Student Book Design: The Finishing Touch

Our favorite thing about the end of the semester is easily the student books. Here at the Behind the Book office, we love seeing the new boxes come in…a feeling that is second only to handing those books to the student authors and illustrators, and seeing their pride in their published product.

These books are a culmination of so much work – from the students and from those of us developing and implementing the programs. Each book is a unique representation of a group of students that is brought further to life by skilled designers. This is the first installment of a three-part series featuring our unique student books and the talented designers that volunteer their time to enhance these young voices.

Kids in Space: Adventures Into The Unknown

 The 5th grade class at PS 154 worked with Behind the Book for three years in a row – an unprecedented amount of immersion in our programs. We think it shows in their strong writing skills. Of course, they had high expectations after their first two years, so we had to make sure that their last culminating project with us – the student book – was top-notch.

The book’s beautiful design was conceived and executed by Will van Roden, a professor at Parsons and a former Art Director for Martha Stewart Omnimedia. Will happens to have met our staff Teaching Artist Sara Reynolds when he was high school and she worked on a special project with his art teacher.



Will had nothing but good things to say about the students’ final pieces, saying “I thoroughly enjoyed creating a fun book with amazing content by these smart young authors!” With white lettering on a black background, the kids’ written work looks like a starry sky, and their artwork appears three-dimensional. They could not have been more pleased with the outcome. Please take a moment to look through this great design, with elements of outer space incorporated into every aspect:

The Things They Wrote

Designer Krystal Pratt took a deep dive into the written work of 11th graders at the Collegiate Institute for Math and Science to design and lay out their anthology. Book design for older students can pose a particular challenge – their written pieces are much longer than the younger kids’ work, leading to a lot of typeface. Wanting to bring color into the design, Krystal read each essay carefully and chose what’s known as a “callout” – an important excerpt that is printed differently and helps summarize the piece. The students and their teacher were thrilled when they saw Krystal’s choices, as the callouts demonstrated how much time she put into truly understanding their written work. It was clear that the students found not only a designer, but the first member of their audience.

ThingsWrote_interior36Krystal is an avid reader and a self-trained designer, who worked extremely hard to learn all aspects of the design business and build her career – including by reading books! She had always loved design and encourages everyone to work hard to pursue their dreams. Be inspired by her success, and this coffee table book with magazine elements:

Adventures in the Colossal and Colorful Amazon Rainforest

Shera Sonenberg is a fairly recent graduate of art and design school, who also has a passion for children’s education and literature. A 4th-grade class at PS 241 studying the Amazon rainforest gave Shera the opportunity to choose from every color of the rainbow in her design. She loved the writing and artwork, saying “I was completely blown away by the students’ work. Their stories were thoughtful and unique, and their artwork was so bright and imaginative. From pink dolphins to iguanas, butterflies, and emerald tree boas, it was a pleasure working with each individual piece.

Adventures in the Colossal and Colorful Amazon Rainforest_Interior_website13

Interestingly enough, Shera’s husband grew up in the Amazon, giving her a special connection to the project and an interesting perspective on the imaginative spins our students put on the animals of South America. See illustrations of green iguanas, ballerina ants, and more laid out perfectly – and colorfully – with our 4th graders’ writing here:

Behind the Book produced 20 student books this school year, helping over 700 students become published authors. We’ll be featuring more designers on this blog. Please like and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for even more featured work!