Making Books with Children

Expand your child's love of books by making them

When my second son was in a hurry to start reading, we made a book. He was very proud of his first book, and would read it to anyone who would listen. It encouraged him to work on his reading skills and to continue writing stories. Making a book with your child is a pleasure and a learning opportunity.

There are many kinds of homemade books. To make a simple one, similar in appearance to a hardback book, all you need is a few readily available supplies:
Copier paper or typing paper (I prefer copier paper because it is thicker)
sharp craft knife
Adhesive shelf paper
Packaging tape
Button thread or other thick thread
Large needle
Rubber Cement or glue

To make a 14 page book you will need 8 sheets of 8 1/2 x 11 paper. Fold the paper in half to form a 16-page booklet measuring 8 1/2 x 5 1/2. Thread your needle with about 24 inches of heavy thread.

Beginning at one end of the booklet's center crease, sew large stitches about 1 inch apart. Leave a 2 inch 'tail' hanging from the first needle hole. When you reach the end of the crease, turn the booklet over. Now sew back, bringing the needle through the same holes on the other side of the book. When you are finished stitching the pages together, tie the two ends of your thread together on the outside of your booklet. Trim the ends.

Cut two 6 x 9 inch rectangles from cardboard. You may find the craft knife makes neater cuts than scissors. Lay the cut pieces side by side, leaving a half inch space between them. Cover the center gap with packaging tape, attaching the cardboard pieces together. This is the spine of your book. If you tape the front and back covers together without leaving the space between them, your book will not shut!

Cut a piece of adhesive backed shelf paper 15 x 20 inches. Do not peel off the backing yet! Place your book cover in the center of the shelf paper. At each corner you will want to trim off a triangle before you peel the backing from the adhesive paper. Mark a diagonal line about one half inch from the corner of the paper and trim. Now peel off the backing from the shelf paper and place your book cover in the center on the sticky side of the paper. Fold over the edges and your cover is done.

Now it is time to put the pages and the cover together. I like to tape the pages in to add extra stability and wearability. Place the closed pages into the open cover, putting the center of the booklet, sewn edge in, at the center of the book cover's spine. Tape it in place. Repeat the process on the other side.

The first and last pages of your booklet are the endpapers. Glue the first page flat against the cover. Rubber cement makes less wrinkles on your endpapers than regular glue, although regular glue will work fine unless you are aiming for perfection. To keep the end paper from pulling out of place, I prop the book at a 45 degree angle until the end paper is completely dry. After it dries, finish the job by gluing the last page to the other side of the book cover.

Of course, before you put your book together, you've decided whether to print pages on the computer or hand write them after they're in the cover. If you want to computer print them, getting pages in the right order can be tricky.

A computer program to make booklets is perfect for this. We use Microsoft Publisher and found the catalog template to work well for books. With this type of feature, illustrations can be scanned into the computer and the text added. The computer will print the pages correctly.

Our first books were made without the aid of a computer. We did the layout the old fashioned way, arranging the pages in the correct order and doing cut and paste with scissors and tape. Then we had regular copies made. You can hand write or draw on the pages, making this project appropriate for even the littlest bookbinders.

Making books has been one of our family's school projects every year. Literary progress becomes very obvious from year to year, especially in the younger grades. Consider making an extra copy of the book for grandparents or family friends.

We have made a habit of donating a copy of our books to a local library. My children are always pleased when they find that a friend has checked out and read one of their books.

Ideas for Using Homemade Books

Help your child make "The Book of Me." A pre-writer can tell you what to write for them. Include favorite things, hair and eye color, names of pets, friends, or siblings, and enything else that completes your child's picture of their identity.

Make an alphabet word-capture book. You'll need 14 pieces of paper for this one. Illustrate each of the 26 empty pages with an alphabet letter. As your child learns new words, write them on the page. Beginning readers see their growing command of language.

Use a homemade book to tell your family's history from your child backwards. Include names, pictures, and information that places your little one in a line of family history.

Supplement school lessons with a book about animals. Farm animals can follow units on food, pets could underline a lesson on community, and wild animals can illustrate facts about different countries. Cut pictures out of magazines or catalogs for illustrations.

Pasting in souvenirs from travels can make a keepsake vacation journal. Older children can use their own book as a diary during the trip.

Budding naturalists might like to chronicle a season in a wild area near your home. Even back yards can yield plenty of nature sketching opportunities.

With a bit of encouragement, even seemingly uninterested children will tell a story. If they talk faster than they write, tape their story for transcription or take dictation. They provide the illustrations. You might find a collaborative story works best for some children.

Favorite stories you've made up make treasured gifts for your children. They make the book with you, you write or type the words, and they illustrate them. Expect this kind of story to become a perennial bedtime request.

Books that "take off" where a school lesson ended can be donated to your child's class for further study.

Why not make books as a classroom activity? Volunteer to lead the project once you've had a few under your belt.

When your child has made several books, consider using patterned paper for the endpapers. Tiger striped paper would make a nice complement to a jungle story, for instance.

Combine two crafts. Make homemade recycled paper and cover the book's outside with it for a special gift.

Donna Stone is a freelance writer and home educates her four children.