Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mini Books: A Summer Reading Activity

Summer is almost here! Have you got your summer reading plans in place? If not, here's an easy, high-interest way to get your kids reading. Start with a simple 2-up photo book. The one above is a cheapy from Target, but you can find them anywhere. Just make sure it's CHEAP, because it's going to become the property of your kids. I used some leftover stickers to do the title, but you could write it in with a sharpie or print something out and slip it in.

Next, you need some cardstock. I used scraps from my scrapbooking stash, but you can buy it from Hobby Lobby or Michaels. If you buy it for this purpose, get the 12x12 sheets: they cut down into an even number of 4x6 pieces, which is what you're going to do with them. I would recommend actually cutting them slightly smaller than 4x6 so they slide into the sleeves more easily, but 4x6 proper works as well, just a little tighter. Technically, you could skip this step if you use actual photo paper -- the idea here is to have something with more substance (and stiffness) than just typing paper.

Find some pictures on the Internet that your child is interested in. This book was for my nearly-4 year old daughter who is completely obsessed with bugs. There are many, many talented photographers out there posting images on the web. It's a simple matter to Google "Katydid images" or "dump truck" images, or "red-eyed tree frog images" and get tons of great results. As long as they're not copyrighted, you can right-click on them and paste them into another program. I use powerpoint because I think it's pretty flexible -- it lets you move things around on the page so you can maximize your paper usage. I am all about maximizing my paper usage. But you could use Microsoft Publisher or Word, too.

Do use better quality paper with a higher mil rating. Not photo paper, but printer paper with more thickness to it. Thinner paper tends to buckle under the moisture from ink-jet printers and the colors tend to bleed through the back, making the whole picture look a little muddy. Better quality paper will give you crisper pictures. I use a paper with a 4.9 mil rating. If your paper doesn't show a mil rating, like my HP Multipurpose paper that I let the kids mess with, it's probably too thin.

When you get your pictures into a document, size them to fit your 4x6 mats -- about 3.5x5.5 is right. You can do this by grabbing the corners and pulling in or out, or right clicking on the image, selecting "Format Object" from the drop-down menu, and clicking on the size tab. Then just enter the dimensions you want. If you have to make an image a lot bigger, your going to get that pixelly look, so try to avoid really small pictures.

Add a text box and type in a caption for your picture. I used the names of the bugs. Change the text to white if necessary. You want it to show up clearly against the image. For younger children and beginning readers, use a larger font -- at least 24 point, but even bigger if you can fit it in. You want it large enough that their eyes can follow it. I used 36 point font on my book. Make sure you choose a simple font, like Times New Roman or Arial. Fancy, curly fonts are hard for little eyes to interpret.

Get you some glue. Don't use Elmer's white or school or gel glue: it's got a ton of water in it and will make your paper pucker. Glue sticks work fine. I couldn't find my craft glue stick, so I had to resort to scrapping glue. Normally I wouldn't use this, but it's all I could find.

Mount your pictures on your cardstock. This is so they don't get creased and bent when little hands are looking at the book. Again, you could use heavy photo paper, but it's so expensive, I prefer to do it this way.

Slide your pictures into their sleeves.
Note: if the plastic seams on your cheapo photo book split (mine did in the first 10 minutes my daughter was "reading" it) just use a little clear packing tape to repair them.

Sit down with your child and read 'her' book. Kids love these books and they really motivate them to read because they're so intensely personal. As soon as my older two saw the baby's book, they both said "What kind of book are you going to make for me?" You can adapt it in dozens of ways, for any age child. Choose stuff your child is interested in: trucks, frogs, trees, ocean creatures, puzzles, space, farms, baseball, soccer, the NFL or NBA, a particular sports team. You can make an alphabet book of weather, or flowers, or ballet moves. The list is practically endless.

For older kids, print off a bunch of pictures of a family event or pet and have them write the story to go with it. This summer I am printing off 15-20 pictures of our puppy and then my oldest daughter (9) is going to write the story of how we got her, how silly she is, and how she's changed our family. You could also use pictures from a family vacation or from a sport -- like pictures from your child's soccer season: s/he could tell the story of the skills they worked on and the games they played. My son (7) is going to do 9 pictures from a family trip we took in February. He'll write 2 sentences for each picture. Or they could make a book of friends, describing each one. In this type of set up, you put a picture in one sleeve and leave a blank or lined sheet in the other for the child to write on. Then they can read their story to you or to younger siblings.

Here's a really low-tech version of the same project, completed on a day when I was desperate to entertain my 3 year old. I used 4x6 scraps of cardstock, punched with a hole-punch and tied with string.

Then I let her stick stickers in the book and wrote a little text on each page. This book is a little beat up because it got carried everywhere for about 2 weeks.

Excuse my goofy handwriting. I was desperate. Also, please excuse my messy counter. I'm lazy.

Books like this are great projects for a summer day and keep kids reading and writing. The writing is a nice addition because it helps kids synthesize an event or activity. It also helps them prioritize events as they try to tell the story. Writing also helps them with hand-eye coordination and fine-motor skills. All good brain-builders.

Later this week I'm going to share what we're going to be doing this summer to keep our brains from melting into puddles of goo, but while you're waiting, don't forget to check out these reading incentives -- they start this week.

I'm linking this post to A Soft Place to Land for DIY Day and to Just A Girl for Show and Share Day AND to Fireflies and Jellybeans for Show Off Your Stuff Day.


  1. Great idea!! We made books like this for residents at a local nursing home, but I never thought about having my children make their own!

  2. I love it! I make similar books for my son about different special events or trips - I put a photo in one sleeve and type out simple sentences as part of the "story" for the opposite page. However, I love the idea of these simple, label-type books that they can read themselves!