Written and Illustrated: Making Books With Your Children

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!

About Robin

Robin has two daughters, a son, a lovely husband who works many more than full-time hours and a full-time career of her own in government in the suburbs of Washington, DC. You can always read more about Robin’s parenting philosophies and her family’s antics and adventures at her personal blog The Not-Ever-Still Life, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

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  1. Sweet post … we’re big into making books at our house, too. We do a lot of story forming in the car on the way to school. This is a post that I’m working on now, actually. Your post is such good timing for me. Thanks!
    Shawn´s latest post: A Sunshiney Day

  2. That was such an inspiring post! I have a 3 year old girl and we have a good time reading everyday. I illustrated a friends’ book and she enjoyed immensely going to the launch, the autographs, story telling and so on. Your ideas will be lovely to try: it’ll be such a good creative experiment – for both of us! Thanks!!!

  3. Writing books is part of our family life, too! And, yes, for older kids there are many possibilities we’ve written chapter books, secret code books, poetry books, observation journals, picture books for younger kids, . . . anything that interests them!

    Love the post, thanks!
    Melissa @imaginationsoup´s latest post: Should Montessori Education Have a Place in Your Family?

    • We haven’t really tried our hand at poetry yet, so thanks for that idea! My girls each have a really great book they’re working on right now. My kindergartner is making an atlas – but of the cities and countries in her world, not ours: Purpleville, Pinkville, Rainbowville, Fairyville. And my four-year-old — her nickname is Ladybug and she wants to be a firefighter when she grows up. I’m sure you’re not shocked to learn that there is a dearth of published storybooks about ladybugs who are firefighters. So we’re making our own!
      Robin´s latest post: Little adventures

  4. This is a great idea. I would never have thought this would be doable with a two-year old but I think with me giving her choices my daughter would love it. Drawing and reading are her two favorite activities. Thanks.
    Steph´s latest post: The Importance of Words

  5. Yes, my kids love making books! My two older boys, 9 and 8, have submitted their books to the local Reading Rainbow contest and won! It is a fun process, and involves research in the writing process (we started when our 9 year old was in Kindergarten). We’ve even purchased books interviewing illustrators so the children could discover the many different styles of book art out there. It is always a fun process, and the kids have a wonderful book they’ve produced in the end!
    Susana of Montessoricandy.blogspot.com´s latest post: Montessori Enrichment Activities

  6. What a lovely post. My girls make their own books a lot. I must say though that I am inspired by your planning meetings. I like them to take the lead with their writing but as I read I am seeing huge benefits to planning with them. I think I see tomorrow afternoon shaping up…
    Stacey´s latest post: The Library Smell

    • Look- there’s joy in letting them go about it spontaneously, too, right? That’s wonderful all by itself. But sometimes, it makes her feel grand. And that’s a good thing. And project management is a skill we all need in life; if I can sneak in some education on it without her even realizing, I think it’s a good thing 🙂
      Have fun tomorrow!
      Robin´s latest post: A memoir, written in advance

  7. I was just thinking about making books together about our “family story” as Jane has asked me to tell her the story of mom and dad getting married about a thousand times in the last few days. This post is perfectly timed. Maybe after our family story we can make up other stories. Great ideas!
    Amanda´s latest post: Building REAL Self-Esteem

    • Ooh, we’ve done that! I scanned a few photos from our wedding album, reduced them to black and white and then upped the contrast and printed them out as, essentially, coloring pages. Leave blank space at the bottom for words!! If you were to do Jane’s whole story, you could treat photos of her birth and life thus far the same way. Have fun 🙂
      Robin´s latest post: be Quiet

  8. Love this! I’ve created a lot of books FOR my 2 year old, and he loves them, since they always feature some of his favorite things…and sometimes him. I’ve also created books to help him with big events–1st overnight without Mom and Dad, long car trips, etc., and these have been helpful, but I’m excited to find a collaborating author! I’m looking forward to putting his ideas into print, and his illustrations will definitely be a step up from my stick people! Thanks for the encouragement!

  9. Book writing is one of my all time favorite activities. My kindergarteners loved periodically adding an “About the Author” page at the end of one of their books so that they could detail a few of their favorite things. Thanks for sharing! Prompts included favorite food, favorite story, when I grown up I want to____, and I wish_____. It was always fun looking back on what they wrote.

    It would also be fun to do a photo book version of this activity and have your kids dress up and pose as the characters in their story. There are so many possibilities.
    Malia @ Playdough To Plato´s latest post: Playing with Plato, Entry Five

  10. I have also personally found that you can use books with kids to help them work through various experiences they’ve had, some good and some bad. I once taught a little girl who had a robbery in her house. She couldn’t stop talking about it until I sat down with her and we wrote about it. She drew the pictures and dictated to me what to say. She walked around with the book for days and then stopped talking about it.
    The way I usually make the books is by taking a few sheets of white computer paper, folding them over, adding a piece of construction paper on top of them and then stapling the spine. I used to be more ambitious years ago and would actually sew the spine together.
    Faigie´s latest post: A potpourri of spring crafts for preschoolers that are extremely cost effective

  11. I’m in the process of writing a book with a fluent reader. Once we have the theme we set goals: who is the intended reader, what do we want children to know, etc. Then we list words phrases and thoughts we want to use. Think about the parts of the book. Will you develop chapters by time, place, plot, location, etc. As I progress with my little writer I will jot down more thoughts. Write on one side of the page so you can see the continuity of thoughts and make corrections, edits, etc. as you go. Most of all make it fun! As I continue to work with my student I will keep you posted!


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