Susan on Handmade Books for a Healthy Planet

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Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord, the author of Handmade Books for a Healthy Planet, believes that attractive, meaningful books can be made with recycled materials.

Here she talks about the bookmaking process and her reasons for emphasizing recycled papers.

Handmade Books for a Healthy Planet***Note: Readers will have a chance to win a copy of Handmade Books for a Healthy Planet at the end of this interview.***

JEAN:  Susan, I’ve really enjoyed Handmade Books For a Healthy Planet and especially liked learning about all the different book types, from scrolls to accordion books, and their origins. What led you to write this book?

SUSAN:  The short answer: my love of making books, my love of the history of books around the world, my passion for using recycled materials, and my belief that our lives can be enriched by engaging our hearts, hands, and minds in creative activity.

A longer one:

I like to think of Handmade Books for a Healthy Planet as a how-to book with a purpose—promoting cultural understanding and environmental awareness through making books. I have always had a strong interest in cultures other than my own and especially the things they make. It comes from my mother who loved crafts and sought instruction from our neighbors. The shoemaker taught us how to make Ukrainian eggs. Another neighbor taught us to make German paper stars for our Christmas tree. I’ve also always loved history. When I started making books, it was natural to me to start researching the history of the book. It led me around the world as well as back in time. 

Over the years I have become more and more aware of our need to protect our planet. For the past four years, I have been using almost exclusively recycled materials in my workshops and that changed the way I approach the bookmaking process. I used to give directions for the book and cover paper to be precut to specific sizes. With recycled materials, we use the paper in whatever size it comes. The process is freer and more fun. I have been influenced by all the contacts I have made around the globe through my website, I realize that not everyone has access to the materials that I do. A request for measurements in centimeters as well as inches led me to forego measurements and rulers all together. In Handmade Books for a Healthy Planet, fingers and hands are used for measuring.


JEAN:  I’d love to hear more about your work teaching bookmaking to children… What is that like?

SUSAN:  I’ve been teaching bookmaking for twenty years. After working mostly with children, I am now concentrating on family workshops to get parents and kids making books together. I feel that this is important for both the children and their parents. As schools become more and more driven by standards and testing, there is less and less time within the school day for kids to engage in creative activity in general and creative writing in particular. Making books at home can add some balance. Once books are made, they call out to be filled: with words, with drawings, with the things that matter to us. The more books children make, the more they will write. In addition to improving their writing skills, they get to know themselves better as they tell their stories, record their interests, and express their feelings in the portable and private container of the book. I always encourage parents to make books along with the children. For one thing, it sends the message that this is a valuable thing to be doing, worthy of the parents’ time as well as the children’s. And I think sometimes the parents need the time to concentrate on something creative and relax even more than the children do. 

When I did teach in children in schools, I often worked with groups of forty to fifty kids. I led them through the process of making a book and then they worked on the content with their teachers after I left. The hardest part was having the kids save their books for the project the teacher had planned. They wanted to write in them right away.


Now when I work with families, that’s exactly what they get to do. Families bring a cereal box and a grocery bag and we make two books together. Then comes the fun part. There are markers, stencils, and a big box full of all kinds of papers for collage and everybody starts filling their books, kids and parents alike. There is always a wonderful energy in the room. I’ve had some humbling lessons in not judging people by their appearances. One of the most engaged parents I’ve ever encountered was a father with long hair, tight jeans, a muscle shirt and arms covered with tattoos. He gently helped his son and worked carefully and intently on a book of his own. 

JEAN:  What book making project do the children seem to enjoy the most?

SUSAN:  Of the projects in the book, the wish scroll is a favorite of kids. They love the idea of a scroll book that they can wear and the opportunity to write a wish. At one school, a child had had some treasured stones taken by a classmate. He made a wish for their return. With some behind the scenes intervention from the teacher, they appeared on his desk after recess. On my way out of the building, the boy came running up to me and said, “It worked. My wish came true.”


JEAN:  What is your favorite?

SUSAN:  My favorite kind of book is the accordion. They are easy to make, easy to come up with variations, and can be held in the hand and read or stood up so that all the pages are on display at the same time. My favorite book in Handmade Books For A Healthy Planet to make with children is the Curandero Book or a Book To Heal the Spirit based on a traditional bark paper book from Mexico. They write about what makes them feel better when they are sad and illustrate the pages with cut paper. I love to see the things they write.


JEAN:  You emphasize using recycled materials, such as newspapers and paper grocery bags, to make books. Can you share your reasons, and how it affects the process and the finished product?

