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“Mom, I need to write a book report.” Hopefully you don’t hear those words the day before it is due. Book reports can be the terrible nightmare under the bed, or they can be a portal at the back of the wardrobe behind the fur coats. Today I am beginning a series (Mondays) about elements in a book and how to introduce your child to the fascinating aspects of a story.

They are: author, background, setting, characters, plot, theme, and style.

This process opens up a world of discovery for your child. It nurtures their natural sense of wonder. It takes a little more time than just reading a book, but the result is that your child will “own” the book. It becomes a treassured friend. He will also have developed a basic skill of learning to learn on his own.

Simply, when your child reads a book, have him look for the elements. Then in a notebook, where each is assigned a page or more, he keeps notes. Have him record the page and paragraph number on the page of the notebook for that element he has found. Then after he has finished a chapter (and enjoyed the story), he can return to record a direct quote from the story. Or he can underline the passage in the book (if it is his own book) as he reads. Some prefer a different colored marker or highlighter for each element. Then later go back to the notebook and summarize what he found. Sound confusing? Next week I’ll walk you through this step.

Let’s start with background. Background encompasses life around the central story and makes it more interesting. Your child will find very little or no background material in the actual story. As your child reads, you can provide the background information you find. The page(s) in his notebook given to background is where he can paste pictures, record articles, or perhaps a list of books that he could read, which gives background information related to the story. Teaching background can be as creative as you want it to be.

When my classes studied “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” one of our first lessons included information about the London Blitz. If you could get a model of a Bf 109 (German aircraft from WWII) it would be a great project to assemble. Discuss fall out shelters and blackout drapes. (The picture on this post is the British response.)

When we read Hans Brinker together, we discussed different Dutch artists each week, plus the “tulipmania” of Holland, an overview of the history of the Netherlands and windmills. We had someone come speak to the class about the culture who had spent time there. They brought mementoes such as wooden shoes, delft pottery, and some Dutch food for an in class celebration. As a family you could ask someone to bring their family and join yours for a special “cultural night” where your guest shares about the country and everyone tries some of it’s cuisine.

For the story of Jonah, my students made clay tablets and wrote their names in cuneiform (English spelling). With Ivanhoe we studied monasteries, knights templar, the crusades, castles, crusader hymns, (Beautiful Savior comes from one) and finished up the unit with a celebration day that offered jousting and other medieval feats and food.

Background information gets a child interested in related topics. You do not have to cover every possible background idea; One can be enough to create interest in your child to pursue a topic and look for another book to read. Through a study of background events and culture he is introduced to other types of literature.