>A project in which students brought in illustrated gift books and special
>design packages and then created their own volumes for gifts to be given
>to friends and families is described. Students selected literary excerpts
>to include, illustrated the selections and sewed or stapled the books.
>On one of my regular browsing visits to the bookstore, I was struck by
>a series of small illustrated gift books called Belles Lettres published
>in 1989 by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Inc. (740 Broadway, New York, NY
>Although the series included literary works by Ralph Waldo Emerson, William
>Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, Ambrose Bierce, Gertrude
>Stein, and Robert Louis Stevenson, the content wasn't what grabbed my
>The initial drawing power of the series was its undersized design with
>photographs, collages, and graphics. Photos were hand toned. The books
>had marbleized endsheets. Texts were a mix of two typefaces, Sabon and
>Clarendon. While I realized that my students had neither the funds nor
>the expertise to duplicate these volumes, I intuited that examining them
>might motivate students to similar efforts on a limited scale.
>I purchased several of these volumes for my own library. Then I went
>my home library to find other small or oversized volumes of unusual design
>or beauty. In preparation for introducing the project, I decided to
>and "presensitize" my students to illustrated gift books and special design
>packages. I gave them three days to go through their own home libraries,
>the school library, and the public library (I could not in all good
>ask them to browse through a bookstore and purchase an expensive book)
>for volumes which were of exceptional size, beauty, design, or format.
>As their assignment, I asked that they bring in at least one volume that
>caught their attention and be prepared to show it and discuss its appeal.
>I was pleasantly surprised by the sea of beautiful books students
>One was an old brocade-bound book of Walt Whitman's poetry published in
>the early 1920s. The student whose aunt had loaned it to her told me that
>she loved the feel of the poetry book and quoted her aunt as saying that
>just touching the book made her feel good. Another student brought in a
>family prayer book with a silver cover. To the student, this format showed
>that the prayers in the book were sacred, not for everyday use. Art and
>oversized coffee-table books I would never have thought of presenting to
>ten- and eleven-year-olds were among the works students shared. I sat back
>in amazement as Migdalia showed us an oversized volume of Chagal's art
>with a French text (Migdalia's family speaks Spanish). One student asked
>Migdalia why she selected a book written in a language she couldn't
>Migdalia said she was fascinated by the paintings. They were "magical"
>in her mind. Other students had brought in large photography books on such
>topics as architecture and movie stars of the silent screen. At the other
>end of the size scale, students selected Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit
>books, books shaped like hearts, and some of the See and Touch books
>for young children. As students presented their selections, the works were
>passed around for "gentle, careful" examination by the other students.
>Once students had shared their selections, I put the term "gift books"
>on the chalkboard. I told the students that these books were often packaged
>in special formats to be given as gifts. Then I asked them, based on our
>sharing in class, to list the key qualities of gift books.
>Among those they identified were
>* Unusual size, over- or undersized
>* Many richly colored illustrations (I supplied the phrase "profusely
>* Selection, compilation, or editing of famous writers' works or famous
>* Shiny paper/special paper (I supplied the term "paper stock")
>* Excerpts, quotes, and poetry from famous writers
>* Beautiful art/photo prints
>* A mix of different print (I supplied the word "typefaces")
>* A gimmick or three-dimensional component (as in pop-up books)
>* Special cloth, silver, even jeweled bindings
>I asked the students if they personally would be pleased to own some of
>the beautiful volumes they had borrowed. They all nodded emphatically.
>Then I revealed that as a result of their initial interest and extensive
>research, we were going to create our own beautiful volumes as gifts for
>our friends and families.
>"But we're not famous writers or great artists," said Felix.
>"You don't have to be.... You just have to have good taste and design
>"Right," I said. Then I distributed a planning sheet on which students
>outlined their ideas, including the gift recipient's name, age, and
>his/her favorite author and favorite works by that author; and the gift
>book concept (oversize, undersize, or other). I told the students they
>would have a week to come up with a concept and a text or photocopied set
>of art prints/photographs they wanted to use for their "gift volume." A
>"text" would be, in most cases, either a poem, a selection of quotes, or
>a passage from a longer work. Although I told them they could work in
>I stipulated that each individual would have to create a gift volume. As
>an added motivation, I assured them that if they were successful in their
>efforts, we would hold a publishing party for them and for the designated
>recipients of the volumes.
>During the week that elapsed between our introductory session and our first
>design workshop, several students saw me individually with relevant
>which I later shared with the class as a whole: Should the volume be
>to fit the interests of the recipient? (Yes!) Should I talk to the person
>in my family or the friend I want to give the book to, to "feel out" their
>interests? (Yes!) Will you give us the binding materials, copies, and a
>choice of paper? (Yes!) Can we use desktop publishing and the drawing
>in the lab? (Yes!) May I bring in my own wrapping paper and cloth material
>and wallpaper samples? (Yes!)
>When the day for sharing the gift-book concepts came, excitement was almost
>palpable. Although my expectations were high, their concepts far exceeded
>them. First, I was surprised by the breadth of their literary selections.
