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Book Review Essay Rubric

Your review should have two goals: first, to inform the reader about the content of the book, and second, to provide an evaluation that gives your judgment of the book’s quality.

Your introduction should include an overview of the book that both incorporates an encapsulated summary and a sense of your general judgment. This is the equivalent to a thesis statement.

Do NOT spend more than one-third or so of the paper summarizing the book. The summary should consist of a discussion and highlights of the major arguments, features, trends, concepts, themes, ideas, and characteristics of the book. While you may use direct quotes from the book (make sure you always give the page number), such quotes should never be the bulk of the summary. Much of your grade will depend on how well you describe and explain the material IN YOUR OWN WORDS. You might want to take the major organizing themes of the book and use them to organize your own discussion. This does NOT mean, however, that I want a chapter-by-chapter summary. Your goal is a unified essay.

So what do I want, if not just a summary? Throughout your summary, I want you to provide a critique of the book. (Hence the title: “A Critical Book Review.”) A critique consists of thoughts, responses, and reactions. It is not necessarily negative. Nor do you need to know as much about the subject as the author (because you hardly ever will). The skills you need are an ability to follow an argument and test a hypothesis. Regardless of how negative or positive your critique is, you need to be able to justify and support your position.

Here are a number of questions that you can address as part of your critique. You need not answer them all, but questions one and two are essential to any book review, so those must be included. And these are ABSOLUTELY NOT to be answered one after another (seriatim). Don’t have one paragraph that answers one, and then the next paragraph that answers the next, etc. The answers should be part of a carefully constructed essay, complete with topic sentences and transitions.

1. What is your overall opinion of the book? On what basis has this opinion been formulated? That is, tell the reader what you think and how you arrived at this judgment. What did you expect to learn when you picked up the book? To what extent – and how effectively – were your expectations met? Did you nod in agreement (or off to sleep)? Did you wish you could talk back to the author? Amplify upon and explain your reactions.

2. Identify the author’s thesis and explain it in your own words. How clearly and in what context is it stated and, subsequently, developed? To what extent and how effectively (i.e., with what kind of evidence) is this thesis proven? Use examples to amplify your responses. If arguments or perspectives were missing, why do you think this might be?

3. What are the author’s aims? How well have they been achieved, especially with regard to the way the book is organized? Are these aims supported or justified? (You might look back at the introduction to the book for help). How closely does the organization follow the author’s aims?

4. How are the author’s main points presented, explained, and supported? What assumptions lie behind these points? What would be the most effective way for you to compress and/or reorder the author’s scheme of presentation and argument?

5. How effectively does the author draw claims from the material being presented? Are connections between the claims and evidence made clearly and logically? Here you should definitely use examples to support your evaluation.

6. What conclusions does the author reach and how clearly are they stated? Do these conclusions follow from the thesis and aims and from the ways in which they were developed? In other words, how effectively does the book come together?

7. Identify the assumptions made by the author in both the approach to and the writing of the book. For example, what prior knowledge does the author expect readers to possess? How effectively are those assumptions worked into the overall presentation? What assumptions do you think should not have been made? Why?

8. Are you able to detect any underlying philosophy of history held by the author (e.g., progress, decline, cyclical, linear, and random)? If so, how does this philosophy affect the presentation of the argument?

9. How does the author see history as being motivated: primarily by the forces of individuals, economics, politics, social factors, nationalism, class, race, gender, something else? What kind of impact does this view of historical motivation have upon the way in which the author develops the book?

10. Does the author’s presentation seem fair and accurate? Is the interpretation biased? Can you detect any distortion, exaggeration, or diminishing of material? If so, for what purpose might this have been done, and what effect does hit have on the overall presentation?

These questions are derived from Robert Blackey, "Words to the Whys: Crafting Critical Book Reviews," The History Teacher, 27.2 (Feb. 1994): 159-66.

S. Zabin, 2-6-03


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Getting Started:
First, read the book. As you're reading, take notes on key information, such as the names of the main characters, personality quirks of these characters, the setting, key plot twists, important events, and any other things that seem important and that you think you might want to include in your book report.

The Structure of Your Report:
Start your report with an introductory paragraph that states the book's title, the author, and the type of book it is (mystery, fairy tale, science fiction, western, etc.). Then write at least four to five paragraphs that clearly describe the book. Each paragraph should cover one topic (for example, you should have at least one paragraph that describes the main character). End the report with a closing paragraph that summarizes what you learned from the book and if you liked or disliked the book (and why).

Finally, cite your references (see the section below on formats for your bibliography).

Check that your grammar, spelling, and punctuation are correct. Make sure to use complete sentences and write neatly! Define any technical terms that you use. Proofread your report for errors before you hand it in -- do not hand in a rough draft.

Topics to Include in Your Report:
When you write your report, try to cover as many of the following topics as you can:

  • Setting: Describe the setting or settings of the book. Note where the action takes place and when. Have you ever been to a place like that? Did you like it or not? Would you like to be in a place and time like that described in the book?
  • Main Character: Write about the main character, including what they are like, what they look like, what they like to do, and so on. Does the character change, learn, or grow in the story? If so, describe how and why this happens. Would you like to be friends with this character?
  • Other Characters: List the other characters in the books and give some characteristics for each.
  • Which characters did you like/dislike?: State why you liked/disliked certain characters. Did any of the characters do things that you think are wrong, noble, risky, etc?
  • What happened at the beginning of the story?: How does the story start? Usually this is where the characters are introduced to us and the problem is stated.
  • What happened in the middle of the story?: This is usually where we find out a lot about the characters and the story becomes more exciting.
  • What happened at the end of the story?: This is usually where the main problem in the book is resolved.
  • What was the problem in the story and how was it solved?: What was the big problem in the story, how was it solved, who solved it. and why?
  • What did you learn from this story?: The best books leave the reader with a lot to think about and learn.
  • Theme/Main Idea: What was the main idea or theme of the book? Some stories have a moral (like Aesop's fables), while others try to teach a life lesson.
  • Do you like this story?: Tell if you liked or disliked this story and why you did or didn't like it.


Citing Your References: When you write your bibliography, list all of your references. Formats for each type of publication follows (there are different formats for different media):
  • Book: Author(s). Title of book. Edition. Location of publisher: Name of Publisher, year of publication.
  • Web Site: Author(s) if appropriate. Title of Site or web page. URL of site, date of publication (the earliest copyright year listed).
Author(s) are listed last name first, first name or initials (as cited in the publication).

For example: "Enchanted Learning" would be cited as follows:

MacPenn, I.. Enchanted Learning: Charlie MacDuff and the Test of Time. http://www.EnchantedLearning.com/usa/states/ 2001.

Another format for Internet sources is as follows:

Last name, First name of author. Title of Page. Name of the publisher (EnchantedLearning.com in our case). Date the page was created (at Enchanted Learning, this is the earliest date on the copyright notice located at the bottom of each page), Date of revision (at Enchanted Learning, we do not keep track of page revisions).

Some teachers also request that you include the date of access; this is the date (or dates) that you went to the web page (or pages).



The Following is a Rubric For Assessing each Part of Your Book Report:

Book Reports and Movie Reviews:

Book Report: Write a simple book report, noting the name of the book, the author, the major characters, the setting of the book, and a short summary of the book.

Movie Review: Write a simple movie review, describing the characters, the story, and what you like the most and the least about the movie.



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