SUSAN:  My moment of revelation came at home when I was putting the tag at the end of the string on a tea bag in the recycling bin and thought: “If I am this fanatic about recycling, why am I not using recycled materials in my workshops?” This change has had an impact beyond my expectations. Everyone is more relaxed; the process is as positive as the product.  

The initial step of gathering recycled materials encourages self-reliance and creativity. When we realize that not everything has to be bought, that by looking creatively at what we discard, we help ourselves as well as the environment. We begin to see things not just for what they are but for what they can be. The world around us becomes a richer place. 


The process of making books with recycled materials is liberating. When we start by cutting a panel out of a grocery bag with a pair of scissors, the edges are crooked. We are freed from the burden of precision. When we start with a piece of paper that has writing on one side, we are freed from the fear of the blank page. When we start with a piece of paper that is headed for the recycling bin, we are freed from the fear of messing up.

When I first started using recycled materials, I encountered some reluctance. The education director at a museum said that she thought their clientele expected something better. I made some samples that she couldn’t help but be impressed with and everyone left with books they treasured and with the ability to easily continue at home. When I teach, I bring examples from my collection of objects made from recycled materials which includes a bag made from juice pouches from Afghanistan and earrings and a toy car made from soda cans from Africa. They all have traces of the former life of their raw materials showing which adds vitality and charm to the final product. Transforming one thing into another has magic.

Making books with recycled materials is not going to save the planet, but it can change our outlook and our approach to materials in all aspects of our lives. Perhaps the children who learn to look at something before they discard it will grow up to retrofit buildings and invent new ways of making things and sources for energy. It’s a stretch but you never know when a seed will be sown that will blossom into something fantastic.


JEAN:  Why books? What draws you to bookmaking as a creative outlet, both for  yourself and as something to share with children?

SUSAN:  Almost from the minute I made my first book in 1988, I knew that I wanted to share everything I learned with others. Books are an accessible form for creative expression because they are so familiar. They are things that we have held and read through the years. 

I became seriously interested in making books when my first child was two. The year of his birth had been a tumultuous one as it brought the sudden and unexpected death of my mother five months earlier as well as the miracle of new life. My medium at the time was calligraphy and I did a fifteen piece series called Childbirth Journey with abstract pastel drawings and words from my journal in calligraphy. After exhibiting it, I realized that the material was too personal and intimate for the wall and began to explore the book form. Here’s something I wrote at the time:

Books are intimate; they welcome personal encounters. 

Books are humble; they fulfill their potential closed as well as open. Books have depth; even the simplest of forms are rich with the possibilities of endless variation. 

Books have spirit; they are dwelling places for our thoughts and dreams. 

My first books used calligraphic texts that I wrote. Over the years my books evolved into the wordless, imageless, nature-based, sculptural Spirit Books. I rarely make books as an artist now but continue to teach and make them as gifts and mementos. 


Right from the beginning, I also made books for and about my son. As he grew, we made books together. I started working with other children when he went to pre-school. I met with his teacher and brought in some books that I had made. One was an accordion book with slits and a red ribbon running through for Valentine’s Day. She looked at the book and said, “Hand-eye coordination.” The first project I did was a Dinosaur Time Line. I soon was teaching lots of different kinds of books in schools and libraries. 

I also did teaching for adults and called my workshops Artmaking for Everyone: Simple Handmade Books. We focused on making books about personal experiences. The people who came loved it. Some became good friends. Eventually I concentrated on working with children because there was a lot more interest. That’s why I like the family workshops so much because I get to work with both adults and children.


JEAN:  If you could encourage parents to do one bookmaking activity with their  kids, what would it be?

SUSAN:  I’m having a bit if a hard time with this question because I can’t envision making only one book. The thing I would say is that every house needs a collage box filled with bits and pieces of paper. Mine has been a source of hours of joy for me and those who come to my workshops. I cut up any interesting paper that comes my way— wrapping paper from a package, paper bags, the inside patterns on security envelopes, origami paper, art papers, etc.—into squares about an index finger long. I find that the smaller size wastes less paper and seems to stimulate creativity in a way that large pieces of paper don’t.

JEAN:  Anything else you’d like to add?

SUSAN:  Make books! Have fun! Share and enjoy!

JEAN:  I love the idea that using recycled materials can be liberating and free up creative energy for the process. Thank you, Susan! 

To learn more about Susan, her book, and her bookmaking techniques, visit her Making Books with Children website where she has free tutorials for several book formats, including the index card accordion book that I want to try myself. You can also follow Susan on Facebook. And buy her book, Handmade Books for a Healthy Planet!

