Judging a Book by Its Cover

By Erin Jacobs, April 16, 2008

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts

Lesson Time

Four 45-minute class periods


Students will explore the relationship between the form of books and the content inside.  Using a piece of creative writing as inspiration, students will design and produce a book that reflects a theme in writing.

Sample Assessment:

Student Rubric  

National Standards


  • Students will examine the relationship between the form of books and their content.
  • Students will explore bookmaking techniques from ancient and modern cultures.
  • Students will author and publish a book using binding techniques that relate to the content of their writing.


  • Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
  • http://www.yoonsoo.com/umd/book_binding.pdf (Bookbinding techniques)
  • Book Design by Andrew Haslam
  • The Artful Storybook by Terri Taylor


  • cardboard
  • printed papers (paste papers)
  • magazines
  • construction paper
  • drawing paper
  • markers, crayons, colored pencils
  • white glue
  • glue sticks
  • rulers
  • hole punches
  • crazy scissors
  • stamps
  • recyclable materials
  • fabric
  • felt
  • buttons
  • twine
  • safety needles
  • dowels
  • Popsicle sticks


  • stab binding: a Japanese technique for binding books
  • cover: the protective surface on the front, back, and spine of a book; to protect a book
  • spine: the part of a book's cover that encloses the inner side of the book's pages and that faces outward when the book is shelved
  • page: each face of a sheet of paper
  • dedication page: a page which features the name (and any appropriate sentiments) of the person to whom a book is dedicated
  • book jacket: protective paper covering for a book, usually featuring the book’s title, the name of the author, and other descriptive information about the book
  • illustrator: an artist who provides drawings, paintings, or photographs for a book
  • author: a person who writes a book
  • scoring : a way of creating a line that can be used to fold paper
  • author biography: a brief life history of an author
  • illustrator biography: a brief life history of an illustrator


Day One: Introduction 1.  Students are broken into groups and asked to browse the collection of books on their tables.  Encourage students to examine the covers without opening and reading the selected texts.  Students should record their reactions to the color, shape, and texture of the books as well as the sizes, placement, and fonts used on the text, and any other interesting features.  Based on the cover of the book, ask students to predict what they think the book is about.  Who are the characters?  What audience would be attracted to this book? How was the cover constructed?  What culture and/or period of time is this book from? 2.  Re-group and ask students to share out what they discussed at their tables.  What did they predict and why?  Discuss the content of the books and any discrepancies or “disconnects” between the intention of the author and the form of the book. 3.  Review the parts of the book (covers, spine, pages) and their functions.  Discuss possible materials that would work well to accomplish these functions.  What materials would not work so well to accomplish these functions.  What are other considerations when choosing materials (portability, cost, availability, etc.). 4.  Ask students to return to their tables and sort books based on forms that successfully reflect the content of the book and forms that do not successfully reflect the content of the book.  Students should record an explanation of their choices in the Form vs. Content table and be prepared to share these with the class. 5.  Each group should present a book they think does exhibit a match between form and content and one that does not. Groups should present their reasoning and include characteristics that contribute to the cover’s effectiveness or ineffectiveness.  At the end of the discussion students should consider any other characteristics that might contribute to a match between form content (pop-ups, pull outs, pockets, etc.). Day Two: 1.  Students will return to their original groups to examine a bookmaking scenario.  Students are asked to imagine that they are publishing a book written by a famous author.  An overview of the story is provided as well as illustrations and a title.  They are also provided with considerations such as budget constraints and target audience.  As a group, the team will have to decide on the format for a published book.  They must successfully address the needs of the client in their proposed solution. 2.  Students have 20 minutes to work together and design a model of their solution using a variety of recyclables including cardboard, aluminum foil, string, yarn, thread, twine, punches, scissors, glue, printed papers, ect. 3.  Each group will present the scenario and solution to the class and relate how they addressed the outlined needs of the client in their model.  Allow time for feedback and discussion about alternative formats and use of materials. 4.  Close with a brief book-making workshop.  This can include binding techniques such as Japanese stab binding, or more simplified folded techniques.  Students should practice folding and/or binding pages.  This workshop can also include tips for creating pop-ups, pull-outs, or pockets.  Students should leave with samples of different techniques to choose from next week. Take-home assignment:  Students should select a work of creative writing from their language arts portfolio that they would like to publish and bring this work to class next week.  Any editing and/or illustrating should be completed before class. Day Three: 1.  Each student should come prepared with a creative writing piece from their language arts portfolio.  They will design and construct a book that reflects themes in their writing.  They may choose from the bookbinding techniques modeled during the last class and/or combine techniques to create new forms. 2.  Read “Not a Box” by Antoinette Portis and discuss the ways in which the form of the book reflects the content.  Ask students to identify a theme in the book (creativity, transformation, etc.)  How has the bookmaker revealed a theme in the book through the use of illustration, binding, materials, font, etc.? 3.  Brainstorming:  Ask students to think about a theme in their writing.  How can they use elements such as the shape, materials, font, illustrations, etc., to communicate something about their theme to a reader?   Are there any elements that they would like to include inside the book to relate to the theme? Students should sketch some ideas for the format of their book and begin exploring materials and techniques. 4.  Workshop time:  Students will have the remainder of this class period and the beginning of the next to produce their book. 5.  Gallery walk:  Ask students to walk through the room and look at fellow classmates work.  What sort of themes do they think are being represented?  What techniques (modeled or original) are being used?  What sort of questions do they have about other’s work? Day Four: 1.  Restate the objectives and list criteria such as craftsmanship, relating the form of the book to a theme, etc., before completing books.  Review possible techniques for folding pages and binding.  Allow time for students to complete their work and begin printing and illustrating their writing. 2.  Closure: Students will present their finished design and reflect on the relationship between the form of their book and the content.  Allow time for questions and sharing.  Ask students to think of a person they would like to share their book with and why.  Close by asking students to dedicate their work on a dedication page and write an “About the Author” statement for the back cover.


  • Student rubric (see attachments in Introduction)
  • Teacher rubric
  • Peer rubric

Enrichment Extension Activities

This could be part of a larger unit on the relationship between authors, illustrators and bookmakers.  It could also be used to promote writing at home and in the community.  Families could participate in storytelling and bookmaking activities together and produce family, school, or community librarys.  This also opens conversations related to oral history and storytelling across generations and the value that tells stories.

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