and setting can set a very distinct mood. 

3. Share a Thesis Statement (if appropriate)

When writing a book report, you might also include your own interpretations of the subject matter. Ask your teacher how much personal interpretation he or she wants first, but assuming that some personal opinion is warranted, your introduction should include a thesis statement. This is where you present the reader with your own argument about the work. To write a strong thesis statement, which should be about one sentence, you might reflect on what the author was trying to achieve. Consider the theme and see if the book was written in such a way where you were able to determine it easily and if it made sense. As yourself a few questions:

  • Was the book meant to be entertaining or informative? Did it accomplish that goal?
  • Did the moral at the end make sense? Did you learn something?
  • Did the book make you think about the topic at hand and assess your beliefs? 

Once you've asked yourself these questions, and any other questions you may think of, see if these responses lead you to a thesis statement in which you assess the success of the novel.

Sometimes, a thesis statement is widely shared, while others may be more controversial. In the example below, the thesis statement is one that few would dispute, ​and uses dialogue from the text to help illustrate the point. Authors choose dialogue carefully, and a single phrase from a character can often represent both a major theme and your thesis. A well-chosen quote included in your book report's introduction can help you create a thesis statement that has 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, and is a statement on social justice. 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 paragraph is less than perfect. Writing is an act of fine-tuning, and you may need several revisions. 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. Creating an outline can help you best identify what you need in your introduction.

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski

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Fleming, Grace. "How to Start a Book Report." ThoughtCo, Feb. 6, 2018, thoughtco.com/the-first-sentence-of-a-book-report-1857642. Fleming, Grace. (2018, February 6). How to Start a Book Report. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-first-sentence-of-a-book-report-1857642 Fleming, Grace. "How to Start a Book Report." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-first-sentence-of-a-book-report-1857642 (accessed February 20, 2018).