Let’s all make some books!

This post contains affiliate links.

HBHP.hi.res Readers who leave a comment by Thursday, July 22 at 12 midnight EST will be entered into a random drawing to win a copy of Susan’s book, Handmade Books for a Healthy Planet.

The random number generator picked #31, so Vivien wins the book!

I love making books with my daughter using empty cereal boxes, pages from catalogs, and other paper scraps. Another great bookmaking idea book is “Making Books That Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop Up, Twist & Turn: Books for Kids to Make” by Gwen Diehn. So much fun with paper, pens, scissors and glue!


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  1. Dawn Lange says

    Esme’ and I were just talking yesterday about how we could make a book about hew sweet chicken, Fluffy, who was killed two days ago. This would be a really great book to draw inspiration from!

  2. says

    What a great book! I used to make and sell handmade books. My oldest son randomly gets the urge to make his own, too. I think he’d love this!

  3. says

    I love the idea of using those materials that end up in the recycling bin to make a book. Thank you for the great interview and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this book.

  4. says

    I’ve already made two books for my two-year-old, but I think his own handmade book is going to be the greatest hit!

  5. says

    Making books is such fun with my girls – not only is the process great, but often we end up with a real keepsake. I’ve had Susan’s book on my amazon wish list for a while… maybe I’ll be lucky today :-)

  6. says

    fun interview! i love the idea of having a bin of paper scraps. we have old magazines available, but it is too much for them to go through and choose images to cut out when they are ready to create. i will have lots of fun cutting them all up! :)

  7. Ann says

    Love the book and love the collage box idea. I have a fabric scrap bag but am always recycling bits of paper that I think should be put to artistic use.

  8. Gwen says

    We make books of some sort with every grade at our school. This interview and the book could definitely open some doors to using more recycled materials. Less prep time spent measuring (for me) and more gathering interesting materials. Fun! Some ideas I want to make with my own kids…a book to record all the new words and funny stories from my one year old, made with finger-painted paper and a similar journal-type book for my four year old. Thanks for such an in-depth interview on a great topic!

  9. Jennie says

    I don’t know too many kids that don’t like to make their own books. This sounds like such a neat idea! Love it.

  10. Barbara Zaborowski says

    I’ve already checked out Susan’s website and can’t wait for school to start to make books with my students. We’ve always made books, but just the standard variety,four to six pages and a construction paper cover.

  11. annette standrod says

  12. Faye E. Hunt says

    I can’t wait to make homemade books with my 15 month old!!!! Thank you for sharing your passions which in turn inspire me to get started with him!!!!!

  13. Jill Weaver says

    As a middle school science teacher I have used many of Susan’s ideas in my classroom with great success. I love that the materials are so easily available and the kids enjoy the “upcycle” of these into their own creations too. I love to use them for observations of the natural world. Thanks so much!

  14. maya says

    This looks like a great book! My 4yo has been making her own 4-page books for a little while now, but these ideas look really inspiring for future projects.

  15. Beth W says

    Susan’s decision to forego measurements in her bookmaking is a great suggestion. THANKS!

  16. Vivien says

    I love making books with my daughter using empty cereal boxes, pages from catalogs, and other paper scraps. Another great bookmaking idea book is “Making Books That Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop Up, Twist & Turn: Books for Kids to Make” by Gwen Diehn. So much fun with paper, pens, scissors and glue!

  17. Barbara Graham says

    Fantastic inspiration. I love projects that don’t require a lot of prep, a lot of shopping for materials. Totally agree that we as parents need to take the time to work on projects such as these as schools don’t recognize the value of art based learning. What a shame!

  18. Julie says

    This has inspired me to have a go at making books with my own children over the school holidays.

  19. says

    our town dump is a treasure trove… the “take or leave” section of recycling is so plentiful that there is an entire 3 room trailer dedicated to all the books that people leave. My kids and I take home board books and re-purpose them into art journals… we collage over the pages and make them into works of art. They make wonderful gifts!

  20. Kim says

    We’ve been doing this for a while now. My daughter has an incredible eye-she can picture just about any piece of junk in it’s recycled state. She would love a copy of your book!

  21. says

    I attend Susan’s workshop last week in SLC, UT. I loved it and have already made books with my grandchildren. I teach 6th grade and plan to use many of Susan’s ideas in my classroom.

