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Saturday 6 July 2013

Getting children even more excited about reading and writing. Making and publishing books of children’s work: a step-by-step guide to making a book on for teachers, librarians, authors and parents, by Juliet Clare Bell

I was at a great event yesterday The Tea Party: Refreshing the Curriculum (at the mac in Birmingham), where teachers came to meet artists and organisations that do creative projects in schools. I was talking about school visits and making books with the children. Here are some of the recent ones I’ve made...

The idea of making books of children’s work really captures the imaginations of teachers (as I witnessed yesterday), parents and, of course, children. After a great school visit where you’ve managed to get children inspired about writing, what better way to keep them interested than by turning them into authors themselves?


Making books for schools or for yourself has changed dramatically for the better in recent years. Print on demand means that you’re not charged anything from the publisher to make or publish a book and that they print out the exact number of books that have been ordered, each time someone orders. This is often a single copy. The copies usually cost you somewhere between £2.50 and £5.00 plus P&P depending on size (for example, a book for a one-form entry school with 210 pupils where every child had contributed cost just under £3 including P&P:)

This is very different from how things used to be where if you made a book for your school, you had to buy a huge number of books upfront and then try and sell them all.

The process of making a print-on-demand book is actually pretty simple. What takes time is getting familiar with it and if you’re making a school book, coordinating with the school and getting all the work in the right formats to use for your book. Each time I make a book with a school, I fine-tune the preparation checklist to give the school, and it’s getting easier each time (it used to take about a week, with all the to-ing and fro-ing. I’m on my seventh now and it’ll probably take about three days but I reckon in the end I'll be able to get it down to two -long- days...). For anyone who’s not made a book before and wants to, I thought I’d do a step-by-step guide so that you can learn from my mistakes and do it more quickly and efficiently.


I put together these books because I think it’s a brilliant way to keep children excited about reading and writing. I don’t do it for the money. It’s time-consuming and I can’t charge what it really costs time-wise as schools wouldn’t be able to afford it. If more schools did it for themselves, that would be great. It would take a lot of time, but it could be an amazing project with the pupils. More children will get to hold their own books in their hands, so here’s that guide to save you some time...


[NB if you are doing this at your own school all the same things apply. It's the same if you're an author who's going back into school to supervise the making of the book in school with some of the children (I've done this, too, and it's even more exciting for the children to be part of the making process but it needs to be extremely well organised, and to do it all in one school day it would have to be a small book. Otherwise, you can do as much as you can during the day and then finish it at home afterwards.) And whether you're a teacher, author or parent doing this, think about what you want to go in to provide an exciting collection of work. I've done books with schools on one theme and ones with no theme. If you like themes, you could always try a different theme for each year to provide a broad range of entries, or use many different kinds of writing: stories, poems, diary entries, letters, newspaper reports, etc.]

This spread shows a diary entry, a letter and an acrostic poem to create more variety since all 200-plus entries in this book are on the same theme.

Preparation is crucial. You need to tell the school exactly what work they need to provide you with, in what format, and by what date. This will be the most time-consuming part of the process if you’re not precise as you’ll have to keep going back to them (or doing things like typing out lots of eligible stories as I did with one book and not being able to use certain pictures).

• Leave the school with a sheet with very specific instructions –with clear reasons for what you’re saying. Be really polite but say that this is what you need in order to put the book together.

Have they sent ALL the work? They need to check before they send you the work and let you know whose work is missing. Writing needs to be legible and whether on computer or handwritten, names must be spelt correctly.

• Ask for a copy of the class registers of the children involved. If possible, ask for an electronic copy so you don’t then have to retype the names when you’re making an index. You need the register for the index, but check first if the school wants you to use full names or first names only.

Ask the school to use Word if possible. Ask the teacher who’s sending the work over to send the children’s text as word documents, with the child’s name and year as the title, to make it quicker to put the book together. You will spend time doing reformatting if they send you OneNote files, and posters with words on usually don’t have enough contrast for the book which then means either retyping someone’s poster or contacting the school to redo it and resend it.

It’s black and white only inside the book. If you are having illustrations in the book, ask that the children use a thick pencil or black/dark-coloured pen to draw the outlines for best effect. Colour drawings -with clear outlines- will work inside the book. Light pencilling works less well.

This colour picture (which I love a lot) works well when it becomes black and white in the book...

No colour backgrounds. If people want to send over posters on the computer –and you’re ok about it- the background needs to be clear and the text needs to be black.

Scanning pictures. If the school is planning to give or send you illustrations for you to scan, decide on the maximum number you’re prepared to scan and let the school know.

