Saturday, 9 October 2010

Create a Digital Story Book

Time: 1-2 hours
Cost: £10.00
·         Digital Camera (or camera phone)
·         Computer
·         Photobook creation software: free online
·         Toys

I will lose again...
Saturday morning and I am in alone with my 4 year old. He is playing with his knights and wants me to join in.
I know this game by now; I get a single knight, often one without a sword, and I face an army of soldiers, monsters, dinosaurs and exotic animals all heavily armed and invincible! I do not stand a chance which I guess is the whole point.
It can be hard for a 4 year old to appreciate that daddy also likes to win sometimes or at least feel he lost fighting. For me, the pleasure in a game like this is to create and participate in a narrative (Story) but it can be difficult for a child to understand that you sometimes have to ‘lose a man’ for the story to progress.
Creating the storyline
This Saturday I thought of trying a different approach to our ‘war game’. I asked my son to tell me a story about his knights and of a battle. With my son thoroughly in charge of the action, with daddy listening and with no chance of overrunning the army, the action and thus the story suddenly developed in a more interesting way.
I asked if we should turn the story into a book, which excited him greatly.
In order to make a ‘coherent’ book I ‘played’ (told) his story back to him as I had understood it. Together we enacted the story with his figures whilst he told me the story again.
When a child creates a story it is often quite abstract at first but as it is repeated some structure often emerge. As an adult I find that it’s important not to take over and impose too much ‘adult’ structure but let the story ‘flow’.  Through repetitions, by telling the story back to the child and enacting it, I find that a coherent narrative is created.
Recording the story
I got my camera out and I asked my son what happened first in our story: “Once upon a time a white knight was riding in the forest.”
I quickly found out that my main role now was to stop and start the story in order to capture the images that would support our tale.

My son placed the white knight in front of some pillows (forest) and I asked him to take a picture of: ‘the white knight in the forest’. We looked at the picture preview and talked a little about how it actually was a picture of a lounge with lots of toys in and that the knight was a bit hard to make out amongst all the other items in the image. We took a new picture this time only showing the knight and the forest.
For each part of the story we talked about what the image should show. We did a close-up of the knight’s head when he was talking, a picture of two knights to show them meeting, a sequence of images to show a battle.
Designing the book
After photographing the whole story, we loaded the images on to the computer and once again went through them whilst retelling the story.
I had a copy of Cewe photobook creation software (there are loads of free photobook creation software around: you can find a version at, look under photobooks). The good thing about this online book creation software is that it is easy to use (my 4 year old can now use it himself!), comes with loads of templates and obviously when you have finished, you can get your book printed. We chose a small square format (which cost £9.00) and once again whilst retelling the story we created pages with images on.
We used templates with many images for action pages otherwise mainly one or two image per page. A good rule of thumb is never to have a close-up on its own on a page but start pages with a shot that ‘establishes’ where we are in the story / who is talking / fighting.

If you want to know more about creating ‘coherent’ stories using images, look at children’s picture books or comics. You can also ask yourself which images you would need on a page to best remember the story (it can be difficult to remember which character is talking if the page only has a mouth on it). AND you will need to remember the story as when you book arrives you will have to ‘read’ it countless times!
You could of course add text in your book but I like the idea of my child being able to do the whole process himself and it allows for new ‘interpretations’ of the story

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