Back to Books


School is in session, and I'm getting ready to return to my favorite volunteer project.  Since my childhood in France, where the dark hallway of our ancient house was lined with old leather-bound books just waiting to divulge their secrets, I've felt a special affinity to books. While studying photography, I apprenticed with a Florence-trained bookbinder, learning the craft in order to use the book form in my creative work. I still feel a deep commitment to the book, both as an artist and a writer, and I've been teaching book arts in schools for many years. Unfortunately, budgets and priorities aren't what they used to be. So I've teamed up with the energetic librarian and a generous teacher at one of the local elementary schools, and over the course of the school year, I help a group of fifth grade students write, illustrate, and design a story book geared to younger readers. The kids volunteer one lunch-recess period a week (they get to eat at their desks!), and over the course of the year, I guide them through all the steps: gathering ideas, developing their characters, writing a first draft, editing, revising, illustrating (with drawings, collage, or photography), picking a font, designing the pages on the computer, and, always important, meeting deadlines. Then I take their stories to have them printed, and I spend a weekend in May hand-binding them into hardback books. Last year, with the help of the school's enthusiastic IT person, we also created e-books that were posted on the school's website. It fascinates me that, even with their ease of handling electronic media, my students get really excited when they are holding their own hardback books—books that are destined to become family heirlooms (and go on display at the Arlington Central Library—photo above). Every year I ask the students if they think books will disappear, and they always respond with a resounding "No!" They give interesting reasons why carrying a book still trumps an e-book reader ("I don't need a password to read a book" and "You can't borrow an e-book from a friend" are my favorites). I personally believe there is a secret link between the human mind and the physical book, and it's my mission to keep books alive, one group of students at a time.