What Can You Say
About a Book?

Ideas and Inspiration for Improving Book Talk
and Book Reviews

by Steve Peha

So What Can You Say About a Book?

You’ve just finished 15 articles about book talk and book reviews. You’ve learned what reviews are and how reviewers write them. You have many new tools at your disposal like The Five Big Questions, The Five Facts of Fiction, Read Like a Reader, and Read Like a Writer. You’ve learned about themes and plot summary and character development. For all this time you’ve been hearing what I have to say about books. Now it’s your turn. What can you say about a book?

Honestly, it’s not that easy, and I know it. Writing is always hard. Every writer is presented every time he sits down to write with the most intimidating thing he can imagine: a blank page.

The author E. L. Doctorow said, “Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” Earnest Hemingway, perhaps the most famous American writer of the 20th century, put it more poignantly: “Writing is a lonely life.” But my favorite quote about writing comes from author and humorist Dorothy Parker: “I hate writing. But I love having written.”

That’s me for sure. As much writing as I do, I’d have to admit that I don’t really like doing it all that much. But I love to see my words in print. I love to hear from people that something I wrote made a difference in their lives. I love to know that people are influenced by my ideas.

So what do I do when I’m stumped? I look at the writing of other writers just like me. If I were you, and I had to write a book review, and I wanted to get some ideas about what I could say about a book, I’d look at the reviews of other writers just like me to see what they had to say. Then I’d copy them. Not their words exactly, that would be plagiarism. Instead, I’d copy the kinds of things they were writing about; I’d copy their topics.

It is said the imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So go out there and imitate. Find reviews you like and use them as models for your own.

Book Review Excerpts

Here are some excerpts from book reviews by 5th graders I recently worked with who read the book “Holes” by Louis Sachar.

Two Different Leads

Who would think? Who could imagine digging a hole every day at a dried up lake? Louis Sachar, that's who!

How would you like it if you had to dig holes day after day in the hot sun? That's what Stanley Yelnats had to do in the book “Holes” by Louis Sachar.

Background From the Author’s Life

You might be wondering why Louis Sachar wrote “Holes.” He got the idea of writing this when he moved to Austin, Texas. It was so hot in Texas that he decided to write a story about suffering in the scorching heat.

Insights About the Main Character

In the beginning of the book I think Stanley was very lonely. It never mentioned anything about him having a friend. He seemed to hate his life. He was always glum and depressed.

On the Theme of “Fairness”

A question Louis Sachar might want us to ask is, Is life fair? Based on the book, I would answer that life can be fair, even though it might not seem like it. Life wasn't fair for Stanley because something bad was always waiting around the corner ready to spring on him. But in the end, life was fair for Stanley because he persevered and got rewarded by making a life-long friend, finding treasure and getting released from Camp Green Lake.

On the Main Idea

In Holes, Louis Sachar wants you to know that you can't control things that happen in life. For example, Stanley couldn't control the fact that he was falsely accused of stealing shoes and ended up at Camp Greenlake. Zero couldn't control the fact that his mother left him one day and never came back.

A Recommendation

I highly recommend Holes to most readers all around the world because I think they will learn a lot and I'm sure they will enjoy it. They will think about life and take it more seriously. They will also think twice before doing anything bad.

Getting Started

When I teach book reviews, I always start by showing kids models. Amazon.com is a great source for book reviews, many written by kids. Just type in the name of a book you read and see what comes up. Some books, particular the big award winners, have more than 1000 reviews you can read. You can also post your own reviews — so get to it!