Read, Talk, Make: The Book to Art Club

Read, Talk, MakeIf you’re looking for a way to incorporate visual art making into your kids book club or school library program offerings, we have a flexible and fun program idea for you that connects literature to visual art projects: the Book to Art Club!

The Book to Art Club

The Book to Art Club was founded in 2013 as a sister project to the Library as Incubator Project (LAIP). The LAIP is an online and brick-and-mortar organization that works to promote libraries of all types as places to connect and create. The Book to Art Club is a real-life extension of the work of the LAIP.

The club takes one of the foundational library programs — the book club or book discussion group — and incorporates a hands-on creative project that participants make during the discussion to extend and expand their understanding of the text. There are currently 12 Book to Art Club chapters facilitated by librarians and school media specialists in public libraries and schools around the country.

The Book to Art Club website has a catalog of books that the club founders have identified as having a lot of book–to–art project potential. Titles are added to the catalog on a regular basis. Each book’s page includes a brief overview of the book and links to discussion questions and a Pinterest board populated with project ideas and inspiration.

Some club chapters opt to use the titles featured on the website, while others come up with their own ideas or decide to mix the site’s recommended titles with titles of their own choosing. Many chapters include a discussion about their community’s, institution’s or school’s Big Read title.

The club’s founders are available by e-mail to answer questions and offer program logistical support, as well as brainstorm possible art project ideas, especially if the title is not already included in the official club catalog.

Art Making &  Literary Exploration

Visual art making offers a useful cross-curricular opportunity for students to explore literature. In her article “Literary Weavings: Extending Response through the Arts,” Nancy Johnson states:

Monsters and collage based on The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue.

“Often it is through visuals—image, color, texture, design—that we see text differently. When we integrate strategies that include the arts into our reading/writing classrooms, not only do our students discover text anew, so do we as their teachers. At first, some of our students may seem reluctant to try artistic response. Others are apologetic for their efforts. And yet, once they discover the process of thinking through art and realize that the goal isn’t award-winning visual products, they relax and allow their crayons, oil pastels, even watercolors to create undiscovered response for them.”

The cross-curricular nature of the Book to Art Club offers a number of possibilities for collaboration with classroom or English teachers, art teachers and, of course, school librarians. Some clubs may choose to have students work on the same project; others may make supplies available but leave the project ideas up to the students.

In addition to extending the themes of the story, linking art making to literary exploration may also give readers a new lens through which to view books when they are reading them. Anecdotally, Book to Art Club members talk about paying careful attention to setting descriptions, color palettes and other cues in the text that can help them figure out what kind of art project they want to create.

Need Ideas to Get Kids Making?

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Book to Art in the Public Library

At the Madison Public Library in Madison, Wisconsin, the Book to Art Club (for adults) meets once every two months on a Sunday afternoon for 1 to 1.5 hours. The group facilitator has supplies available for club attendees to use, as well as images for inspiration that are related to some element of the book (attendees are also welcome to bring their own supplies and project ideas to work on). For example, during a discussion of the middle-grade novel Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, the facilitator pulled out books of Vermeer’s works as well as natural-history volumes about frogs, photographs of the Chicago neighborhood where the book takes place, and more. Members of the Madison chapter also talk about what projects they are working on and how they were inspired by the text to pursue their project.

Other clubs choose to provide a specific project for their attendees to work on. The Milwaukee Public Library recently hosted a discussion about The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Attendees created multimedia collages using historical images and black-and-white ephemera, including book pages, newspapers and postcards. The Kenai Community Library in Kenai, Alaska, created silhouettes on colorful backgrounds during their club meeting about the Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall.

Examples of club chapters’ projects can be found on the Book to Art Club blog.

Book to Art in Schools

The Book to Art Club is designed to be a very flexible program that can work in libraries with or without designated makerspaces or art-making spaces. It may be offered as an option during lunch periods, as an after-school club or even in partnership with a classroom teacher or art teacher. Yet another possibility is to reach out to public library youth services departments; staff there might be interested in cohosting the club as an outreach activity.

For students in younger grades, picture books are often a wonderful place to start when looking for Book to Art Club titles. Rebecca Z. Dunn’s “Pages to Projects” series, published on the LAIP website, pairs hands-on art-making activities with specific picture book titles that work well for kindergarten and grade 1 students.

Project Ideas

Fine Artist series by Blue Balliett

Three of Blue Balliett’s books, The Wright 3, The Calder Game and Chasing Vermeer, have plots that revolve around a famous artist. For each of these books, try making a project inspired by the featured artist. Create cardboard houses or draw house plans on graph paper to celebrate Frank Lloyd Wright. Make mobiles out of wire and colored paper or recycled materials à la sculptor Alexander Calder. And try recreating one of Johannes Vermeer’s famous works, such as “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” with colored pencils, or experiment with pentominoes (carried at all times by one of the book’s characters) by making your own set out of craft foam or card stock.

Nick and Tesla series by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
Drawing based on Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Drawing based on Landline by Rainbow Rowell

The eleven-year-old siblings in this fun STEM-inspired series love experimenting with science and engineering projects. To inject a little STEM into your Book to Art Club, try making some of the projects that Nick and Tesla make in these stories, from rocket launchers to soda-powered vehicles. There are how-to videos and demonstrations on the Nick and Tesla website.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Vintage photographs play an integral role in this novel; for projects related to this book, explore some of the public-domain historic photographs found on the Library of Congress’s Flickr page or in their digital collections. Project ideas include collage, GIF making and, of course, photography; you could try using a green screen to create different backgrounds.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

In this delightfully creepy story, the people in the alternate reality that Coraline visits have buttons for eyes. Possible projects for this Book to Art Club title include sculptures made of pipe cleaners and buttons, feltie projects using buttons for eyes and mixed-media collages with buttons and other found objects.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Capitalize on the natural-history explorations that are a major part of this Newbery Honor Book and take your group out for a nature walk. Project ideas include do-it-yourself hand-sewn field journals, watercolor or colored-pencil drawings of flowers and other plants, and dried and pressed flowers, leaves and other objects found outside.

Please visit the Book to Art Club website for more information. There you can find facilitator guides, additional book title suggestions and information about registering your Book to Art Club chapter. Your suggestions for book titles to feature on the Book to Art Club website are also welcome; to submit an idea, please fill out the contact form on the website.

For more information about the LAIP, please visit their website. There you’ll find program case studies, library collections and resources, and artist interviews that demonstrate how libraries can serve as incubators for the fine and creative arts.


Laura Damon-Moore

Laura Damon-Moore

Community Engagement Librarian at Madison Public Library
Laura is a Community Engagement Librarian at the Madison Public Library in Madison, Wisconsin, and the co-founder of the Book to Art Club and the Library as Incubator Project. She is also co-author of The Artist’s Library: A Field Guide from the Library as Incubator Project (Coffee House Press, 2014). Visit her website, Laura in the Library and find her on Twitter @LauraDM08 or @IArtLibraries.