Go Dog Go by Dr. Seuss was the first book I could read, I still have the copy form my childhood home. Scrawled on the inside cover is my name, and on many pages inside the book I've copied individual letters from words in the story - trying, in my own way, to mimic the writing of Dr. Seuss.

Even the youngest children love to scrawl their names, pictures, and ideas on blank paper - not to mention the walls and floors! Helping children make and publish their own books taps into this love of creating and owning written words. The process of making books - from conceiving story ideas to writing and illustrating and then binding and sharing them with others -- helps children understand the power of written language as a way of expressing their ideas and sharing their experiences.

Learning From Cover to Cover

Creating books is exciting and fun for children - and is a great way to develop a lifelong love of books and reading. As children publish their own books, they:

Develop book-handling skills. Children learn to hold the book right side up and to turn the pages in the correct order.

Learn about book structure. Even the youngest children can begin to recognize the cover, title, and author's name. By including title pages and "about the author" sections, children learn about the elements of a book and their function.

Build print awareness. Current research shows that many children learn letters and sounds through writing and decoding their own words. Making books provides a personally meaningful context for writing. And children are more likely to be able to decode words they've written or dictated.

Create a personal connection to books. When a child is the author and illustrator of a bound and finished book, the words author and illustrator come alive for her. When books reflect children's own experiences and ideas, they take on a personal meaning: Children discover that writing is a means of self-expression.

Becoming Authors

Young children love to see their ideas, words, and illustrations transformed into bound books. While book publishing is a fun learning experience for any young child, it's important to match the publishing program to children's developmental levels and interests. Exactly how children create books will vary depending upon their age and ability.

Ages 2-3 : First Books

At this age children are developing an understanding of what books are and how we use them. Making books together helps children discover that they can express their ideas and feelings through written words.

This is a good age to provide children with individual blank books and whole-group big books. The small books can simply be 8 -by-11 blank pages, folded in half and stapled with a construction paper cover. Children can use the blank books as their personal journals drawing, writing, or dictating whatever they wish in them.

Creating a group big book is a great introduction to the power and pleasure of publishing. These large blank books are available from many book clubs and teacher supply outlets, or they can be made with sheets of oaktag.

For example, children can make an "Our Class" big book about themselves and what they do together. You can write the first page, describing what the class is doing that day. Each day, children can take turns being the "Author of the Day" and dictating a sentence that describes what the group has done or will do. Then the child can draw a picture to illustrate his or her words. You can also take photos of various activities in the classroom and let children glue them in the book as illustrations.

Young children love to be the star of the day. And, in the end, the children have a book with their own words and pictures that they can return to again and again.

Ages 3-5 : Developing Writers

Children's writing abilities are rapidly expanding at this age. The children you work with will probably be at various stages of the writing development process - from picture writing to linear squiggling to drawing and scribbling to early phonemic writing and then transitional writing. When they're ready, children can begin to move from dictating to writing by using invented spellings and drawings.

Both whole-group and individual publishing activities can now become more detailed and complex. Allow children time every day to do some writing and drawing. This lets you see which children will benefit most from dictation and which are ready to write their own stories.

This is also a good age to explore a variety of types of books. Exposing children to different genres and formats allows them to see the range of possibilities open to them as they make books.

Ages 5-6 : Becoming More Independent

By now, children are developing fluency as writers and storytellers. They're ready for more independent writing and for longer discussions about their publications. Children at various stages can participate in shared writing, taking turns using the pen with you to write the letters and words they know.

One-on-one conferences with children can be very fruitful at this age. This is an excellent time to teach about narrative structure, word choice, and spelling strategies.

Kindergartners can also engage in long-term book projects. Hatching butterflies or planting seeds in the spring provides a terrific opportunity for children to engage in focused writing and observation for a few weeks and then publish the results for all to share.

Publishing Pointers

No matter the age of your children or the type of book, publishing involves the same basic steps:

First you generate ideas, then write them down and add illustrations, and then publish a final form. As you begin, keep the following principles in mind:

1. Children's story ideas may not be original. Young children are often fascinated by the stories they've heard, whether from a friend or in a cartoon or animated film. Retold or revised stories are useful in a child's learning - they unite children to peers and to the culture they come from. While we hope for original tales, outside influences are bound to have an impact on children's stories from time to time. No matter how commercial the source of a story -- whether it's a television show or the latest movie - it's important to send the message that children's ideas have value. Inviting a child to create a new ending to a story is one good way to make it more personally significant.

2. Young children may need to be prompted to elaborate on their ideas. Young children follow a natural evolution in their writing, moving from pictures to labeling the pictures with individual words or letters to presenting some action in the story. When a child is dictating a story to you, gently nudge him toward narrative action. If a child draws a picture and dictates, "This is me outside," for example, you might ask, "What did you do outside?"

3. Most young children will not want to revise their writing. It's important to realize that a willingness to revise a written work by deleting information only emerges at about the age of 9. Younger writers are sometimes willing to add to or modify their stories, but most 3- and 4-yearolds don't have the attention span or interest to focus on revising their work. It's important to honor whatever the child writes and not to worry about the content or form.

Celebrating Writers

Making book publishing an integral part of your program lets children experience the joy of writing and sharing their work with others. As the fabulous projects on the following pages attest, publishing books gives children a wonderful way to express and share their creative ideas!