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Combining Words with Art

Thomas Freese


In Combining Words with Art, Thomas Freese teaches children how to make an accordion-fold book. The program also provides an introduction to calligraphy, a review of the vocabulary of visual art, and a chance to learn by doing.

Lesson Focus

An introduction to the making of a folded-page book, including the definition of a "book," examples of accordion-fold books, and a brief study of written forms (calligraphy).

Time Requirement

Two one-hour sessions would work well for making a practice book (in pencil only) and the finished book.

Skill Development

  • This lesson provides an opportunity for students to analyze a hand-made book using the vocabulary of visual art.
  • Children are able to focus on the written letter and to construct two-dimensional calligraphic forms.
  • The accordion-fold book is an engineering experiment; students learn by doing how to encapsulate letters and images within the confines of a folded strip of paper.
  • Children must plan a story using a sequence of words and sentences; often the stories demonstrate physical cause-and-effect reasoning.
  • Children must divide the paper strip into even segments by folding or by first measuring and then folding.
  • The activity helps develop children's reading and writing skills.
  • Making a book can become an opportunity for social interaction.
  • Books can be created in conjunction with traditional academic areas such as science or social studies.


To help students understand and appreciate the creation of a simple, hand-made book. Topics covered include a historical perspective of bookmaking, the elements of a simple story or theme, layout and folding, construction, and calligraphy.

Related Artists/Art Works

  • Carolyn Whitesel, regional artist and bookmaker (examples of her work are featured in the program)
  • An excellent source for photographs of unusual books to share with students is Shereen LaPlantz's Cover-to-Cover (see the resource list).

Connections to Educational Standards

The following Kentucky Academic Expectations are all related to Combining Words with Art: 1.2, 1.3, 1.7, 1.9, 2.10, 2.22, 2.32, 2.35, 2.45, 5.2, and 5.51. In particular, the lesson helps students meet expectations 1.2 and 1.7 (reading and writing); 1.9, 2.21, and 2.35 (visual aesthetics); 2.10, 2.45, and 5.2 (measurement skills and other skills used in book construction); and 2.32 (perspective on the history of books and writing).

Materials Needed

  • 4" x 18" tag board strips of paper
  • two 4" x 4-1/2" pieces of colored paper (for covers)
  • pencil and pen
  • markers, crayons, or colored pencils
  • glue
  • scissors
  • calligraphy marker (optional)

Alternative Materials

Any medium-weight, flexible paper which is blank or blank on one side; e.g., recycled paper or "construction" paper. Print shops often throw away or recycle very nice paper stock (sometimes in long strips) which can be wonderful for accordion-fold books!

Vocabulary Used in the Lesson

  1. accordion-fold
  2. calligraphy
  3. script
  4. storyboard
  5. versal

Lesson Instructions

Lead your students through the following procedure:

  1. Take a 4" x 18" strip of tagboard and fold it in half, to a 4" x 9" size. Match the edges carefully and crease the fold by firmly pressing it with your fingernails.
  2. Take one of the open ends of the paper and fold it in half again, doubling it up even with the closed end. Do the same thing with the other open end of the paper strip. Once again, the folds should be creased. Now you should have an accordion-folded strip of paper measuring 4" x 4-1/2".
  3. Check for alternation of folds by holding your strip up with the pages slightly spread apart. From an edge view, the strip of paper should make a "W" pattern. If you see an "M," you simply need to turn your strip over. If necessary, refold to make the "W" pattern. Now you are ready to write in your book!
  4. Using very small writing, number your pages at the bottom, from left to right, 1 through 4.
  5. Think of an original story or a creative way to retell a traditional tale. Story ideas could come from academic themes, personal experiences, family history. Young children can simply put a word and a drawing on each page.
  6. In this first version ("rough draft" or "storyboard"), you should write or sketch in pencil, so you will be able to erase and modify. Remember to keep your sentences within the page (rather than writing a single sentence across several pages).
  7. The teacher should show how to use "versals" (beginning, capital letters) and "script" (neat printing or writing in a particular style).
  8. Fold a second strip for your improved, final copy.
  9. Trace your folded, 4" x 4-1/2" book twice on colorful paper to have an outline for the cover paper (or use a ruler to measure two 4" x 4-1/2" pieces). Then cut out the cover sheets and glue them to the back of pages 1 and 4. Don't use too much glue!
  10. In the final copy, you can use markers, colored pencils, or crayons to create color illustrations. You also can come up with a creative title. And you might like to note your authorship of the book with a "pen name," an imaginary name for yourself. Before writing in the final copy, practice calligraphy or versal capitals on separate sheets of paper.

