Thinking Outside the Book: Creating Online Books

Book Links Mar. 2009 (vol. 18, no. 4)

by Jill Castek and Jessica Mangelson

Students at Grove Elementary have become celebrated authors due to the schoolwide online library they all helped build. By engaging students in online bookmaking, their librarian, Mrs. Silver, has inspired learners of all ages and reading abilities to become recognized authors. This column introduces free, easy-to-use resources that can be used to create online books, which can then be showcased in customized online libraries. In the process of becoming online authors, students learn to love writing.

UDL Book Builder

Created by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST),
UDL Book Builder is a free Web site where students and teachers can design, create, and share digital books. This site encourages writers to consult Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles and provides resources to assist in the creation of reading materials that are media-rich and supportive to all learners. Media such as animated reading coaches, text-to-speech presentation options, and a glossary feature can be easily incorporated when writing online books.

UDL Book Builder’s “
Shared Books Library” and “
Emergent Literacy Books” contain searchable listings of books that span grades K–12. These engaging fiction and nonfiction picture books can be read in a Web browser or downloaded. Before logging in to begin writing a book, browse the “
Tips for Authors and Illustrators” section. Here, students can find ideas on what to write about and browse suggestions for considering their book’s audience. Guide students in exploring the “
Resources” section, which offers a variety of free text and images. You may find it helpful to go through the “Creating a Digital Book with CAST Builder” slide show to become familiar with the bookmaking process.

Once you’ve set up a free account at “
Create Your Own Books,” you can request help from an animated character that will guide you as you write text, choose images, and develop scripts for the animated coaches you might choose to incorporate to assist readers in asking questions or making connections. Once books have been created and saved, they can be shared widely through the online “Shared Book Library.”


RealeBooks is a free Web site that allows users to write and publish books using free
RealeWriter software. Educators have used this site to write books collaboratively as a class project and with individual student authors. RealeWriter offers opportunities for authentic writing and content learning simultaneously.

A wide array of model texts can be found by typing a curriculum topic into the site-specific search engine at the top of the page. One featured text entitled “
Cooking in the 1800s at Locust Grove, KY,” recounts how meals were prepared before the advent of electricity and modern kitchen appliances. This educator-made book could serve as a demonstration piece for older students. For younger authors, consider modeling bookmaking with a simpler student-made text, such as “
What Is Orange?

RealeLibrary houses collections of RealeBooks created by schools, libraries, or classrooms. Here, educators can compile the titles they’ve created into one collection. For a small fee, your school can have its own RealeLibrary, where students’ work can be housed collectively. In addition to displaying the books within the customized online library, the print feature allows them to be shared widely in paper form.

Finally, take a glimpse into founder
Mark W. F. Condon’s RealeLibrary. Many of the books featured were created in collaboration with students from around the world. The topics covered are sure to spark numerous writing ideas and content connections. They will also inspire your students to become online authors.

Jill Castek is a post-doctoral scholar with the Seeds of Science/ Roots of Reading project at UC Berkeley.
Jessica Mangelson has worked as an elementary-school teacher, reading specialist, and professor of reading education.