The Birth of a Book

When I was a librarian at a PK – 8th grade school back in the late 80’s I went with another teacher to an area school about having students writing, illustrating and then presenting their own book. We saw how this school did it at one grade level with 6 classes and we came back inspired to have our school do it 1-8 grade.

Most grade levels were already writing stories, and some were doing illustrations. But now we wanted every class to participate. We were going to make this a special event, with a schedule for the entire school with stories being read by students from 8:45 to 3:00 except during an hour period for lunch. Teachers were excited about incorporating the writing skills, the art teacher was going to help with illustrations, parents were going to help with the binding of the books and a committee was set up for refreshments. This was planned for the first week of May giving teachers and students ample time to get their ideas and then write, revise, and correct their stories.

Illustrations were left to student with the art teacher’s guidance – some going all out and others keeping it simple but effective. As the books would be stitched everything was based on multiples of 4. A page was folded in half so you get 4 sides. Younger students used 12 by 18 inch paper and older students used 8 by 12 inch. The school had a laminating machine so colored paper was used for the cover, illustrated by the student and then laminated. I brought in my sewing machine and several parents helped, some taking books home to stitch them.

Not only did teachers get to teach writing school now they also got to teach presentation skills: reading loudly and clearly with expression, using proper phrasing in addition to showing pictures, and having eye contact with the audience. After each story was read there would be comments and questions from the audience so students also had to be prepared to answer questions about their book, illustrations and the process.

Classes would come to the library and I had a schedule for each story that was 10 minutes for younger students, 15 for older ones. Parents, friends and sometimes other classes would come and listen to the stories. After each class was finished I would dismiss them along with their guests for refreshments in the lobby. I built in a 10 minute time between classes for people to come and go and in case some class went over the time limit.

It was a wonderful time, and students got dressed up for their presentations. We had visitors sign a guest book which was an encouragement to everyone involved and showed the School Board how important this event was. It was tiring especially for me as I introduced each student and the entire school took the whole week but it was definitely worth it. Years later student still say what a special time that was for them.

I left that school and when I moved to South Carolina I started this tradition with my third grade class. We focused on fairy tales. We read some together and many individually. After talking about the elements of those tales students wrote their own tale. This tradition continued the 14 years I was there and it was a favorite of students, parents and guests.

Books can be a thing of beauty especially when you have written it. I haven’t written any books but I have antique books that are beautifully made. Now we are in the age of the ebooks with less physical books being made. Many publishing companies take shortcuts so that books aren’t as solidly made as they once were. While in Williamsburg we visited the bookbinder and saw the beautiful books that were created. Books were a beautiful thing not just because of what was on the inside but the outside was a work of art too.

Some still follow those time-honored traditions. Here is “a short vignette of a book being created using traditional printing methods.” Enjoy!



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