Yes, Veruca, there is a way to make your own.
You will need:
-8 meters of poplin (2 for the cover, 6 for the interior pages)*
-Chalk or a pencil
-A permanent marker or two
-Needle, thread, and basic sewing skills; or, a helpful tailor
To make full pedagogical use of the Book Suit, you will need:
A medium-sized child (2 is better)
1. Make the cover. Using the medium-sized child as a guide, mark off the 2 meters of cover fabric into front cover, back cover and spine. I made my spine a bit too narrow – it should probably take up between a quarter and a third of the cover to map well onto a human body. Divide the rest of the cover up evenly between front and back covers.
2. Depending on the wingspan of your child, you’ll probably end up using more like a meter and a half. Leave a bit around the edges for hemming; cut off the rest and use it to test your marker on.
3. Go nuts with your pencil, chalk, and (once you’re happy with the results) permanent markers. Put an illustration on the front; make up a blurb to go on the back. I ran out of blurb ideas after about two sentences**, so I stuck a bar code and an ISBN number on there, too.
4. Measure and cut up your interior pages into 3 equal lengths. (Use the medium-sized child and your cover as a guide.) Divide each length in half to create a right page and a left page.
5. The first length will be sewn directly onto the cover, sandwich style: so, the left half of the length will be your inside cover***, and the right half will be the last page.
6. The other 2 lengths will be sewn together back to back to make the middle pages. On one of the lengths, the right half will be the first page, and the left half will be the next-to-last page. The other length will have the 2 middle pages.
7. Write on the pages separately, to avoid bleed-through. I wrote nice and big, to make the text readable and so I wouldn’t have to make too much up.**** I also included illustrations, for similar pedagogical/labor-saving reasons. Luckily, hippos take up a lot of room on the page.
8. Assemble! This is where you’ll need sewing skills, or a tailor to whom you can explain what you want, which is:
-All edges hemmed to avoid fraying
-The inside cover and last page sewn onto the cover, caftan/grand bubu style – i.e., attached at the top and sides with room for the head and the arms
-The middle two pages sewn back to back along all four sides
-The middle two pages attached to the inside cover/last page by a vertical seam down the middle. (Be careful not to attach them to the front cover, or there’ll be no room for your medium-sized child.)
-Snaps at the top corners of the pages so you can attach them to each other, then detach and turn them.
9. Try it on for the benefit of your compound. Feeling stylish, comfortable and informative? You are ready to go!
10. Find a school library that has people who are willing to run it and willing to teach kids how to use it.*****
11. Facilitate a training! Include a spiel on the parts of the book, the way it’s supposed to “stand,” how to turn the pages, and how to try to figure out what it’s about. Take lots of volunteers from the audience, and give the kids a chance to practice on real books. If the school has an active library committee or a potential librarian, get them to co-facilitate. It increases the likelihood that they’ll remember and teach others.
12. Sit back for a minute and congratulate yourself on helping under-resourced schoolchildren build concepts of print, while laughing at you. Go ahead – you are a good volunteer...and you do have a caftan handy, after all.
*Poplin is the cheapest and most readily available fabric upcountry; plus, it’s sold in nice wide bolts, which means you can just use it horizontally; however, it’s very thin. I used part of an old bed sheet for the cover, which I think bleeds less and holds up better.
**“This book is about the magnificent hippopotamus. If you are interested in hippos, you should read it.”
***You might as well include a bit with publication information and/or a dedication, right?
****It turns out I have no idea how much hippos eat in a day, for example. Solution: make up a number, and then make up a joke about how that’s even more than people named Fatty (there are many here) eat. Despite the jokes and the obvious handmade/made-up quality of the product, though, I still found that people took the number as real. Such is the power of the written word – and the Book Suit.
*****Er, this is the hard part.