Making Books with children · Making books with elementary students


Lady Wearing a Pink Pillbox Hat
Lady Wearing a Pink Pillbox Hat

Each season that I am involved with classroom bookmaking students nudge me into making discoveries about how to think about bookmaking.  This year one of the  lessons that I walk away with is how satisfying it can be to bond with the bookmaking process through a personalized book-figure. Okay, that’s not a real term, but I don’t know what else to call it.

Brianna's Flower
Brianna’s Flower

What I noticed was that once a child created an image for their book that they could sort of anthropomorphize they seemed to connect and care more about their subject matter and their book. For instance Brianna’s Flower (above) became a personal extension of herself, so her project became very much her very own, rather than just another assignment.

Charlie's Dinosaurs
Charlie’s Dinosaurs

This connection seemed to be made if it was a fantasy flower, an extinct animal….

Endangered Animals
Endangered Animals…black and white drawings downloaded from the Enchanted Learning website. To give the animals more personality the students enhanced the eyes by making them bigger and defining the area around the eyeball.

…or endangered animals. When I started to noticing how students made connections to their books through these figures I began to encourage them to feel free rein while enhancing them through color….which led to some extravagant and lovely results.

two women
Two women

I can’t remember who the ladies are in the photo above, but I like their taste in clothing.

Here’s the president and his wife, as created by the hands of second graders who were researching famous people.


By the time I worked with first graders on their chick project I had figured out that the first thing we should do is cut out a chick (everyone had the same chick pattern to cut out).  I knew enough to encourage each child to give their own chick a personality by making an expressive eye,  giving the beak some color and shape and considering the shape of the wing.  If a chick became temporarily misplaced before we attached it into the book, the student would look for it as if she were looking for a personal friend, and it was a sweet reunion once the chick was found. 

 When I worked with second graders on their flower and plant book I told them not to worry about making a particular flower, but , instead to create a flower according to their own ideas about what would attract the kind of bee they want to be visited upon.  I loved the flowers that these students came up with! The most interesting thing that happened, though, was that as these book-figures developed I realized that, through these book figures, even I was connecting to the students books in a more personalized way.  One day I had to make a stop at a school sometime after my residency ended.  The completed projects were on display, and I had time to take a look at them.  One of the books housed the lady in the pink pillbox hat,  shown in the first photo of this post. She was such a character that I had to go back again with my camera to make sure I had a record of her. Fortunately, by the time I caught up with the teacher, Mr. Terri -who also happened to be the teacher who came up the concept of this project- the pink hatted lady was still in the classroom.  I would have been truly despondent had she gone home without  my photographing her.  Just a couple of days ago I showed her image to my friend, Ed. I was absolutely delighted that he immediately and correctly guessed her identity.Jackie Kennedy in her Pink Pillbox Hat

Here she is again, my book-figure friend Jackie Kennedy saying good-bye for  me as I am about to sign off on classroom bookmaking for the 2011-2012 school year.

5 thoughts on “Book-Figures

  1. It’s true that the level of student engagement is high when they make their own books with people/characters/animals that are meaningful to them. Also, knowing that they are writing for a specific audience, other than just their teacher, is very motivating. I like your idea of having students add colour to pictures of animals that they’ve downloaded. Do you have any more posts on The Biography Project? I thought the Jacqueline Kennedy figure was brilliant!


    1. I hadn’t thought about what you’ve mentioned about the motivation that follows from writing for a specific audience other than their teachers. In fact, the students knew that they would be showcasing these books as part of a “wax museum” that they created for their parents: students dressed themselves up like the person whose biography they studied, and parents went around looking at the students while referencing the clues in the books then they made guesses about the identities of the characters. I heard that the event was a huge success. My guess is that the excellent work that they did on this project was partially motivated by the audience that they were writing for. Thank you for this insight!
      I did write some other posts about this project, but didn;t get much in the way of finished student work, as my job was to get them started. Here are the links the bio posts:


      1. Thanks, Paula. I obviously missed these earlier posts. Your blog is very inspiring to me and continues to provide me with ideas that excite my students in Saskatchewan, Canada.


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