Hands-On Literacy: Students Make Books

Colorful, handmade books, authored and illustrated by Mount Madonna School (MMS) students were on display earlier this month at the 31st annual Student Authors’ Fair at Capitola Mall in Capitola. The event featured hundreds of books created by students from throughout the area.

The MMS display included books created (primarily) by preschool through fifth grade students. First grade students wrote stories about how animals got one of their special characteristics based on Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. Second and fourth grade students made up their own versions of popular fairy tales; while third grade students created books based on their visit to Elkhorn Slough with their twelfth grade big buddies. The fifth grade was represented in a collaborative pre/k and fifth grade ‘big buddy book’ called Ring of Friends , in which each child added their own words to the phrases “I am… I love’ I wish…” alongside illustrated self portraits.

‘I love bringing the children’s books to the Student Authors’ fair because it is fun to show their creative, lovely work to the community and to be inspired by the beautiful books that other schools display,’ commented MMS preschool teacher Hema Walker. ‘My favorite thing to do while I’m hosting our table is to read the stories from the children in the older classes so that I can revisit my old friends who have moved through our kindergarten program!’

‘Bookmaking is one of the building blocks of the MMS kindergarten program,’ she explained. ‘The students are just beginning to understand the connection between letters and the sounds that they make and how they are put together to form words which convey meaning. Making simple books with a picture that illustrates one word or phrase per page is the perfect way to prepare young children for the world of literacy and to inspire them to ‘read’ even if they haven’t figured out how to decode the sounds yet.’

MMS kindergarten students make books throughout the year illustrating the different themes that students study. They create life cycle books on topics including wheat, apple trees, butterflies, pumpkins and water. They create their own leaf and wild grain identification books. They create special books for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, as well as books illustrating concepts from the culture that the class studies each year for its Cultural Awareness unit. They also create books that they work on throughout the whole year, such as their drawing journal, Golden Number book and an ‘ABC’ Sounds book.

‘The purpose of the fair is to encourage students to write their own books and then to recognize these students by sharing their books in this public venue,’ stated a spokesperson for the Santa Cruz County Office of Education (SCCOE). The SCCOE co-sponsors the event with the Santa Cruz County Reading Association. Many students take the opportunity at the event to come to the ‘author’s chair’ and microphone to read their works to the people gathered.

To celebrate their accomplishment as budding authors, MMS first graders celebrated with a ‘Publication Party’ earlier this spring.

‘The Publication Party is one of my favorite classroom events,’ shared first grade teacher Cassia Laffin. ‘It represents the culmination of a lot of hard work and creativity. After reading many of the Kipling stories, each student selected their own animal to inspire an original story. Many chose the same animals they had previously researched, while others did not.’<

The process from start to finish for these young students included drafts focusing solely on content, revisions to correct missing words, and then a one-on-one edit session with Laffin where she asked questions and offered suggestions before the students went on to create their next draft. Once the story was completed, students designed and illustrated their book covers, and added dedication and ‘meet the author’ pages.

‘Watching and listening to my students read their stories, and witnessing the looks of pride painted across their and their parents’ faces was an awesome moment to behold as a teacher,’ said Laffin. ‘First graders entered this year working on sounding out short consonant-vowel-consonant words and now they are writing paragraphs and completing stories with well-thought-out stories with plots, problems and solutions.

‘I particularly appreciated the way they listened to each other’s stories and asked questions for clarification afterwards. Some audience members offered compliments while others wanted to know details that even the writer of the story had not thought through. It was sweet watching these youngsters ponder and then answer the questions with smiles on their faces as they had to ‘think on their toes’ and give an explanation. We celebrated their efforts with popcorn and fruit smoothies.’

Laffin added that several people walking by the Student Authors’ Fair stopped and asked her what the event was about, and another inquired about purchasing one of the books (they were not for sale).

‘One lady just marveled at the students’ work,’ added Laffin. ‘She stayed and read fairytales laughing out loud and sharing with me the gorgeous artwork and her favorite parts of the various stories she would pick up. She ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ over all the sweet Mother’s Day books made for the mommies by the kindergartners. It was a fun, very social, and special event to be a part of.’

MMS second graders studied fairy tales and fables and read several classic literature works in both genres. They discussed various versions of the same story from different cultures, including Cinderella from Native American and Korean perspectives and Red Riding Hood from Chinese and African-American perspectives. They also read about the three little pigs from the wolf’s perspective and The Principal’s New Clothes by Stephanie Calmenson, to get a fun new version of a well-known classic.

After reading and discussing many stories, students wrote their own versions of the classics of their choice. They self-edited, peer-edited and worked with their teacher to create a final draft. Teacher Jenni Leach asked each student to choose their favorite piece of work from the stories they wrote. Students rewrote their favorite story in book form with illustrations to submit to the authors’ fair. 

‘This lesson correlates with the California State Standards and provides an opportunity to assess listening comprehension, writing mechanics, spelling, handwriting and writing with organization,’ noted Leach. ‘It gives students a chance to hear classic literature, cultural variations and differentiated versions of the same story. It also allows students to be creative storytellers and illustrators.’

In third grade students hear and write poetry throughout the year, across the curriculum.

‘I enjoy finding poems that will make them laugh, feel surprised or explore a concept,’ noted teacher Hamsa Heinrich. ‘Recently, the students have been copying poems about astronomy into their Moon Journals that are informational, inspirational or whimsical. In addition, I encouraged students to take their observations and thoughts and put them into poem form alongside factual notes.’
For the authors’ fair, third graders created a group book about kayaking with their twelfth grade big buddies that focused on sharing information learned with a naturalist at Elkhorn Slough, and incorporated many photographs and student drawings of their shared experience. Students also created individual Rainbow books that examined how good writers choose their words carefully.
‘This age group is more able to put words on paper, so it is a natural step to reflect upon word choice,’ note Heinrich. ‘Students classically describe things as ‘fun’ or ‘cool’, but what does that look like? How does it feel, taste or smell? The students looked at colors and described them using metaphors and comparisons. Even though the poems were short, the students wrote many drafts trying to connect interesting and unique descriptions of each color. Many of their poems were truly inspiring,’ such as Blue by student Sam Kaplan:
Blue is a river
stream cascading
over rocks.
Blue is sadness
when a loved 
one dies
so great,
so deep
more than a
thousand sighs.
Blue is a monstrous 
Tornado sweeping
across the fields
and plains
Fourth grades wrote and illustrated their own fractured fairy tale with students focusing on the point of view of a character other then the main one.
‘This unit is great to teach about point of view and to encourage students to use their creativity and imagination,’ commented fourth grade teacher Linda Pope. ‘We started by reading several fractured fairy tales and discussing the various points of view. The books we read included Seriously, Cinderella is So Annoying by Trisha Speed Shaskan, Trust Me Jack’s Beanstalk Stinks by Eric Braun; and Believe Me, Goldilocks Rocks! by Nancy Loewen. Then students wrote and illustrated their own fractured fairy tale focusing on a point a view from a character other than the main one.’
‘Creating a book together was such a fun and engaging experience for the fifth graders and their preschool and kindergarten buddies,’ noted fifth grade teacher Jessica Cambell, ‘and a great opportunity for mentoring across the grades.’
Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Marketing & Communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.