The book report from hell?

Who comes up with this stuff?

Seriously, somewhere, is there a group of teachers all indulging in some interesting substances, then brainstorming the best, most creative, craziest assignment ideas?

In the years my kids have been in school, I’ve seen some strange methods for book reports. Gone are the days of dioramas – noooo, we can’t be that simple.

First it was the updated diorama – more like a triorama. No more shoe boxes (why would we want it that simple?) it had to be in the shape of a triangle, having only two sides that met in the back with the third side open in the front. (What fun finding and cutting up cardboard and poster board to make that monster.)

Let’s see, we’ve also had the “sculpt a character from your book” and the “make a mobile of the characters and places in your book” as well as the “illustrate a comic book version of your book.” All this was great with The Girl, who is a rather good artist, but The Boy has inherited his mother’s lack of drawing talent. Oh, I can design and build a set, but I can’t draw on paper, not like that anyway. Sculpting was the easy part.

There was also the “dress like a character from your book and give an oral report as if you were that character” fun. Oh yeah. Great. What fun. I’m sure the school was full of some oddly dressed kids on that day. At least, I hope it was – otherwise, the kids who were oddly dressed would feel even more odd.

All of these reports would have been fine and dandy had they come with the basic book report instructions, but nope. Each and every one had its own format and style that had to be followed. Why can’t you just create one basic format for written reports and leave well enough alone? That’s too easy!

Nope, the triorama project came with the instructions to write an explanation of the scene and prepare an oral report on it. OK, easy enough. The sculpture thing required a full bio of the selected character as well as a small plaque like thing to be placed with the sculpture, explaining the scene. The comic book is pretty self-explanatory, right? No. It had to cover all the major characters, events, conflicts, climaxes and resolutions, as well as include the author’s name and all that jazz – and be fully illustrated, with word bubbles including quotes from the book, be in color, no less than 6 pages, no more than 10, be no smaller than… you get the idea… The mobile was just a nightmare, ‘nuff said.

Then came this most recent of stupidities inflicted upon the innocent children – all in the name of Language Arts – the CD Cover Book Report.

And all the parents said, “What?”

Design (and illustrate) a CD cover, using the book title as the name of the band and the author as the lead singer. The inside of the cover was to list the “songs” on the CD (10 – no more and no less) and should include descriptive phrases about three main characters, the location/setting, three major events, conflict, climax and resolution – no instruction whether these were to be in complete sentences, be in song title format, be relatively short, or more than a sentence long, or anything else. Then you had to make up lyrics to one song, in verse, at least two stanzas of four lines each. On the back, you had to list your name as producer, include a copyright symbol and the current date. This all had to be in a report the size of a standard CD case.

Now, The Boy had read “Heart’s Blood” – which I admit sounds like a pretty cool band name – But really, what in the hell kind of project is this? I’m all for creativity, but this isn’t creative – this is forced creativity that doesn’t allow the kid to really express themselves in any way shape or form.


Let’s not discuss how long it took us to find a decent image to use – since The Boy doesn’t draw, he went searching online for some images…

What happened to giving the kids the requirements, and several options for how the report could be presented? Oh, yeah. Sorry. The teacher wants it easy – on her. If all the reports are exactly the same style, it’s easier to grade them all.

Then forget the cutesy and let’s be real, OK! No kid is learning anything by doing this. By 6th grade, the concept of main characters, conflict, climax, resolution, etc is well ingrained – can’t we move on to antagonist/protagonist and a little more literary analysis? Why must we be stuck in this dreadful and boring loop of silly “project” reports?

It’s not like my kids are in the standard classes either, these are the “advanced” classes. Which really scares me!

By 6th grade, my book reports were supposed to be typed, include introductory paragraphs, concluding paragraphs, analysis of character or symbolism (or both) and personal conclusions, among other things. And we were to illustrate our written report with things like a diorama – that was not the body of the report itself.

Meanwhile, my kids think these things are incredibly stupid (so does their mother), the instructions are usually vague enough that you have to do that “best guess” thing, resulting in the teacher marking the kid down for not following the instructions (that has had their mother arguing a few times – if you’re going to grade on it, you’d better be giving damn clear instructions.)

And I’m back to wondering if somewhere there isn’t a room full of stoned teachers laughing their asses off as the entire group of kids (and parents) all try to figure out if the instructions meant the report should simply be the size of a CD case, but could be on regular paper, if it had to be on card stock, or if it meant it had to be placed in a plastic CD case.