Each year we do a charity project for the Ministry of Stories, a local writing and mentoring centre for children set up by Nick Hornby. They have taken various forms (see here, here and here)and this is our latest; It’s a fairly simple object that managed to rescue one of the Ministry’s most popular workshops.
To explain it I first need to describe the workshop itself:
A group of children are invited to a write a story with the Chief of the Ministry of Stories. When they arrive at the Ministry he is shut away in his office. After a while he announces over the intercom that he is too busy to see them and they should work with his assistant to devise the beginning of the story without him. They write the opening of a story together in the morning, and submit it through a hatch in his office door. He soon comes over the intercom again saying that he is impressed with their efforts so far, and that they should each try and finish the story individually; If there is an ending he likes he will consider publishing the story as a book. The children then each handwrite their own ending and submit these to the Chief’s office for review. While they wait for the outcome they read their endings to each other. The Chief finally appears on the intercom again to say he was so pleased with the endings that he has decided to publish ALL their stories. The assistant then goes into his office and collects the manuscripts, which are now magically bound as individual books.
It’s a brilliant workshop. The Chief achieves Wizard of Oz like status by only appearing over the intercom, which really motivates the children and makes the books themselves feel special. When they appear at the end there is a surge of joy and relief that everybody is included.
1. Binding the books took way too long and required a whole member of staff, which had become untenable (up until the book-binding bit the workshop is pretty lean on staff, but putting the books together means an extra assistant, which increases costs).
2. The pagination is really hard. Somehow, some of the pages in some of the books always ended up in the wrong place.
3. The binding machine is a merciless breaking wheel, destroying the children’s work and the operator’s emotional stability.
4. The finished books looked deathly boring.
The only way the workshop could continue was to get rid of the book-binding, which is crucial part of being a published author and the most magical part of the day.
Unless we got the children to bind the books themselves… So we created this set of parts:
Now, the Chief still wants to publish all their stories, but his book machine is broken. Look what it has done to the first edition!
Can the children help him by binding their own books?
It solves a lot of problems. You don’t need the dreaded binding machine, the children paginate their own stories so they get the order right, and crucially you don’t need an extra member of staff. And the books are much more colourful too.