Book Reviews in a Box: Supporting Discussion of Reading

Book reviews. Some people like them, some people not so much. If children are really engaged with reading and writing then it's obviously much easier, but even then they can still struggle to articulate their thoughts about a book in a meaningful way.

We love this 'Book Reviews in a Box' project from teacher Janice Paterson for a number of reasons. First, it challenged pupils to think hard and carefully about characters and themes in their books. Second, it supported them to speak confidently about what they were reading, which we strongly believe is a necessary precursor to writing about books. Finally, we love it because it's easy to see the pride pupils took in their work and the enthusiasm for reading that was sparked by the project.

Creating a ‘Book Review in a Box’ helped pupils express the ‘essence’ of their book.

We caught up with Janice to ask her a few questions about how it all happened! Make sure you check out the image gallery at the foot of this blog post to see larger images of the book reviews.

What was your thinking behind coming up with this project idea?

I wanted to develop pupils’ reading for pleasure. I always hold monthly book groups where we all sit around and talk about a book we have read and enjoyed. We then swap if we want to. Pupils really enjoy this approach; however, I wanted to do something a bit different from just talking. Children don’t like writing book reviews. They add a chore to what was hopefully an enjoyable experience, so I had to think ‘outside the box’ if you’ll pardon the pun. Creating a ‘Book in a Box’ involved my pupils in expressing the ‘essence’ of their book. They had to think hard about things such as characters, setting and plot elements, and they had to be as creative as possible in displaying these things. This allowed for elements beyond writing, but there was also lots of writing – a short version of Harry Potter’s diary for instance.


A 'book review in a box' of Michael Morpurgo's Listen To The Moon
Obviously this is a little bit different from a traditional book review. How did this approach suit the needs of your pupils better?

Everyone wanted to be involved and there was a subsequent flurry of book talk and sharing. My library and my mind were raided on a daily basis! As boxes started to appear in class, pupils became more and more inspired and learned from each other. There was a wide range of fiction and non-fiction and pupils really shared the idea of genre and were able to talk fluently about the meaning of each element included in their box.


How did your pupils respond to the project?

There was support in class if they wanted it, but mainly they shared ideas with each other

They were really enthusiastic. It was a homework task, with a month-long timescale, so everyone felt they had time to think, plan, select and make. There was support in class if they wanted it, but mainly they shared ideas with each other. Finished boxes were displayed at parents’ evening and pupils received a lot of acclaim for their efforts. Once they have had them on display in their own class for long enough they plan to show them off to the whole school in the entrance area. All the pupils are very proud of their efforts.


Are you going to do it again, and would you do anything differently the next time?

I’ll definitely do it again. Next time I would show a slideshow of photos of the current Books in a Box so that pupils have extra inspiration.


A 'book review in a box' of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox
Can you tell us some of your favourite books to use for projects in school?

Here's a quick list:

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Once by Morris Gleitzman

Now by Morris Gleitzman

Then by Morris Gleitzman

After by Morris Gleitzman

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian

Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden

The Ghost Behind the Wall by Melvin Burgess

Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond

The Piper by Danny Weston

Divided City by Theresa Breslin

My Father’s Arms are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde

The Book of Mean People by Toni Morrison

The Red Tree by Shaun Tan

But if I get started on picture books and their impact on older pupils, I’ll never stop!


If you could give one tip to help teachers encourage pupils to read for pleasure, what would it be?

Just one? Read to them, involve them, and know about books yourself so you can recommend them – OK, I know, that’s three!


Loved this article? Check out our Creating a Reading Culture activity pack for some more ideas to get pupils buzzing about books!

Visit our book lists section for more fantastic recommendations.

Janice Paterson

Janice Paterson is a principal teacher at Wormit Primary School in Fife.