Student Book Design: Full Circle

There are many unique qualities to Behind the Book, but none more special than the student anthologies that we publish for many hardworking classes. Each finished book enchants the students (and us!) when distributed at the program’s close. Talented designers take the students’ written projects and art; choose colors, layout, and typeface; and use their skills to put the various pieces into a cohesive whole. Here’s a closer look at our culmination projects and the designers who bring our students’ work full circle.


Nina Dunhill is a freelance designer and a mom to four children. She had previously spent years at Viking as a children’s book designer, developing skills she put to great use as a BtB volunteer. A 4th grade class at PS 98 studied the birds that live and nest in cities and wrote Unique Birds of New York. The classroom workshops and the field trip inspired a colorful array of artwork celebrated by Nina:


After attending the celebration at which we hand out the books, Nina said, “It was so rewarding to see the pride on the artist/author/student’s faces when they found their page in the book. They were so thrilled—I had a smile on my face for days and am so happy to have been able to be a small part of it!”


Rachel E. Reiss is a friend of our own volunteer coordinator, who knew that Rachel had over 20 years in the book design business. We were grateful for her skills when she worked on two different books in 2015. This year, she designed this jewel for a class of 4th-graders at PS 125:


In our opinion, the celebration for this book ranked among the best celebrations we’ve ever had. The teacher, Ms. Williams, decorated her classroom to look like a jazz club, to bring the students into the world they had researched so diligently – and the student book that they were celebrating brought their carefully crafted ballads and portraits to life.


Graphic designer Sabrina Nacmias is a lifelong resident of Brooklyn. She attended NYC public schools from kindergarten through high school, and now wants to give back to her city as part of her professional life. Behind the Book fit her design ideology because “Inside of design I really love storytelling—I think good design is all about telling good stories.”

Sabrina worked on Rebellion Justified? with a group of 7th graders who learned about the Khmer Rouge and one boy’s struggle to grow up under their rule. The program’s theme of rebellion carried into the artwork, with the students choosing to work with or against the rules of a paint-by-number kit. The results are stunning:

rebellion interior22


We were surprised to learn that Aparna Nathan is a student when we saw her polished work. The book that she designed for a group of 1st graders was an inspiration for the students, who put extra effort into their writing and their art. The effort shows! We don’t often publish books for the youngest students, but one child from Ms. Hossack’s class told us “We worked hard on our writing because we were making a book and we didn’t want it to be sloppy.”

garden interior22


A recent graduate of the University of Toronto, Sara Loos designed a student book long distance. A Flash Quandary was a particularly big project, combining three classes’ work into one student book. Nearly 100 pages long, the book includes the work of 81 students. Sara was “so thrilled to have been involved with this project, it’s so wonderful to see you encouraging a new generation to express themselves creatively in a safe space.” The stylistic collages that emphasize dark and light are integrated into the pages of the students’ flash fiction, merging words and colors:


Behind the Book published 20 books for 728 students this past school year. We could not do this without the designers’ support – and yours. If you, too, have professional services to volunteer, please click the volunteer link on our main page, or email our volunteer coordinator at