  22. Amy Adams says

    Susan’s book has been on wish list for awhile, as I frequent her website and blog often! Thanks for the chance to win:-)

  23. Maureen says

    Great inspiration… I wouldn’t have thought of making books with my kids like this. Thanks, Maureen (jnomaxx at hotmail dot com)

  24. lizabeth says

    i love books. i love paper. i love recycling. i love doing art activities with my daughter. and now i love this book! [and would love to win it :)]

  25. andrea says

    Love it! This book is on my amazon wish list… But while and wait and hope to win it, i’ll at least start my scrap paper collage box!

  26. Amy Fields says

    What a great idea!! Can’t wait to try doing this!! Would love to win the book.

  27. Julie Collins says

    Looks great! This book looks like it would be very helpful for my first grade classroom!

  28. says

    That looks like a fantastic resource! When I was teaching I enjoyed getting my students to make their own books. My daughters also enjoy writing in their own books too.
    Fingers crossed!
    Tricia :)

  29. says

    I used to make books for my art portfolios. I love the idea of making them now with my kids for their art portfolios and writings!

  30. says

    My girls just made a book of their beach trip. We had so much fun – I’m sure we will be making more.
    This book looks very inspiring with great ideas to use up our recycling.

  31. says

    Wow — so many wonderful comments, and a wonderful interview, too. We make lots of books too. In fact yesterday at our town’s community celebration I had an arts & crafts table going showing kids how to make a book out of a single sheet of paper. Origami and story-telling all in one activity. My daughter crafted a terrific story showing the trimming, lighting, and blowing out of a candle. Wordless, but beautiful!!
    – Dana

  32. says

    Books and stories are such a big part of learning and creativity for children. Thank you for sharing so many awesome ideas here – especially since we are obsessed with both reading books and creating them!

  33. MaryAnn F. Kohl, art author says

    Personally, as an adult an as a former child!!, I LOVE LOVE LOVE making books. I made them for my children, my children made their own, I made them when I was a child, and now I am an author. Books are my life…..

  34. Tracydfp says

    I used to make books with my first and second graders and they loved it. I haven’t done it with my kindergartener, but am feeling the inspiration. I think he would love it. Thank you for this interview!

  35. elizabeth says

    thanks for sharing this great inspiration and for the opportunity to win the book!

  36. Erika says

    My son is very interested in how books are made right now. This book would be perfect for him.

  37. says

    What great ideas! I know my daughter would love to give all of them a go. She has already started making little books and would enthusiastically embrace some new formats.

  38. says

    I loved this interview. Especially the part about using recycled materials to be free of the burden of perfection. Thank you! I also loved the idea of having a box of cut up paper for use in projects at any time. Why have I not thought of this?! I’m always wondering what to do with beautiful little scraps of paper or cards…now I know.

  39. says

    Wow! This is amazing! I’ve studied bookmaking at the Center of Book Arts in New York and took one bookmaking workshop for teachers. But I have yet to make books with kids. This looks wonderful, I have to get this book!
    Thanks for a wonderful interview.

  40. Karen says

    This books looks fabulous. I have made books in the past but have fallen out the the habit. I really like Susan’s emphasis on the lack of precision in this interview.

  41. Gwynneth Beasley says

    My 5yo makes at least 2 books a day so I would dearly love to win this to give him some inspiration! It looks wonderful!

  42. Maureen says

    How inspiring! Making books with my kids is definitely on our summer to-do list now.

  43. says

    I am going to have to find a way to buy a copy of this book. We’ve been making books lately, and experimenting with recycled materials, but I hadn’t thought to put the two together! I’m already reeling at the possibilities. A dinosaur time-line book! The name book! The accordion! Where do we start?

  44. Pearly says

    Wow!!!! How amazing! Before I was a SAHM I was a first grade teacher who loved teaching writing… I am now inspired to teach writing to my two little ones (3 1/2 and 1 1/2 even more)…. oh… I hope I win this book :)

  45. says

    How beautiful and fun! My girls love crafts and books — how exciting to see such creative ways to bring the two together. And another great way to reuse materials that can’t be composted and save them from the recyling stream. Thanks for the great ideas!

  46. Jill says

    This is very exciting! I just made a little blank book for a birthday gift for my daughter’s classmate and included a few homemade crayons. This book sounds amazing! Thanks!

  47. Lisa says

    I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to make a homemade book. I guess I should start saving bits of paper now! Thanks for the inspiration.

  48. Kerrie says

    What great ideas! Can’t wait to start working on our own bin of scraps for projects like this!

