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Big Books


It appears as though primary school classes are not always involved in the development of science fair projects for class, school-wide and school district display. Teachers at the primary school level may prefer involvement through the development of a big-book which students in their classes contribute to.

Big-books are created to be larger than the standard primary school library book. Big-books often vary in size from about 18 inches square to three feet by four feet. The cover is often in the shape of an animal or contains images of the animal which is the focus of study.

Pigeons In The City

In New York City, we have often had big-book contests in which teacher and students contribute drawings, photographs, and/or collages as well as text to the development of a class book on a humane theme. As part of the development of the unit of Pigeons In The City, Sherry Dohm pre-kindergarten teacher and her class at PS 84 Manhattan developed a big-book about pigeons. At the beginning of the unit, children told the teacher what they thought of pigeons and how they interacted with pigeons. Responses ranged from children who disliked pigeons, thought they were "dirty" and threw rocks or sticks at them to children who liked pigeons and let pigeons eat out of their hands.Children drew pictures of themselves interacting with pigeons above the sentence(s) the teacher had transcribed.

Children and teacher took photographs of pigeons in the school yard, the class watching the pigeons, children in the class feeding the pigeons. Children collected discarded pigeons for their class book. The teacher took photographs of the children wearing their pigeons hats and capes, eating popcorn from a plastic mat with their hands behind their backs, "walking like pigeons,"and carrying out activities in the Pigeons In The City unit.

At the end of the unit, children once again dictated a sentence or two about their attitudes towards pigeons to the teacher for inclusion in the big-book.Many children drew pictures of themselves and pigeons for the culminating pages of the big-book. Responses were overwhelmingly humane.

Chimpanzees in the Wild and Captivity

As a follow-up to a New York City event which featured Jane Goodall, international acclaimed chimpanzee expert, presenting a talk and slide-show on Chimpanzees in the Wild and Captivity, a big-book contest was once again held for primary school classes.

In the Spring 1998 semester, the first place award went to the "English AsA Second Language" class at P.S. 25 Bronx and their teacher Jacqueline Garcia.Students in grades four, five and six created a magnificent giant big book entitled Primates. The front cover was the face of a gorilla done in fake fur and plastic. The back cover was the arm and hand of the gorilla reaching to touch an outstretched human hand. The paper used on the front and back covers was beige and brown textured paper which captured the color of a forest habitat. The book was dedicated to "the people working to save our primate relatives from extinction."

Students used a computer to type a script which depicted the lives of monkeys and apes, including what they eat, how they look and how they interact with each other. One page stated that these animals are sometimes "killed fort heir fur and meat. People are also destroying their habitats and we will have to stop it because soon we will not have them around." Realistic drawings done in acrylic paint captured the daily life of monkeys and apes including chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, bonobos, gibbons, baboons and marmosets.Readers were asked to use wipe-off markers to list "something you know about monkeys, something you know about apes as well as what is different and what is the same about humans and apes." The final page "Save us!" was a reminder of the many tasks that need to be undertaken to help monkeys and apes. This approximately 2 1/2 by 4 foot book was a magnificent achievement which represented much thought and skill as well as many months of work.

The second place primary school award went to K -112 and their teacher RicoDe Rouen at P.S. 41 Manhattan for their wonderful big-book entitled SavingTrees and Chimpanzees. This book begins with brightly colored crayon drawings depicting a family of chimpanzees who liked "to swing high in in the bananas in the sun and...sleep in a bed of leaves. One day bulldozers came to chop down the forest to cut logs for houses, furniture and paper. The chimpanzees family ran away. Class K-112 was very sad." The children decided to help save the trees and chimpanzees by reducing the amount of paper they use. They would "stop so many trees from being cut drawing on both sides of a paper.... using scrap paper again and learning to make paper and a recycled book." Photographs of their activities are included in this outstanding and creative book which was made completely from recycled products. It is a wonderful prototype for other teachers who want to develop big-books at the early childhood level.

Creating a Big-Book

  1. Decide upon the topic for your big-book. Developing a big-book as a culmination to a science unit or as a work-in-progress during the science unit are two options.
  2. You might what to make a small practice book or dummy by folding sheets of lightweight paper and mapping out where the illustrations and text will go in the finished book. Be sure to include a dedication page which, in a sentence or two, explains what the book is about and who it is dedicated to. Include the names of the participating students and, if possible, a class photo at the beginning of the book.
  3. Teacher and students will need to select a size and shape for your big-book.You may decide to create the book in the shape of an animal, featuring the face of an animal or with illustrations of the animal(s) studied covering the front page.
  4. Select as heavy-weight paper as possible for the pages of the book. The cover might be constructed of painted cardboard or another durable source.
  5. Young children will dictate a sentence or two for the teacher to write.Use drawing paper which the children can illustrate with crayons or pastels.This can be pasted or glued onto pages in the book when the drawing is complete.Photographs and collages might also be included.
  6. Older students can research the topic under discussion. They can write, type or use a computer for the text. Illustrations that are colored or painted as well as photographs and black-and-white drawings can be included. The text can be glued or pasted onto the pages of the book as can the illustrations.
  7. The text should include facts the students have learned. It might also include information about student attitudes. Older students, in particular, might include information about the various attitudes humans have toward animal the book is about and how humans interact with that animal. Students might include information about people who work to help this animal.
  8. If possible, each page of the book could be laminated in order to preserve it. Be certain that the book is handled with care.
  9. Use a hole-puncher to cut holes in the sides or top of the completed book including the cover. An awl or other sharp instrument may be needed to help enlarge holes in the front and back covers.
  10. You should be able to purchase large metal rings ( like those in the center of a loose-leaf ) at a local crafts store. This is an easy way to bind the cover and pages together.
  11. Additional techniques for creating a variety of books can be found inMaking Books That Fly, Fold, wrap, Hide, Pop Up, Twist, and Turn by Gwen Diehn. This book was written in 1998. It is published by Lark Books. They can be reached by phone at 1-800-284-3388 or by e-mail at This book is also distributed by Random House. The cost is $19.95 plus shipping.

Additional sources of information should be available in local children's libraries or teachers' centers.

Be sure to display your book during parent visitation days or at other suitable school-wide or class events. Congratulate your students for their individual and cooperative contributions to this exciting class-wide project.

For information about this school years' big-book contest for New York City primary school classrooms only, please see "contest information"or the United Federation of Teachers Humane Education Committee Fall 1998 newsletter.