Cal volunteer working on a book

If you’ve read a number of our books or seen books like this before, you probably have a sense that it wouldn’t be too hard to make one. This clearly isn’t rocket science. We’re not inventing anything new, we’re not pushing the cutting edge of children’s literature or avante garde photography. On one hand, we see ourselves following the model of open source software. Microsoft Office is great and very useful but Open Office, the open source version of office is pretty impressive as well. They didn’t reinvent the spreadsheet or word processing software, but they made a high quality project, it gets improved over time and its free. That’s a big part of what we’re trying to do here.

The other model we see ourselves following is Wikipedia. At last count, Wikipedia had some 3.2 million articles and no one was paid to write any of them. Books like the ones on this site can be put together by PhD candidates with 25 years of teaching experience but they’ve also been written by college student interns, summer volunteers, teachers, high school students and even 5th graders. We have a simple template to fill in (we use Microsoft Publisher) and with websites like flickr and morguefile, finding great sets of pictures can be a lot of fun.

If you’re interested in making a book for us, the best way to do it is to put it together as best you can and send it to me ( ). I’m always happy to look at books and if we’re ever going to come up with enough titles to be a viable alternative to a commercial publisher, we’ll need a lot more books. Many of the books on this site lend themselves to an evolutionary model of growth: replication with modification. Look at a book like bears, tigers or sharks and it’s pretty easy to imagine putting together a book about gorillas, hippos or snakes. The lowest level books are by far the easiest to come up with new versions and while there is some skill to thinking of sentence patterns that are worth using, pictures that are accessible to kids and represent words that are helpful in terms of spelling patterns, all of the books here get edited, tested, revised and tested again. The goal eventually is that the books each get a post where people who use the books and other authors, photographers and editors can comment back and forth talking about how to improve the book. That’s another feature of the open source software model we’d like to emulate–the habit of collecting user feedback and making timely changes to continually improve the quality.

We’re just about done with a book called Eating Fruit partly because as we looked for pictures of kids eating we happened to find a bunch of pictures of kids eating fruit and it kind of fell together. The goal is to leverage what kids already know and what they’re interested in, use that as a vehicle for talking about the topic in a fun, natural and informative way and lightly introducing new content.

If you’d like to see some books we’re working on, check out the Books in Process page and maybe you can help us out with one of those. If you’d like to download copies of our templates for designing books, you can do that here:

File name Description
Publisher 12 page booklet template using Microsft Publisher 2007 for Windows