Writing book reviews isn’t just about learning how to write—it’s about learning how to read and think in a certain way. Most people write book reviews because they had strong feelings on a book (or because a teacher asked them to), and that means the reviewer must be able to do more than say whether they liked it or not. The reviewer must explain why—a task that can only be done by really processing what you’ve read and examining your reactions to it.
If your kid loves a book, encourage them to write a review! Here are some tips to get them started.
1. Know What They’re Reading
It’s easier to read and analyze a book if you know what the book is about before you start. Young reviewers can do some groundwork by reading the synopsis to find out who the characters are and what they want and flipping through the pages to preview chapter titles. If possible, a young reader may even want to do some outside research. For example, if a young reader interested in social justice wanted to read and review Fred Korematsu Speaks Up, they may want to first start by doing some basic online research on the attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent prison camps.
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2. Stop and Jot
It’s one thing to say you love a book—it’s another to explain why. The problem is, when you read a book you love, you often read it so quickly you can no longer remember the best, most interesting parts of the story. And those are the parts of the story people want to hear about in a review! A quick way to combat that is to stop reading every so often and write down a couple of sentences about what’s happening. This strategy is especially helpful when reviewing a fast-moving graphic novel, like Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869. How does a young reader know what to write down? Well, it’s up to them! But here are some questions to focus on: What’s interesting? What stands out? What quotes do I LOVE? Why did I like this so much? Why did I dislike this?
3. Readers Want to Know How a Book Will Make Them Feel
In my experience, when young kids are asked about a book, they tend to tell you what happened in it, starting from the very beginning. (First, the character woke up; then they had breakfast; then they went to school.) Often they’ll give you a scene-by-scene retelling, without ever letting the listener know whether they liked it. But often, review readers care more about the overall feelings a book produces. For example, in a Forever or a Long, Long Time, young readers are introduced to the hardships of the foster care system as they follow Flora and Julian’s struggles to find a place in their current family. For a review, the day to day happenings of the children are less important than how their struggle makes a reader feel as they read, and whether it causes readers to think about big, important topic or gives then hope for the future.
4. Focus On What They Love…and Don’t Love
Relatedly, when discussing a book, a young reviewer should focus on the parts they really loved, not rehash everything that happened. Whether it’s the characters, the setting, or the humor, a young reviewer recommending a book should be able to point to the parts of the book that they enjoyed the most. But no book is perfect, and review readers will also appreciate any honest, constructive criticism. So, for example, if the young reviewer thought something about the story was unrealistic, or certain chapters felt too long, they should mention it.
5. Characters Are Everything
Characters are what generally draw people to books, so while young readers read, they should focus on who the characters are and what makes them interesting. Are the characters likable? Do they make you cheer them on? Do you wish you could hang out with them after school? When the characters say something interesting or funny or representative of them, have young readers write that quote down, so they can share it in their own review. This is an especially good strategy when the story is told through multiple perspectives, like in Hello, Universe. The story follows several middle schoolers, each with distinct and compelling personalities, as fate brings them together one summer day.
6. Notice Anything Unusual
It’s the differences that make a book special. If a young reader loves a book, it’s probably not because it’s similar to every other book they’ve read. The key is to identify what it is that makes that book so special compared to other books. This may be harder than it sounds—especially for very early readers who’ve encountered only a few books—but it becomes easier over time as young readers begin to read more widely. However, a good place to start when look for differences can be the format and the characters. In Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, a reviewer would almost certainly mention that the characters are all animals or that some of the story is written through letters.
7. Compare It to Other Books You’ve Read
Just as a young reader should consider how a book is different from other books they’ve read, they should also consider how it’s similar. This is helpful to review readers because it gives them an idea of what to expect and a better sense of whether or not they’ll like the book. For a starting point, young readers can look at other books in the genre (science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, etc.)
What advice would you give to a young book reviewer?