Be organised. Make sure you have a system you understand for knowing exactly whose work you’ve already scanned/put into the template and whose you haven’t. (Sounds obvious –unless you’re me on my first attempt…)

Typed, handwritten or a mixture of entries? It’s lovely to have a few handwritten entries in a typed book to break up the text, but if you have all or almost all handwritten entries, the book will look very different from a professional, text only book. That may not matter at all, but some children may prefer to have a book that looks like the kind of book they'd see in a shop. All but one of the books I've done are predominantly (or wholly) typed. Whichever way you do it, it can look fantastic, but they do look very different so consider it carefully.

If the entries are handwritten, make sure the writing is clear, on non-lined paper if possible, and not written in a blunt pencil. If they’re writing on A4 –and you’re going to make an A5 book (all mine are)- they must make sure children write large enough (it will be shrunk considerably for the book) and leave enough space between lines, with large margins around the edges of the paper.

This is an entry from a book (which I've not got at home at the moment so I can't show in book form). It was written on A4. It is legible in the book but any smaller and it would have been very difficult to read.

Front cover. Who’s going to do the front cover? Have the school decide in advance. This can be full colour pictures, a photo or a poster done on computer. Make sure they provide you with the name/s of the artists, including any adults who supervised the project. Several of my front covers are photos of a wall-hanging made by the pupils with an outside artist.

[or if you're a teacher doing this at school, once you've collected all the work]

Scan any pictures that aren’t already scanned and crop them to remove as much blank background as possible.


Log onto and sign up (it’s free)

Go to PUBLISH (top left hand corner) >Books >Start Publishing and choose whether you want to make paperback or hardback (I always make paperback books as it’s cheaper for the school).

It’ll ask you for a working title and author. You can change all this later so don’t worry what you write for now. And while you’re working on it, click on the keep it private box. You can change this later if you want others to have access to it.

For the format, size and paper quality, I always use standard paper, A5 with perfect bound stitching, with black and white inside.

On the next screen it gives you the choice to download a template at the top of the page. Click on it and then download the A5 template (or whatever size you choose). Once you’ve got your template downloaded, you work in Word and you don’t need to be logged into until you’ve finished your template.


• Once you have your lulu word template, cut and paste all the work into the template. Note, the even numbered pages will be your left-hand pages. If you want your book to look like a traditionally published book, 11-point is a good font size to use.

• You may well have to crop the scanned images you’ve been sent in order to avoid lines around the edges (which don’t look good in the book). I’m not brilliant with technology so you’ll probably know better but I open my pictures up with Office 2010 then go to Picture >Crop and then press ok on the right hand side when I’ve cropped it, before copying and pasting it into the lulu template.

• Once the pictures are in the template, reduce them to fit (if you've not done this before, it looks huge to start with. Just reduce the size by dragging a corner of the picture towards the middle of the picture. It'll soon shrink).

You can use pictures in different ways. They can accompany a story:

work on their own:

or you can shrink illustrations and use them to separate the stories:

• Once you’ve put in all the children’s work into the template, write a foreword. It’s a great reminder to the children about your day together and it makes the book even more exciting for them. Include links that you think will be useful –your own website, too, if it’s relevant, to extend your link with the school after your visit.

• Make a title page on the first page (just the title and authors in the middle in bold looks good) and on the second page, leave it blank except for the bottom of the page where you put who’s done the cover art. Then have the foreword start on page 3.

• Once you’re done and are happy with the layout of the work, print out hard copies of the registers and go through your book online, writing the page number of each child’s work onto the hard copy. When it’s done (and you’ve checked all the work’s there), make your index at the end of the book. If you want to combine the classes, you can but the quickest way I’ve found is to have an index broken down by year group as you can then copy and paste in the registers (which have always been word tables in the schools I’ve used) and add in the relevant page numbers from the hard copy. Then remove the table outlines.


Once you’re happy with your template, log back onto

Go onto my lulu and click on the link to revise your project and then press CHOOSE FILE to find your template, and press UPLOAD to upload it. (It may take a while to upload depending on how many pictures you’ve got in the template.)

Then click on Make Print-Ready File

Download and review your print-ready file -and check through it to make sure it looks ok. Press save and continue.

Then it’s onto the front cover and you upload the pictures you want before playing around with the layout of the cover (it’s all drag and drop and straightforward. You can have an image only front and back cover by clicking on themes, like this one:

This one uses a poster, featuring lots of mini-posters created on computer by each pupil in the class.

This one is a single picture cover using a black and white illustration.

And here's a single picture back cover...

Or you can try different layouts and click on background to change colour.

And this one uses a class photo...

When you've finished your cover, press preview and make print-ready cover

Make print-ready cover

Save and continue. After this, you can change access so you can give other people general access or direct access through a private website

Press Save and finish
Describe your project –save and finish
Set price if it’s going to be higher than cost
Review project
Save and finish. Woo hoo! You're done. Nearly...