Response to Art

Encourage children to share, admire, and read one another's books. You also might lead children in discussing some or all of the following questions:

  • What is a book, and how have books shaped history?
  • How do you feel about a book that has no illustrations? What about a book that has no writing?
  • Can a song become a book?
  • If you could watch the movie, why would a book of the same story still be important?
  • What ideas do you have for additional projects?
  • Why can't all books be accordion-fold books?
  • Can you design alphabet letters based on animals or people?
  • Books can take a lot of time and money to produce; why would people burn them?

Exhibition Suggestion

  • Have a book fair or connect all the children's books together for a long hallway display.
  • Scan the accordion-fold books (with the authors' permission) onto a computer for other children to discover.
  • Copy the book pages onto a single sheet and collate into a copyable master book.
  • Make a very large accordion-fold book by connecting poster-sized pages. Carry it to younger children's classrooms to teach a lesson or to tell a story.
  • Videotape the children reading their books.
  • Do a school bulletin board display of calligraphy that connects different scripts with their matching country and historical period. For example:
    • Roman alphabet -- 100 A.D.
    • Celtic "uncial" -- 600 A.D.
    • German "Gothic" -- 1200 A.D.
    • Italian "italic" -- 1500 A.D.


  • Practice lettering, doing quotations or names. Children can sell their calligraphy to buy a book about calligraphy.
  • Do a literature search for book arts, lettering, calligraphy, fonts, scripts, bookmaking, papermaking, and bibliotherapy.
  • Tape two pencils together, tips even, and write letters displaying thick and thin parts.
  • Make a bound book.
  • Make an accordion-fold book where the page folds turn corners (such as a "spiral book").
  • Make an "old-fashioned" pen or quill out of a feather. Experiment with writing using a bottle of ink and the quill.
  • Invite an author, illustrator, or bookmaker to share his or her stories about bookmaking and to show sample books at various stages of production.
  • Tour a book publishing company or a print shop.
  • Make mini-books to document news events or humorous events from your school.
  • Make a longer accordion-fold book that is autobiographical.
  • Make a book with a page for each letter of the alphabet.
  • Rubber-stamp on your book pages. Design and hand-carve stamps for your book.
  • Mount children's smaller drawings or watercolors into an accordion-fold book.
  • Combine pop-up card techniques with accordion-fold book construction.


Books on Calligraphy and Bookmaking

Baker, Arthur. Celtic Hand, Stroke by Stroke. New York: Dover Publications, 1983. (ISBN 0-486-24336-2) Available from Dover Publications, 180 Varick Street, New York, NY 10014.

Hiner, Mark. Paper Engineering for Pop-Up Books and Cards. Norfolk, England: Tarquin Publications, 1985. (ISBN 0-906212-49-9)

Johnston, Edward. Writing, Illuminating, and Lettering. London: Pitman, 1979.

LaPlantz, Shereen. Cover-to-Cover: Creative Techniques for Making Beautiful Books, Journals, and Albums. Asheville, NC: Lark Books, 1995. (ISBN 0-937274-81-X) Available for $24.95 from Lark Books, 50 College Street, Asheville, NC 28801.

Suaren, Jacqueline. Written Letters. Freeport, ME: Bond Wheelright Co., 1980. (ISBN 0-87027-161-X)

2000 Years of Calligraphy. Baltimore: Baltimore Art Museum, Peabody Institute, Walter's Art Gallery, 1965.


A bookmaking kit is available at the following address: "The Bookmaker Kit," P.O. Box 346, Corona del Mar, CA 92625; phone (714) 673-7319.

600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951

Last Updated: Monday, 29-Dec-2008 15:23:24 EST