A PICTURE BOOK PROJECT – FOR TOP JUNIORS AND SECONDARY CLASSES
The picture books involved are not those intended for older children. This project starts with picture books for the under sevens and ends with books created by the children.
Jackie Grimbley’s class of top juniors at Fleet Primary School in north London spent a tern making picture books.
`The children returned from the Christmas holiday to a classroom flooded with picture books, and I started by reading a wide selection of these during Language sessions. No-one seemed surprised, there were no comments about ‘baby books’, indeed there were cries for more! more! The humorous stories particularly were much in demand.
During the very first reading session a vital aspect of picture books became quickly apparent to the children – it was simply not possible for all 32 of then to see the pictures, and those ‘at the back’ were deeply aggrieved. We talked about the relationship between reader and listener and how, in order to share picture books, you need to be physically close, which is not only different but also nicer!
For the next two weeks the children were encouraged to read, read and read, and during this tine began to discern something of the language, purpose and joy of picture books.
The children were looking too at the design of the books: the different shapes and sizes, the quality and relevance of layout and illustration, noting variations on ‘pictures at the top, text at the bottom’.
It was at this point that we began to explore the complexities of book production. Elaine Moss showed us the original artwork for her book Polar and described the little bear’s adventures from conception to bookshop. I explained and tentatively demonstrated the sixteen-page folding and cutting technique and was pleased that approximately a third of the class were subsequently intrepid enough to attempt it. To my great relief all were successful – there were no irretrievably-upside-down pages.
By now we were three weeks into the tern and I had a lurking problem of guilt. I knew that the children’s language books languished in their trays, relentlessly empty, and yet I also knew that without a long and intensive period of looking, thinking and talking the project would yield little of value. It’s not easy to hang onto that feeling if you are asked ‘What language work have they done this week?.
The suggestion that they should each make a book was enthusiastically received. Stories were drafted, thorough roughs were made, fitting pictures to text, designing title pages and end-papers. The children were extraordinarily involved in each other’s work, helping when ideas got stuck and commenting on style and structure – trying out the role of editor.
I had imagined at the start that the books night become part of the school library, that they could be donated to the younger children of the school, but the authors had other ideas. The majority of the books were firmly dedicated ‘To Mum’, ‘To Nan at Rugby’ – there was no question of us keeping them.
The project took nearly a whole term (I don’t think you could do it in less). Was it tine well spent’ I think so. We had a collection of hand-bound, hardbacked books, beautiful, individual and well-loved. But the books are only the surface. The learning was within the experience, in the satisfaction of sustaining a complex project through several stages over many weeks. Many of the children, I believe, will take with them into secondary schools ideas about art, books and the ways in which these communicate which they will be able to put into words only much later.
Other teachers have reported success with this sort of project. Some have made it the basis for co-operative work with other classes in their own or in neighbouring schools. Top junior classes have written books for infant groups, secondary pupils have written for younger children in infant schools.
Useful visual aids
How a picture book is made. Tape and filmstrip by Steven Kellog. Based on the creation and production of his book The Island of the Skog.
Gail E Haley – Wood and Linoleum Illustration. Tape and filmstrip by Gail Haley. Tells how she conceives and creates picture books like A Story A Story and Go Away Stay Away. Best for top juniors and secondary.
Both available from Weston Woods, 14 Friday Street, Henley-on-Thanes. Oxon RG9 IPZ. Tel: (049 12) 77033/4