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CHILDREN'S BOOKSHELF

Next Comes the Author Tour : Some kids express their interest in books by wanting to write them--and why not?

August 07, 1994|MICHAEL HARRIS

I wrote my first book when I was 6. It had four pages. It was about my dog (half Irish setter, half Chesapeake Bay retriever). I illustrated it with drawings of her wearing a queenly crown above her long, drooping ears.

It was fun, I remember, and I might have written more books then if the end product, even to a first-grader, hadn't looked so amateurish. My book was scrawled in pencil on sheets of butcher paper and either stuck together with Scotch tape or tied with yarn. I forget which.

History, or biology, repeats itself. Last year, also at 6, my son, George, began to write books. More imaginative than the old man, he described the adventures of a lizard named Pizard ("He's green. He's cool.") who backpacks, plays golf, parties at the drop of a holiday with other lizards, travels to China in search of a stolen watch and is kidnaped by "bad space aliens" and taken to Mars.

For his illustrations, George had plenty of crayons, colored pencils and markers, but otherwise nothing much had changed.

He wrote the text by hand, in straggling lines.

The binding was still Scotch tape.

Though he hadn't yet heard of Marshall McLuhan, George seemed aware that such a flimsy medium at least compromised his message--made it "kid stuff" in comparison, say, to a professionally typeset, hardcover Dr. Seuss.

This probably wouldn't have stopped him. George is a determined boy, and Pizard, bless his reptilian heart, kept finding new scrapes to get into. But any danger that my son might grow prematurely discouraged about writing was forestalled by the high-tech, low-cost wonders of computers and by his first-grade teacher at Westerly School of Long Beach, Tom Aplin.

Under Aplin's guidance, George and his classmates wrote rough drafts of stories, edited them, proofread them, printed them on a PC and saw them transformed into "real" books with semi-hard covers, endpapers, title and dedication pages, even copyrights.

By the end of the school year, the class had produced a hefty little library. George, preferring to keep his Pizard stories extracurricular, contributed "The Eagle Who Could Not Fly," "The Frog Who Lost His Voice" and "The Hat on Iguana."

The books look good, and they ought to be durable.

Meanwhile, George keeps writing on his own. At last report, Pizard's grandfather has been swallowed by a giant Venus flytrap. He isn't in immediate peril--he has a supply of jelly sandwiches and orange juice in there, George tells me--but Pizard still has to rescue him. How? I guess I'll just have to wait and see.

If your kids want to make books, they can learn how by reading Making a Book by Mandy Suhr (Thomson Learning: $15.95; 48 pp.).

Much like George's teacher, Suhr leads them through the process of researching, writing, editing and designing a book. She shows kids how to construct neat-looking books using pens, paper, scissors, glue, clear tape, paint and thread. As counterpoint, she also describes how publishers and printers produce mass-market books.

Kids can add another dimension of fun by putting pop-ups in their books. In How a Book Is Made, Suhr shows how to cut and fold paper to achieve this jack-in-the-box effect. How to Make Pop-Ups by Joan Irvine (Morrow, 1994: $6.95) provides more detail as well as non-book applications of the technique.

For those who don't want to dive straight into book writing without dipping their toes in it first, there's the venerable My Book About Me by Dr. Seuss and Roy McKie (Beginners Books, 1969). Kids are led to fill in blanks, make personalized answers to multiple-choice questions and, at the end--taking a deep breath--write that first story of their own.

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