  49. Chelsea says

    This sounds like a great book! We make accordion books sometimes, but I’d love some new ideas and I think the recycled paper idea is a great one! Our recycled art box has lots of unused pretty paper- time to repurpose it!
    Thank you for the inspiration :)

  50. says

    what an inspiring interview! i enjoy making little books with my preschoolers because they love to invent stories, but this book introduces such wonderful ideas! i’d love a chance to win it!

  51. lynne davis says

    Wow, what a shame we can’t all win a copy of this inspiring book, I will certainly be trying out these ideas with my day care children.

  52. says

    Very cool. One of my research areas has been in book history. This is a cool to bridge my esoteric world with my kid world. :D I’ll definitely check this one out.

  53. Pablo says

    I’d love to get my hands on this book. It’s already in my Amazon wishlist, but free is always nicer. ;-)

  54. says

    I discovered Susan’s blog a few days ago and found it so inspiring! Great interview, thanks for the opportunity to win this book, looks great!!

  55. Nance says

    I’ve been making books with college students for a few years using what’s on hand – upcycling old hardcover books for their bookboard and mining them for illustrations to be used in new creations. I also scrounge for paper at the local printer who often has leftover press-size sheets from print runs. We sew books together using embroidery floss and tatting thread I find at thrift shops. The students are as excited about their ability to make a book as the little kids!

  56. Christine says

    I love the idea of using recycled materials to make books, what a great idea to use up all those leftover bits. A wish book sounds so adorable.

  57. says

    What neat ideas! I’m itching to try some of them in both my home life with my kiddos and in my professional life with some clients!

  58. Linda says

    The children in my preschool class have been frantically making books on their own this summer. They can’t wait to get to the art table to get started. It will be fun to share some of these wonderful ideas with them and see where they take it!

  59. Andrea says

    As our culture heads toward electronic media and eBooks, the making of books with our children is more important than ever. The value of things we make with our own hands is high, not even measurable. I have a portfolio of paintings that my oldest daughter created in the early 1960s; years later, my grand daughter painted with me in my studio. These works of art are priceless.

  60. anne says

    I love making books with my granddaughter, who’s still just 2. She gets what they are and what we’re doing, but still always seems a little amazed at the magic of taking paper, crayons, collage stuff, and yarn and ending up with a book.

  61. Jesse says

    I really enjoyed this interview, I especially like the book with the newspaper & negative cut-outs. What a neat way to incorporate art and story telling with little ones. Another great idea to try with my preschool class thank you!

  62. Heather says

    We would love to explore the ideas in this book, and it would be perfect for my son’s school too.

  63. says

    what an awesome idea! i’ll head home from work today and gather fun things to create books with my kiddos! thanks for sharing and i hope to find this book around my town, just in case i don’t win it here!

  64. Andrea says

    I love the idea of books as intimate places to hold our thoughts. I’m excited about the collage box, too!

  65. Nancy says

    I’ve been a fan of Susan’s work for a number of years. I love the idea of having a box of assorted papers to stir one’s creativity and that they don’t have to be precious special papers. I just added a bunch of dark purple liners left over from a basket of peaches to my paper stash. Oooh, what to create next!

  66. char says

    I enjoyed this interview so much! I usually don’t have time to read them in full, but I had a hard time letting go of this one. Some of us have some kind of book gene, I think. I can remember typing words into my first hand-made books with Mom’s typewriter… it’s a magical medium for sure…

  67. Bonnie says

    Thank you for introducing me to this book and Susan’s terrific ideas. I think my kids, my students, and I will all enjoy and use them.

  68. Misha says

    I make books every year with my art students, but i’m always looking for new and different ideas. I can wait to start using more recycled materials with my students! What great ideas she has!

  69. says

    I loved your interview! I have a passion for
    making books but have been sidetracked by raising my girls.
    I’m inspired to make an accordian book with my 3 year old!
    Thank you

  70. says

    Thank you for yet another great idea that we can use in so many ways! I am inspired to learn more about bookmaking now.

  71. says

    I loved the interview and hearing your ideas. I have been making handmade books….or booklets, as I call them :)….for about 16yrs. I’m an avid rubberstamper and doodler. My grandchildren have been making books with me ever since they could staple, hold scissors and scribble. My greatest joy is when they come in, gather some paper and the stapler and start on their own to make a book. I had my 6yr old grandson make one the other night and then came to me to help him spell “Field Journal”. He is consumed with learning everything he can about any critter he sees. “) I was thrilled with his creation! This is absolutely one of the best parent/child, grandparent/grandchild projects to do together.