• You can go back to it again and again after it’s uploaded and edit until happy with it.
• If you have enough time, it's worth ordering a single book first so you can see if there's anything you'd like to change. You can still make edits at this point.

Although it's a time-consuming process, I've always found myself inspired by the children's work and I love that each book turns out so differently. And for authors who know how great it is to feel your published book in your hands for the first time, just think how exciting it is for the children to hold their books for the first time. It's an honour to be part of that.

Have you made books with your school, or after a visit, or with your children? What’s worked really well? Do you have any tips you’d be prepared to share?

Thank you!

Juliet Clare Bell is the author of Don't Panic, Annika! (illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris, Piccadilly Press, 2011, UK; also in Dutch, Chinese and Slovenian), The Kite Princess (illustrated by Laura-Kate Chapman, narrated by Imelda Staunton, Barefoot Books, 2012, UK and US; also in Korean) and Pirate Picnic (illustrated by Mirella Mariani, Franklin Watts, 2012).


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Clare!! You've done a great job of walking us through the process! I think I'll give it a try next school year with my students!

    1. Hi Lori. Please let me know how it goes trying it with your students. I think if you're doing it with your own students it'll be easier. The most time-consuming part is getting it all together in the most efficient way so that you can do the fun part -putting it all into a template and arranging it the way you like and watching it turn into something really special. Really good luck with it. And with everything else. Clare.

  2. This is brilliant - such a clear and comprehensive guide. A lovely idea.

    1. Thanks, Amanda. Let me know if you try it. You can do colour inside if you're doing mainly pictures but it would cost massively more and be prohibitively expensive for most families.

  3. Great step by step guide, Juliet. I did look at the options for full colour books at various sites like Blurb and Lulu etc a few months ago and that wasn't cheap, but that was for a would be photo project. Black and white A5 looks a much better priced option for what you are doing. I bet the kids are thrilled when they see their work in print. Some sites offer a free download PDF version of the book as an option which is quite a useful idea.

    1. Thanks, Jonathan. That's a really good point about the free download PDF version as there are parents who can't afford to buy the books and that way the children still get a copy. As for the colour version, I've done a project making books with vulnerable teens and used Bob Books to do an A4 full colour book using lots of photos and drawings. They cost about £30 each. It worked brilliantly for the project but as you say, massively more costly. I found Bob Books easier to use on the laptop than Blurb-for some reason, Blurb just didn't fit on the laptop I was using and I couldn't re-size the pages down so I couldn't ever see a whole page at once. It was odd (it worked fine on a larger laptop but not the small one I had at the time).

  4. The books look fab, Clare, you must have made a lot of children (and their parents) very happy. Thanks for sharing the process.

    1. Thanks, Jane. I know it takes quite a while to make them but I think it's useful time for me, too, as I always find stories that make me smile or think (or just laugh. Which is nice).

  5. Loads of good tips here, Clare. I haven't used - perhaps I should check them out (thanks!). In the past I've used my own template and designed the books using Word and uploaded the pdf to an online UK printer like 'Inky Little Fingers'(they provide an online price calculator I've found really useful). Whatever method is used, I agree it's a huge boost for the children. My only proviso would be that I feel the school should provide each child with a copy of their book and not rely on parents to buy them, because it's so sad if children are left out.
    Two extra, tiny hints:
    1) Make sure the school has checked in advance for permission for a class photo to be taken and used in the book (I put the colour photo on the back cover);
    2) All scans must be at least 300dpi and it's easier for scanning if 'bright white paper' is used by the children.
    I agree the books are time consuming - but so worth it!

    1. Thanks Paeony for your comments and for the useful tips. I've never checked the dpi of the scans (I don't even know what they are at the moment, but I'll check!). I've only had class photos included in two of the books (one on the front cover; one at the back inside in black and white). It's great if they're allowed to do it. I'll check with them in the future, too. I love the idea of children all being given a copy. I think someone would have to raise a lot of money, though, in order for that to happen. How do your schools raise the money for that? I'd love to know so I could maybe suggest it to schools in the future... Thanks again.

    2. I haven't done loads, but they were projects with special funding from outside, and sadly much of that has dried up. Otherwise, there is always the PTA (good old PTA!). Or perhaps they could do it like school trips - if anybody can't pay, they're subsidised. The books are such a wonderful thing to keep and treasure.

  6. I think this is wonderful! I did two school year books on Lulu when my children left their primary school - and II passed on how to do it to the following years - it's really something to treasure!

    1. That sounds great, Kathy. I love the idea of using it for year books. And the very best way is to show people how to do it so they can carry on...

  7. Replies
    1. Thanks, Pippa. I'm looking forward to my next one next week.

  8. This is really useful - thanks for posting it :)

  9. Wow! The step-by-step is wonderful. And what a treasure!
    Thanks a bundle, Clare!

  10. This so useful and so thorough ! Thank you, Clare

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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