Let’s Play: Being Creative With Your Old Books

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Playing with Books

Books support literacy and learning. And when you have too many books in duplicate and falling part, they can even support creative-free play!

We might have a book problem at our house. Some are read over and over. Some are just collected such as the various printings of Moby Dick. Some gather dust. I am not sure where that yellowed copy of How to Use a Microscope came from but we have never opened it. Books are everywhere. All of my art history, theory, design and teaching manuals line one wall of the bedroom. The fiction and garden books are packed into the bookcase turned headboard. Sewing, knitting and books on art for kids fill the shelf under the bench. Current reads by both of us are scattered about the living room. Cookbooks belong to the pantry. And my daughter has arranged her library by subject and book series. She is a series reader and collector. How many versions of Harry Potter does one need? We might be book hoarders. Or maybe we aren’t because we recognize a problem developing.

Books just find their way into our house. We love to browse the local book shop and our neighborhood used bookstore. Book fundraisers are always good for a bargain. We often check the book share-and-take corner in the school lobby. Grandma feeds the addiction. Books are everywhere and hard to pass by without at least a peek.

Brainstorming here on what to do with the extras. There are the ones we start and a chapter or two in realize there is no interest. And there are old ones aged and crumbling. Those 20 year old copies of college textbooks are not needed. There must be some way to use these for play purposes. So here are some ideas!

♦ For the younger set, books can be added to play as building blocks and towers, mini forts and tunnels or to create mountains for play animals and figures.

♦ An old almanac opened to the right map would make a great pretend body of water for a tiny boat under shark attack.

♦ Books can also make great sketch books for drawing, journals and collage.

♦ I often see students in fear of the blank white page of a precious new sketch book. Why not start with an old book? The pages already have images and writing. Nothing precious. Just make a mark or glue in an image.

♦ Old books can also be torn up and used for paper mache projects. It might be fun to turn the pages of an old book on dinosaurs into a dinosaur paper mache sculpture.

♦ I have seen more and more books used as furniture. For the extreme book lover, maybe an end table made from old encyclopedias to go with a headboard constructed of piles of great fiction paperbacks.

♦ Since I have a crafter in my house, it might finally be time to make a book handbag or mini art supply case.

♦ And how could I leave out gardening? Hilltown Families shared an idea for literrariums—terrariums designed around favorite books and stories. This is the idea we have decided to focus on over the next few weeks. Terrariums are trendy and we love books.My crazy reader is loving the Warrior cat series for the second time so we have started collecting tiny plants and rocks and bits of wood to recreate our own wild cat, clan camp all contained in a glass container so the real cat can not dig it up.

♦ Here is a last minute add from my post editor/daughter… When she was in kindergarten, they started the year off with fairy tales. Her favorite was The Three Little Pigs. They read the traditional with the big, bad wolf and new versions one with a big, bad pig, and another with three little ninjas. To add in creative play time, her teacher gave them tiny cardboard blocks to make their own brick houses for keeping that big, bad wolf at bay. A great way to incorporate play with early reading skills.


Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie continues to do freelance work for clients here and in Chicago.

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