I’m a reader. I’ve always been a reader. I do believe that it’s okay to just read and move on, but I personally need to process what I read. When I reflect on a book I’ve read and when I connect the book I’ve read to myself and to the outside world, I am changed. That book becomes a part of me.

Recently I began writing book reviews as a way to complete the circle of reading, writing, teaching, and sharing that I value so much in my life. First I researched how to write book reviews. I read some  articles to get perspective and set up some boundaries around how I would write book reviews. Then I jumped right in. As I wrote, I realized that I really wanted to include my voice. It didn’t take long for me to create a three paragraph structure that flowed for me and seemed to garner good responses. In the first paragraph, I wrote about my personal connection to the book being reviewed. In the second paragraph, I summed up what the story was about. I didn’t dwell to much on this because I think the author tells the story, it is my job to introduce the reader to the text. Finally, I shared why I thought this book helped me connect to the world around me.

Click on any of these links to read a couple of my book reviews using this format.

This review writing process helped me learn so much about who I am as a writer and a reader. It also helped me reflect in a really purposeful way. So I decided to teach my fifth graders how to use the format. They loved it. It generated so much discussion. The students kept telling me how much they loved sharing their personal feelings about a book and how great it was not to have to summarize as they’d always done. Here is one of the reviews that came out of that session:

When I read Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio, all I could think about the whole time were stories that my mom had told my family. My mom works at a doctor’s office where you have to deal with breast cancer patients sometimes, and she comes home most days with a new story. One story in particular that I remember is about a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer late on. She had a family of a husband and twin daughters who were about to graduate college. They were going to be coming home soon, and my mom was concerned that she wouldn’t make it until then. Everyone knows there is no for sure cure, but there are treatments. Every night I prayed for that family, until one day my mom said that the patient had passed away. I felt really bad for that family, but then I realized that there are so many other families that have to deal with that, and not every one is going to have a good outcome. Even though I have never even met this family, let alone know their names, I still feel like I’ve had such a strong connection to them.

Peg Kehret, a twelve year old girl, unexpectedly gets polio. One normal school day, Peg is just walking down the hall, and she collapses onto the floor. She doesn’t tell her parents at first, but when she starts vomiting, it all goes downhill from there. Her parents know something is wrong, but have no idea how to fix it. Peg is rushed from hospital to hospital, trying to get immediate care. She constantly asks herself how she could be so unlucky, but is her casinerio really the worst thing that could happen? Even so, will Peg ever be able to live on her own?

When I first started the book Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio, I couldn’t put the book down. It’s amazing to hear about other people’s lives compared to mine, because you don’t realize how lucky you are until you learn about someone who isn’t as lucky. Especially comparing time periods. In just one year, over 58,000 cases of polio were reported. In 2015, zero cases of polio were report‍‍‍‍ed in the U.S. If only they had a polio vaccine in the 1900s, things would have been much better. I believe that back then, people were very unlucky, because they didn’t have all the vaccines that we have today. For example, when my grandfather was a kid, (which was about ten years before Peg Kehret was) they didn’t have all these fancy medicines that relieve pain, stomach aches or coughs. They also didn’t have the polio vaccination. I always wondered why so many people died from illnesses back then, but we don’t have as many deaths nowadays until I read Small Steps. This book has made me cry, has made me smile, but most importantly it has made me realize how lucky we are today.