Making Books with Children

Making books with your children is an excellent way to increase their reading, drawing, writing and organizational skills while having fun. Most of the time, our books are very simple and don't require much of my time, but occasionally we spend more time on a book together. Whatever the case, our children are extremely proud of their creations and eagerly 'read' them to anyone who will listen.

There are four types of books we have repeatedly made throughout the years. I call them Label books, Pattern books, Narration books and Storybook Spin off books. Here's a brief look at each one.

Label Books
This type of book is most appropriate for preschoolers or children who are just beginning to read and write. They write simply one word on each page by copying a large model on a dry erase board.

For example, suppose we just read a book about bugs. Together we decide what color of construction paper we want our book to be and I write a very simple title on the dry erase board. My child copies it in pencil. I trace over it with a marker. BUG BOOK. Then we brainstorm together what bugs we want to place in our book. If he wants a ladybug on one page. He draws it on his page and colors it. I write LADYBUG on the board and he copies it below the picture. Then we do the same thing with a different bug on the next page. I use half sheets of paper or else we end up with a tiny drawing in the center of large white background. I gather the pages together and punch two holes through them and tie it all together with yarn or twine. Sometimes we just staple them. There are times when we have made fancier sewn bindings, but we usually save those for older children.

You can make label books for just about anything your children are interested in- cars, counting books, shape books, animals, friends, flowers, favorite places, etc... These books can by made on the spur of the moment and they are usually factual.

You really should walk your children through the first one. Eventually, my kids began to make label books on their own. I just provided the materials on a table. Sometimes I prebound them, but usually, they preferred to do this themselves. We then display the book proudly on the bookshelf with all the other 'real' books, remembering to write the author's name on the front.

Occasionally, I make the entire book into the shape of the book theme. Once we made a circle book and drew things that were in the shape of a circle on each page and labeled them. So I made every page including the cover into a large circle. We've made house shaped books and caterpillars too. The possibilities are endless.

Pattern books
The purpose of pattern books is to help emergent readers with word recognition by using patterns in language. Bill Martin Jr.'s book Brown Bear, Brown Bear is an excellent example of this. Each page has predictable language, rhythm and rhyme that children enjoy, along with engaging pictures.

Brown bear, brown bear What do you see?
I see a red bird looking at me.
Red bird, red bird what do you see?
I see a yellow duck looking at me.

It continues on with several different animals.

After I read this book to my child, I suggest we make up our own Brown Bear book but choose a different title and characters.

So, our book may read.... Little Girl, little girl. What do you see? I see a baby looking at me...Baby, baby. What do you see? I see a ...

My child would dictate to me what he wanted on each page and I would copy it down. Usually, children don't write well at this age and I want to keep it enjoyable, so I transcribe all of it or most of the words in clear print and leave a blank line for him write just a word.

This link should take you to some good, predictable books. We have used several on this list.

Narration books
These books can be made with children of all ages. You read aloud a story and your children simply tell it back in their own language. You record their words, divide the language up into pages and illustrate it. We did this with some fairy tales and they were a big hit with the children. When we read The Three Little Pigs, I drew a cute round pig face to be the cover of the book and cut out the circle pages. My seven year old wrote a simple sentence on each page. My four year old dictated to me. They both illustrated their books and we glued straw and toothpicks on for houses.

Narration books are perfect for children who have a deep interest in a particular subject. When my oldest daughter was nine years of age, horses were the love of her life. She enjoyed Marguerite Henry's Album of Horses immensely. Later, we gave her a horse encyclopedia and she read it from cover to cover. I suggested she make her own book for children who may not be able to read a whole encyclopedia. I showed her how to make a table of contents, a dedication page and suggested she add drawings, poetry and how to articles, etc... Her excitement grew and the project took almost an entire year to finish. She was so happy with it and it still stands proudly on our science and nature shelf.

Story Spin offs
These are my favorite kind of books. We made a few when the children were very young but I have found that children between the ages of 8 and 10 particularly like these and do amazingly well with the idea. Mom reads aloud a story, but this time the children do not narrate. They change the story altogether, only keeping a few key elements. In this way, the story truly becomes their own, but they have a source of inspiration. Children shouldn't be expected to write creatively without an inspiring idea.

For example, several years ago we read Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. My kids decided to change Harold's name to their names and make their own adventures. They changed the crayon color as well but kept the idea that they had to draw each scene before it could happen, just like Harold did. We also decided to make the entire story on the computer using computer graphics. I typed their dictations. We worked awhile on this one so I laminated the covers.

When I read the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder aloud, the girls became so inspired that they began writing out their own pioneer stories. One of my daughters made a six book series when she was seven years old. When she grew tired of writing, I typed it for her.

These are just a few ideas to help get your creative juices flowing.

Some Tips:

  • Do not use premade book pages. It stifles creativity and wastes money. Besides, kids need to feel that they authored the book completely.
  • Keep it simple. The more children you have, the less time you will have to do this. So don't worry about making fancy books. Kids don't care about this as much as you do.
  • Keep it neat and organized. I always expect their best effort.
  • Suggest, suggest, suggest. Give them ideas to help them get started but don't insist on them.
  • Make sure they finish what they started. My daughter's horse book, as much as she loved it, would never have been completed if I didn't require her to finish.
  • Teach the children to write the author and illustrator's name on the book cover.
  • Teach them to make a title page.
  • Longer, non fiction books should have a table of contents and page numbers.
  • Teach them to make a dedication page-often to the grandparents, and then when they visit read it to them. What pleasure this brings!!
  • When explaining how to make a book and its parts, make sure you have the original in front of you.
  • Occasionally, use interesting materials -glitter, stickers, lace, rubbings, jewels.
  • Use various mediums for illustrations- crayons, paint, pastels, watercolor pencils, colored pencils, markers.
  • Type some books for the kids, but make sure they are writing too.
  • Bind it in various ways-masking tape, yarn, sew it, staple it, metal rings, use premade binders for large books. Don't go out and buy a binding machine. Just use what you have.
  • When they tire of it, stop immediately.
  • Keep it FUN.
Perhaps, the greatest benefit of making books with my children throughout the years is that it has given them the confidence they need to realize that they too, can author books. It doesn't take someone with special talent, just passion, practice and perserverance. Now that most of my children are older they continue to write books in their free time. They fill book journals with story ideas and 'good lines' that come to their heads. My younger children see this and copy them. They take turns typing the next chapter of the books they are each writing-books I never assigned. They revise and revise and revise but slowly are becoming excellent writers through a process that brings them great pleasure. I don't give them writing exercises, but allow them the freedom to choose. Excellent literature and a writer's handbook or two are the key elements of our writing program. Children need to be emotionally involved with their subject matter in order to write well. I've never found a writing program yet that doesn't rob them of this, so I don't use one. There is no drudgery in this writing process.

one step at a time...