Sunday, January 11, 2009

One Idea in Detail: Create a Set of Children's Books

A few of you may have the creative and artistic skills to become the next Dr. Seuss, J. K. Rowling or Raold Dahl. If that's your goal, by all means, go for it!

For the rest of us, a more realistic but very satisfying HarvilleQuarter could be planned around creating and "publishing" - at least for your own grandchildren - books created specifically for them, such as a children's ABC book. ABC books require no plots, character development or graphical arts skills, although those aren't forbidden either.

To create an ABC book, you simply need to think of at least one word beginning with each letter of the alphabet. Since it's a children's book, you will also need one or more illustrations for each word. You can get out your watercolors and paint your own, or use photographs, pictures copied from books and magazines, or clip art available on the Web.

I think the best ABC book may be one that you customize for your own grandchild or grandchildren. Take a camera and shoot pictures from their own environment to illustrate the book. For example, if "D is for Door", take a photo of the doors in their lives, such as their bedroom door, garage door, car door, your front door, daycare door, church door, or any other door they'll recognize. Transfer the photos to your computer, crop, enlarge and adjust their colors and brightness as needed, paste them in an attractive arrangement on the page, add some large text as basic as "D is for Door" and you're on your way. When the alphabet is done, print the pages on glossy, heavy paper (or take them to one of the quick copy shops for printing and sturdy binding) and you have an ABC book that your grandchildren are going to love.

Besides familiar inanimate objects, try people they know, such as Aunt Zelda, cousin Quentin and their friend Xavier. Another idea is to use body parts - smiles, noses, hands - so you could have a page of "H is for Hands" - with photos of Mommy's hands, Daddy's hands, big sister's hands, Grandpa's hands, etc.

You can also use a coloring book format, either for the ABC book or a completely separate book. There is software available on the Web now that facilitates converting photographs or art into line drawings that a child can color.

And, as long as we're talking ideas for personalized books for a special child in your life, here's an idea for a somewhat older child who's outgrown alphabet books - a book about people who share his or her first name. For example, my only grandchild so far is named Charles. In a few years, perhaps I could spend at least part of a HarvilleQuarter creating a book about famous Charleses - Darwin, Lindbergh, Chaplin, de Gaulle, Schulz, Parker, Ives and others. Biographical information and photographs are readily available on the Web - Wikipedia is a good starting point. You might even have a page for the child's biography (so far) or for them to create a biography for themselves as they imagine their life will be.

And let me propose one more fun and customized book for a child you know. We've all seen the books that show full length pictures of people or animals where each page is divided into three sections. The child can mix and match the head from one person with the torso of another and the legs and feet of a third. Why not make a book like this populated with people and characters that your child knows and loves. Take full-length photographs of favorite people in the child's life, enlarge the photos on the computer to fit one page, include some favorite characters like Big Bird or Spongebob Squarepants, print them on heavy stock, cut them into three section, use a spiral binding, and your child will have his or her own book to love.

And - if I can add one more idea - I'm reminded of Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote The Little House on the Prairie and other books based on her actual childhood experiences. Our lives may not have been so filled with excitement and drama as young Laura's, but I'm betting our grandkids would be fascinated by a book with chapters describing some of our experiences when we were their age. The 50's and 60's may seem just as exotic to them as frontier life was to us. A description of your most memorable birthday party, school play, Christmas pageant, baseball game, favorite teacher, a trip with your grandparents, a facedown with the school bully, your remembrances of major news events like the Kennedy assassination or moon landing - all could be the raw material for your "memoir." Add some appropriate photographs or drawings and you could have a book they'll want to read over and over. Is absolute accuracy in every detail a requirement? I'll let you answer that question for yourself.

One thing's for sure - no other child in the world will have a set of books just like theirs.

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