I made a homemade big book this weekend, and I had a great time. It was an interesting challenge, and I definitely have that crafty geek gene, so it was fun to play around with construction paper and glue sticks. And I am really happy with the finished product, which I hope to be able to use in many baby storytimes. I enjoyed it all enough so that I will probably wind up doing this again sometime.
However, the whole time I was working on the project, I was thinking, is this something I can really advise other youth librarians to do? Say you weren’t predisposed to think cutting out 160 individual letters was a worthwhile use of your weekend…is it still worth it to take on a project like this?
I’m not sure.
On the one hand, I know I struggle sometimes to find great books for baby storytime. I want, like we all do, to provide the highest level of service possible to our storytime families. When just the right book isn’t available, it seems like making my own is one way to close that gap a little and not have to settle for less than I want. On the other hand, it took me a bunch of hours (I really didn’t count, though I should have) over a whole weekend to put this together. Is it really worth the time, the effort, and the cost of supplies?
This isn’t really the answer I wanted to come to! I wanted to get to the end of the weekend and say, “Hey, this was pretty easy.” Instead I finished up Sunday night and thought, “OK, this was a pretty big deal. This might not work for everyone.” Why? Because it took a lot of time. Because I am lucky enough to work in a library district that still has some money for things like extra large construction paper. Because I had several crafty tools at home that made it all easier. Because if I really want this to last, I should laminate it, and I don’t yet know how much that would cost, but I’m willing to believe it might be quite a bit.
On the other other hand, I could have made choices (like not cutting out the letters) that would greatly reduced the hands-on time I spent, as well as making those crafty tools (like the sticker maker) less necessary. And a 50-sheet pack of 18×24 construction paper is less than $10, and I only used 8 sheets on this book. A purchased big book can cost $30. If you’re careful, maybe you can get by without laminating the finished book, or maybe a couple of pieces of contact paper would work instead.
So I’m going to lay out my thoughts and my advice, and let you decide. If you read this and still want to try making your own big books for baby storytimes, let me know how it goes!
Keep It Simple
One of the main reasons I was dissatisfied with the Twinkle Twinkle Little Star books on hand was that they were too complicated, visually and narratively, for baby storytime. My baby storytime is for babies birth through 2 years. And while those 2 years olds are pretty savvy, I have to remember that at least half of my crowd is 15 months and younger. If I want the littler ones to be captivated once in awhile by a book, I can’t always pitch my books to the big kids. [nb: I believe strongly that baby storytime is more about the songs and rhymes than the books, but I do still use one or two books at every storytime. I think it starts to show that books can be fun, plus it gives me a chance to model reading to babies to the grown-ups.]
So if you make your own big book for baby storytime, keep the text short and sweet, and the images big and simple. This actually makes it easier for you to put together, too! I used Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for this one, and I’m already thinking about what nursery rhyme I might try next. But you could make up simple story lines like putting a series of toys in a toy box, or naming all the objects you see on a walk through the park.
Try Construction Paper
I can draw a cartoon sheep for a pop-stick puppet, but I can’t draw well enough to carry a whole book. I found I really liked using cut paper collage for this one.
For one thing, there are tons of clip art and printable coloring pages that you can download, scale in size on your computer or copier, and use as templates for your shapes and illustrations. For another, it turned out to be very helpful to be able to move the shapes around on the page until I found a layout I liked. You might not think you know much about design, but think of how many picture books you’ve read in your life! Trust yourself to know what looks good. You can also check out some scrapbooking idea books; many of them have sections that outline basic design strategies for beginners.
Don’t Do It All At Once
Give yourself some time to make this happen. If you do a little bit at a time, it won’t feel like it’s a project that’s taking over your whole life. Also, giving yourself plenty of lead time allows new ideas to germinate. On my first draft of this book, I only sketched out the text and the stars. (Keeping it simple!) After letting it sit for a day, I had the idea to add a rocket ship to every page. This turned out to be a great idea: the rocket added a sense of motion to each page, plus as the rocket flew through the pages, landed on the moon, and took off again, it added a very simple second story line to the book, and gave me more to talk about as I read the story. (“Where is the rocket going?”)
Take Short Cuts
AKA, don’t cut out all the letters individually! Use white pages and print out the words from a Word doc. One thing I might try next time if I want colored pages: make a text box, set my font color to white, and the text box background to the color of my page.
Last but not least, don’t take on this project if it’s not something you are going to enjoy. The bottom line is, there are lots of ways to make your baby storytimes fabulous, and the number one way is to love what you’re doing!