The following post is by contributor Robin Zipporah of The Not-Ever-Still Life.
Every so often my oldest child, almost six, will flip through a pile of papers on the lower shelf of my bedside table. “What bedtime story did you read last night?” she’ll ask.
Those papers are all books that she or her sister have made, and it stands to reason, doesn’t it? that if she chooses a few books from her bedside table to read every night, so do I. I love when she asks that question. I love how integrally we’ve made reading part of the rhythm of our home.
With their innate curiosity and creative problem-solving, children are natural storytellers. In our house, we’ve been capturing our kids’ stories and making books from them for several years. They needn’t be fancy; most of the time our tools are just some paper and crayons. And this is a project you can complete with kids of any age:
For toddlers and preschoolers
Even our earliest talkers have big ideas. When my daughters were very young, I’d interview them with a series of two-choice questions and a few open-ended ones, like this: “do you want to make a story about a princess or a monster? Okay, a monster. A girl monster or boy monster or something else? A boy monster! Does he have one head or more heads? More! How many?” And so on.
I’d take their answers and construct a simple narrative and print it out in two- or three-sentence snippets. “One day the five-headed monster woke up and decided he wanted to have a picnic for breakfast. So he asked Mommy Monster to help him, and she carried his favorite monster food out to the backyard.” Then I’d glue each snippet to a piece of blank paper and ask my girls to create an accompanying illustration.
Suggest a topic for illustration on each page, and encourage your young artists. Embrace your love of abstract art! “What does monster food look like? Can you draw some here?” My four-year-old, when she was two, would describe her plan for every drawing in the same way: I’m making a beauuuutiful scribble-scrabble!
Photo by Tillwe
For early readers and writers
My first girl, the one who’s almost six, is enjoying her year of kindergarten and thoroughly loves the process of learning to read. For her, I don’t type up any words. When she wants to make a book, we have a meeting in her office (her bed) or my office (my bed).
The formal planning process is important to her, and providing structure to her project as such translates to the structure she pours into her creation. We talk through her story and then she sits down to paint or color each illustration.
Once the images are complete, we go back and add a line or two of text to each page. Scrap paper is important. I have her try to write out each word on her own. We normally don’t worry about perfect spelling or backwards letter-writing, but a book is a different story (ahem). Because she loves to reread her books again and again, and because flaws really bother her enjoyment of her creations, I help her perfect her spelling of each word on scrap paper before she copies it carefully onto her illustration.
Photo by RISD Museum
For fluent readers and writers
I haven’t reached this stage yet with my own children, but I’m beginning to imagine the possibilities. We have beloved characters who appear again and again in our family narrative, as I’m sure you do, as well. Instead of having them wander through individual stories, as my girls (and eventually, my toddler son) grow bigger, I’d love to help them codify our personal oral traditions into a series of stories. Or maybe you invent a new superhero story every night at bedtime? How about making a chapter book?
I also plan to use our tradition of bookmaking as a safe and familiar way to introduce some new technology skills. When my kids are ready for longer blocks of text, they can learn to type on the computer. When their ideas for illustration grow more sophisticated, they can practice their internet and mouse skills with some mama-approved digital illustration sites. I see this hobby of ours as something we can do together for years.
The finishing touches
After the body of your book is finished, read it through together and celebrate your child’s accomplishment. Plan a story hour: wait for Daddy to come home or invite some neighborhood children over to read your new book. But before the moment of the big reveal, you have one more important step to complete: creating a cover. Come up with a clever title, create one more illustration, and put the most important line of the whole book on the front: written and illustrated by ______.
Have you and your kids done any illustrated writing? Do you make books together? What is your process? We’d love to hear how you and your kids write and illustrate your stories!