Opening a colorful, professionally printed book to read about your own family—your hobbies, relationships, travels, and other things that make you special—is such a rewarding experience. Just like you and your children get to know Curious George, Madeline, and other literary characters through books, reading your own stories and seeing your own pictures and artwork on the page is a way to explore who you are as individuals and as a family.
In the past, creating homemade books required arts and crafts supplies like construction paper, crayons, string, and glue. There is certainly an element of fun in composing a storybook that way. But now, online companies make it easy to design a family book that resembles a “real” book from the library or bookstore. These steps will help you transform your family’s ideas into a durable, professional-quality book you can enjoy for years.
• A computer you can download software onto
• Digital camera (optional)
• Scanner (optional)
• Construction paper, string, scissors, glue or tape (optional)
Decide What Your Book Will Be About
With so many possibilities, this could be the most challenging part of the project. You may want to start a notebook or digital list to save ideas for the future.
One way to hone in on a book topic is to ask your kids the open-ended question, “If we made a book about our family, what would you like it to be about?” You should also consider from the beginning whether you’d like your book to be a gift for someone outside your family. I’ve made books for my personal use, such as cookbooks, that I later realized could double as great gifts. Sometimes, having a certain recipient in mind will influence the creative process.
Sara Watson Curry, youth associate at the Moorhead Public Library, shares some ideas about book content. “Families each have their own set of mythologies and symbols that tend to become special for them, and they can become characters in their books. In second grade, I created a book about my mother’s doll and the adventures she got into in our backyard.”
Curry suggests food as a topic, too. “Food can be fun. Either recap a special meal or highlight family members’ favorite foods, maybe including recipes.”
“In addition to the content and visual elements, you could work together on a special rhyme or rhythm to the words. A number of popular children’s characters have a sort of repetitive chorus—‘Pete the Cat’ comes to mind, and ‘Skippyjon Jones’ is full of rhymes,” says Curry.
Here are a few title ideas to generate discussion:
• Trips We’ve Taken
• Our Family’s Favorite Things (songs, foods, places, colors, etc.)
• The Johnson Family Birthday Book
• The Ramirez Family Tree
• Meet Our Pets
To develop text for your book, try interviewing each other using pen and paper or a recording device. Later you can type your responses in order to cut and paste them into your book’s layout.
Gather digital photos from your family’s existing collection, and take new photos if you want to supplement what you already have. You can also search the internet for non-copyrighted images.
In addition to digital images, you may have printed photos and documents to scan into digital format. Consider including family members’ drawings, handwritten lists, ticket stubs, and recipe cards. For instance, when I was making a book about family camping trips, I found a sheet of notebook paper with a list of all the animals we had seen on one trip, which I was able to scan and include in the book. Your family can explore the house together for items to add to your story.
Construct a Paper Mock-Up
(This step is optional.) You can work together on the entire paper book, or divide up sections or tasks among family members. Begin by determining how you’re going to organize your content. Chronological order makes sense in some cases, like a book about family trips you’ve taken. A book about your family’s favorite things could be organized by family member or by category.
As you put together a paper model, try using different colors and varying the sizes of pictures and text. Using cut-outs of images and text blocks, experiment with page placement before gluing cut-outs to the page. Let your imagination run wild. For example, you could surprise your readers (even if it’s just your future selves) with a page that has one huge word taking up the entire space.
Choose a Book-Making Website
Blurb, FiftyThree, CreateSpace, and Shutterfly are some of the increasing number of websites where you can design and print books. Different sites offer different pricing and design flexibility, so investigate a few before choosing the best one for your project.
Along the way, decide whether you will use a site-provided template or create your own layout from scratch using a program like Adobe InDesign. I’ve tried both approaches, and I recommend starting with a template if you don’t have a lot of experience with design software. Then again, maybe that’s just the kind of thing your family likes to jump into and tackle. The website you choose should have clear instructions as well as customer support if you need help. If it doesn’t, find a different site.
Create Your Book’s Layout
Before you begin work on the layout—and throughout the process, if possible—make sure everyone has a chance to have input and give feedback about the book’s content and design. Be ready to compromise, though you could make multiple versions of a book to suit people’s preferences.
Don’t worry about doing all of the layout in one sitting—you’ll be able to save your work and return to it several times, if necessary.
Order Your Book
Even if you plan to buy multiple copies, consider ordering just one book first to make sure it’s what you want. You can order additional copies down the road, revising your initial attempt if desired. For books with a fair amount of text, I’ve found it’s nice to have a print copy to proofread. I catch things I didn’t see the three or four times I read through it on a computer screen.
When your printed book arrives in the mail, enjoy reading it together and sharing it with friends and extended family. Discuss what you like about your book and what could be improved while it’s still fresh in your mind, so you’ll know what to do differently next time.
Display Your Book
As a family, designate a shelf or display area at home for all the books you will make together.
Gwen Hoberg is an editor, writer, and classical musician. She lives in Moorhead and recently made the book “The Hoberg Family at Lake Metigoshe.” Learn more about Gwen’s work at www.contentandcontour.com.
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