School presses create books - and a love of reading

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

EACH Tuesday students come by the Rainbow Press at Boulder's University Hill Elementary School to make books - real books, meticulously edited, exuberantly illustrated, with hardback covers that could make any library proud. Most important, the words, the story, the drawings, the editing and binding - the whole project - is carried out by children. In a sunny art room, parent volunteer and Rainbow Press director Nancy FitzGerrell readies bookmaking supplies - scissors, cardboard, thread, and fabric for binding, and stacks of manuscripts for editors to review. ``In the fall, we visit Uni Hill classrooms from kindergarten on up and say, `Sometime this year, each of you will have an opportunity to publish something you have written, something you feel is very special,''' she says. ``We explain there will be two copies of each completed book - one for the school library and one for the child. The response is overwhelming. We publish over a hundred books each year.''

A fifth-grader confers with Ms. FitzGerrell, then sits down and adds to his notes. FitzGerrell says, ``He's editing a third-grader's manuscript for grammar, content, and spelling. Notice how he's marking on a separate sheet. The editor never marks on the original manuscript. And he'll ask the author to approve his suggestions before the final manuscript gets typed. We also have students who volunteer to illustrate and bind, when the author requests such help.''

The more experienced kids reinforce their skills by helping others. It's kids helping kids in an understanding way.

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Helene Willis is elementary curriculum coordinator at Boulder Valley Public Schools. She says, ``Aliteracy fills America. People can read and write but choose not to. They've never been given a reason beyond tests and drills. Writing for publication gives value to self-expression. It's an incentive to revise, to correct spelling and grammar, so that your audience will understand your message. We're hearing of kids so motivated by this approach that they're choosing books and writing over TV. Let me repeat:

``The kids are turning the television off.''

``Publication'' can mean many things - sharing class assignments, writing for literary magazines, or displaying work on bulletin boards. But making a book offers a special validation. It doesn't matter whether the book is only a few lines or a treatise. If it's hard-bound, it looks professional. And it's durable enough to last.

In the Uni Hill library, a young boy makes a beeline for the many shelves of Rainbow Press books. Some are more than 10 years old, but he's after a brand-new book. He swaggers to the librarian and blurts, ``I wrote this.'' The librarian admires his book. ``You're the first one to check it out,'' she observes. ``I'm glad it's here at last.'' After he leaves, the librarian says, ``He's asked about that book 10 times this week. Now he'll probably show it to his class. It's his time to shine.''

``There are golden moments in the process of making a book, too,'' says Rainbow Press co-director Brigid Warnock. ``In addition to working with Nancy, I direct the Pegasus Press at Martin Park Elementary School. At Martin Park, we encourage every child to write a poem or story and illustrate one page for a class anthology. When it's time to bind, I prefer working with children who are not dextrous. Once I asked a third-grade teacher to send the students least likely to enjoy bookbinding. In came two boys, irritated about missing part of recess for something `dumb' like sewing and gluing. Then I explained our task, that as binders, they would be listed with the author and illustrator, on the book's first page. The boys said, `Our names will be on a library book?' They did a professional job. Later one commented, `You know, we hadn't ever been chosen to do anything special before.' Their delight at that achievement improved their whole attitude toward school.''

Book publishing programs like Rainbow and Pegasus Presses are run largely by volunteers. FitzGerrell says, ``The success of publishing centers depends on teacher support, student enthusiasm, parent volunteers, and Parent Teacher Organization financing. They put in the effort because the results are so worthwhile.''

How can you start a book publishing program in your own school? Bev Chavez, one of eight mothers helping a new publishing program at another Boulder school, says, ``As a volunteer, you can't just walk in and be useful. Donald Grave's book, `Reading, Writing and Publishing in the Classroom,' was helpful. We took an in-service workshop with teachers, too.''

The Boulder Valley School District has published the booklet, ``Supporting Your Child's Writing Development,'' to help parents understand the developmental stages of writing and the value of writing for publication. For a copy of the booklet, send $3.50 to Helene Willis, Boulder Division of Instruction, 65th and Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, CO 80301.

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