>These ran the spectrum from the works of Dr. Seuss, Judy Blume, E. B.
>Jon Scieszka, Shel Silverstein, and Ann Martin to Shakespeare, Derek
>Robert Browning, Yeats, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. When I asked the
>how they had come up with such "adult" authors, they explained that they
>had discussed the selections with their parents, grandparents, and other
>adults they wanted to design gift books for. One student was creating a
>special book for a senior citizen she worked with in an after-school
>at the nursing home. Her friend loved the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer,
>so she had checked out some of his books for her project.
>Although our budget was not sufficient to help all of my budding gift-book
>designers precisely realize their elaborate goals, we were able to provide
>the students with sufficient paper, binding materials, foils, and access
>to copying facilities to allow them to realize their designs on a fairly
>high scale. The project was immensely enriched by the services of our
>arts specialist who led a full two-and-a-half hour session in bookbinding.
>A publisher I called on a whim sent us a special-projects editor who gave
>the students insights into the way publishing firms decide on, price, and
>market gift books. The computer specialist graciously provided access to
>the lab and technical assistance for my desktop publishers. The gift books
>evolved over four double-period sessions which were spread out over a
>During the first session, students began developing cover designs,
>their selections, ordering the number of pages, and deciding whether they
>would word process, hand print, or do the text in calligraphy. They worked
>either independently or in critiquing teams. One student was "hired" as
>graphic artist by three of his pals to illustrate their selections.
>A week passed before the second formal session, but in the interim many
>students worked on their texts. They would bring in parts to show me or
>to share with the art teacher, who allowed them to keep their materials
>in her room. During the second formal session, students sat down with
>glue, pencils, rulers, erasers, scissors, cardboard, manila paper trimmed
>to size for covers, and drawing pencils. The art teacher gave all of the
>students a forty-five minute overview of book production. During the rest
>of the session, students worked on their own books and looked over others'
>By the third session, which was held the following week, books were in
>various stages of production. The art teacher gave a hands-on demonstration
>of the sewing process using large needles, carpet thread, and push pins.
>(One per student, although students could share.)
>The fourth and final production session was taken up with the actual sewing
>or stapling of the books. The art teacher and I checked out the tightness
>of the initial cardboard templates. The students were given the second
>piece of cardboard to glue on the covers of their books. Students
>shared their "book babies" at the end of this messy but warm session.
>If the language-arts teacher is more interested in content, student
>compilation, and moving on to the recipient ceremony, the process can be
>speeded up by using photo albums of varying sizes, staples, and wallpaper.
>What is beautiful about the project is the fact that even using commercial
>photo albums and wallpaper, students can design and share an aesthetically
>rich gift of literary value, customized to family recipients' taste.
>Finally, the students created invitations for the gift-book recipients
>and elaborately wrapped their "gifts of literacy." But the high point of
>this extremely satisfying project was our reception for student publishers
>and recipients. We held it on a weekend morning so parents and family
>who worked could come to get their student-designed gift books. Even so,
>not every recipient was able to make it, but the delight, excitement,
>and warmth exuded by those who did come filled all of us, teachers,
>and students, with pride. One parent rushed over to tell me with tears
>in her eyes that this present was doubly meaningful to her because she
>could never get her son to "read," and he had never talked with her about
>what she read.
>The special-projects editor offered to fund the project the next year and
>invite the students to a design studio so they could gain more professional
>insights into the gift-book process. But the best gift of the day and the
>best outcome of the project as far as I was concerned came from one
>who prior to the project "didn't care much for reading." He came over to
>me and said, "You know, I'm reading some of that Twain stuff my grandfather
>likes. Twain is very good, once you get past the dialect. From now on,
>I'm going to make gift books every year for special people. I'm going to
>read more to find good writers whose work I can use." And I vowed to
>students with continued opportunities to give and receive the gift of
>The making of gift books achieves the goals of Nancie Atwell (1987, In
>the Middle: Writing, Reading, and Learning with Adolescents, Portsmouth,
>NH: Heinemann) by engaging students in the Circle of Readers and Writers.
>It offers what Howard Gardner (1991, The Unschooled Mind, New York: Basic;
>1993, Multiple Intelligences, New York: Basic) calls a spatial entry point
>which initially involves mathematical, spatial, kinesthetic, and
>intelligences in service of creating a product which is linguistic. It
>also fosters and enhances the rich multisensory literary environment which
>is the core of the whole-language approach to reading.
>Furthermore, I see connections with the work of James Banks (1988,
>Education: Theory and Practice, 2nd ed., Allyn) who advocates two levels
>of multicultural education, transformation and social action. The gift
>books are a vehicle through which students apply multiple perspectives
>(their own, the recipients', and those of the writers selected for the
>anthologies) in preparing a gift for a designated recipient (a form of
>But in my own perception, this gift-book giving and making is a ceremonial
>book-loving rite that can be replicated in classrooms which truly become
>shared circles of literacy.