ELA English Kids Language Arts Literature Reading Teaching Writing

Creating children’s books: a how-to guide to create life-long memories

There is no greater gift a parent can give their child than the love of reading, storytelling, and listening. Writing a great children’s book allows us to practice our professional writing practice and to hone our skills as future parents, aunts, uncles, friends etc…

mr. wani3b

The following is a mix of things I have found online and direct quotes from Jim Trelease. I put this hand-out together so long ago I can’t remember exactly which of the words were mine and which were his. Heck… if it sounds smart it’s probably Mr. Trelease’s words. His books really inspired me when I first started my teaching candidate program over eighteen years ago.


In 1983 a national committee was created called the Commission on Reading, organized by the National Academy of Education and the National Institute of Education and funded under the U.S. Department of Education. It consisted of nationally recognized experts in how children develop, how they learn language, and how they learn to read. The 1983 commission took two years to pour through more than 10,000 research projects done in the last quarter century to determine what works, what might work, and what doesn’t work.

In 1985, the commission issued its report, Becoming a Nation of Readers. Among its primary findings, one simple declarations rang loud and clear:

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”4

What exactly is so powerful about something so simple you don’t even need a high school diploma in order to do it and how exactly does a person get better at reading? It boils down to a simple, two-part formula:

  • The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
  • The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow.6

How can something so simple as reading aloud to a child be so effective?

We start with the brain. As lumber is the primary support for building a house, words are the primary structure for learning. And there are really only two efficient ways to get words into a person’s brain: either through the eye or through the ear. Since it’ll be years before the eye is used for reading, the best source for ideas and brain building in a young child becomes the ear. What we send into that ear becomes the “sound” foundation for the rest of the child’s “brain house.” Those meaningful sounds in the ear now will help the child make sense of the words coming in through the eye later when learning to read.

We read to children for all the same reasons we talk with children: to reassure, to entertain, to bond; to inform or explain, to arouse curiosity, to inspire. But in reading aloud, we also:

  • Condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
  • Create background knowledge
  • Build vocabulary
  • Provide a reading role model

One factor hidden in the decline of students’ recreational reading is that it coincides with a decline in the amount of time adults read to them. By middle school, almost no one is reading aloud to students. If each read-aloud is a commercial for the pleasures of reading, then a decline in advertising would naturally be reflected in a decline in students’ recreational reading.

Taken from: http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/index.html


Okay… it’s just me (david) writing at this point.

Day ONE:

Journal write activity: students can write about the books that first got them excited to read, or they can write about their favorite children’s book, or they can write about what they think is the difference between students who love to read and those who don’t love to read. You can think-pair-share the results if you want.

Missing Piece crop

Then I start the unit by reading The Missing Piece and talking about how I used that book to frame a speech I gave at a baccalaureate ceremony.  I then discuss the importance of children’s books in my own life, and in the life of my son.  For homework I have them read the text above (about the importance of reading to your kids), and then we have an online discussion where I challenge everyone to find an online quote, bit of research, or story about the power of reading to or with your kids.

Day TWO:

The next day I read six to eight children’s books in class. (Here is a link to a PDF of the books I read on that day)  I post the “Children’s Book Ingredients List” (updated 11/24/13) on my digital projector and model how to use the list to note the various strategies that children’s book authors use to reach and entertain their audience. For homework I tell them to bring two or three of their favorite children’s’ books to class to share with their peers. I give extra credit, if they dress in their PJs and/or bring a stuffed animal. One group brought hot chocolate for everyone. It was a fun day. (The picture below is from past students)

group work inferno smaller and narrower


Students get into their writing groups (three or four students in each group) and read their books to their classmates starting with their favorite book. Each student is to read just ONE book until everyone is done reading at least ONE. I tell them three or four books, because I found that there are always a few students who don’t bring a book and now we have enough for everyone. If there is enough time they can read two books each and if we have even MORE time each group could vote on their favorite book and either share it or read it to the whole class. When they are done with each book they fill out a column of the “Book Ingredient List.” This will help them identify these strategies in their own writing later.

Day FOUR and MORE:

When the books are done we spend several days reading them out loud in class using our digital camera arm.

Final DAY:

Students will write a self-evaluation where they use meta-cognition to evaluate their own choices in achieving each of the “Book Ingredient List” requirements.


Students will create an ORIGINAL children’s book. The pictures, words, and idea must all be from their own mind and not taken from another source.

Due Date:

Possible Points: 100 (Extra credit is available see below)

Your book will be graded on:

  • Effective Title
  • Author information
  • Effective and creative Cover/Hook/Idea: Both the front and the back of the book must have illustrations and information regarding the book.
  • Plot
  • Cool Character(s)
  • Art and Design Elements, Media choice, and secret or hidden features
  • Writing style and how it impacts the audience
  • Writing conventions (grammar etc…)
  • Imagery, Allusions, Symbols, Metaphor
  • Important or Fun Message
  • Self- analysis (to be discussed later)

You book must be at least ten pages long

Here are some sample pages from my student’s books. These are just from 2011-12 (10th graders)

*Your book may be bound, if you desire. You may choose to use a service such as lulu.com, or snapfish.com, or blurb.com, or any other site which can professionally bind a book, but you do not need to do this.  Professionally binding the book is cool because they make a great gift for one of your parents, or they will be easier to keep so that you can read them to your own kids later.  If you submit the book for publication, or if you read the book AND video the pages and spoken word and then upload this video to YouTube or Vimeo you will earn extra credit.

Updated: Children’s Book Rubric to use for grading (11/24/13) I discovered last year that I needed to fix my rubric to include a writing component.

My son just shared this book with me the other day while we were shopping for books. He really loved reading it as a kid and I highly recommend adding it to my list of books to read to your students.

FLying Books


  1. This unit would be nostalgic for a lot of kids as they would enjoy re-visiting the books they loved when they were younger. When my own children were in elementary school they were in French immersion which meant that they had no English until grade 2 and then only an hour a day. They had this wonderful teacher who would read aloud to them most days and she always read Roald Dahl books like James and the Giant Peach. They loved those stories and the best part is that they may not have been able to read those books themselves at that point but listening to them created a real love for them. Thanks for sharing your lesson.

  2. I’m excited about trying this out with some of my ninth graders this month. Thank you so much for sharing! I’ll have to let you know how it goes.

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