Let’s Hear It For Personal Books!Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 9.53.43 PM

Fortunately, the word is spreading, and there is more and more talk in DS circles about creating personal books to teach reading. Personal books are frequently the initial exposure a child has to beginning the reading process.

So What Is It?

A personal book is a simple, homemade “book” built around a child’s top interest or “hot topic.” Once the book is made, flash cards are made to teach the book’s vocabulary, and you’re off and running. The book is made with ordinary paper stock, and–unless your hand printing is stellar–typed on computer. Typically, a digital camera or iPhone is used to make accompanying pictures.

Why Homemade Personal Books?

happy-child-smBecause nothing–and I mean nothing–motivates a would-be reader like reading about his/her own life. Especially with our kids with DS, we want to get those strong little wills on board at the get-go. If a child is eager to read because he loves what he’s reading about, all of his learning systems get a thumbs-up: his energy and attention are engaged.

So What Are The Guidelines?

  • Turn the paper “landscape” format so you’ve got more room for sentences.
  • Use large type (at least 48 pt.) in a sans serif font like: Arial, Tahoma, Verdana (all computers have these).
  • Don’t use bold type; that makes it harder to read.
  • Double space between words; that makes it easier to read.
  • Make the pictures large and close-up on your subject, no matter what it is.
  • All left-hand pages are blank; you want a high-focus format in the beginning, so use only right-hand pages.
  • Later, when the reader is more experienced and confident, you can use left-hand pages as well; but in the beginning, we don’t want to distract the reader.
  • The sentence is introduced before the child sees the picture; there are no distractions, and using this system makes it easy to know when the child is or is not actually reading the words.

No matter how often I explain how to build an awesome personal book that doubles as a testing tool, it’s not clear until I show a picture. So here are your downloadable samples: a “how to” page, along with work pages on which you can pencil in your creative-work-in-progress: Storyboard Sample and Your Storyboard Work Page


  • Make an “A List” of three topics (things/people/foods/activities/pets/relatives) your child loves.
  • Choose one of these topics for your first book.
  • Write a simple story, one short sentence to a page (3-4 words in a sentence for an emergent reader).
  • Use to download the Dolch Word List appropriate for your child; use these words as much as possible along with the “hot topic” words. Keep the list at your elbow!

Creating The Book: Here’s A Sample Emergent Reader Book

Jon reads to Grandma 6

Jonathan (at 5) reads his first PERSONAL BOOK to Grandma

  • Title: Grandma
  • Page 1 (right hand page only): I  love  Grandma. (remember to double-space between words)
  • Page 2 (r.h.p. only): large pic of Grandma and child; under the pic, type the same sentence as on the previous page: I love  Grandma.
  • Page 3: (r.h.p.o.) Grandma  loves  me.
  • Page 4: (r.h.p.o.) another large pic of Grandma and child; under the pic, repeat: Grandma  loves  me.
  • Page 5: (r.h.p.o.) We  snuggle.
  • Page 6: (r.h.p.o.) pic of Grandma and child snuggling; under the pic, repeat: We  snuggle.
  • Page 7: (r.h.p.o.) We  read.
  • Page 8: (r.h.p.o.) pic of Grandma and child reading; under the pic, repeat: We read.
  • etc., etc. Continue along this line for another few pages and then wrap it up.
  • Last page, right side: The End. (They love reading this. It’s the emotional equivalent of “I did it!”)

Make The Flash Cards

  • Create large flash cards (5×8) if your child is an emergent reader; the more experience the child has in reading, the smaller you can make the cards and the type. 
  • Teach the cards using the one-per-second Fast Flash Method.
  • Use the “Sandwich Teaching Method“: Flash the Cards/Read the Book/Flash the Cards. All done!

Make More Books!

  • Using this basic model, move on to creating more complex books, always building on previous vocabulary. 

The track record of reading success sparked by Personal Books is growing legendary as this practice spreads; I hope your your own spark ignites a reading blaze for your child. This could be the start of great things!

There are apps out now which can help you to create personal books, for those who are device-inclined. If you know of a terrific app that you’re absolutely sold on, post a comment and I’ll share it with everyone!

Cameras clicking,



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Showing 25 comments
  • Sapna

    Hey! Which app can I use to create personal books?

    • Natalie Hale

      Hi, Sapna- I wrote a blog on that: If you’re looking for any particular topic on reading, go to my blog page and use the “search the blog” feature on the right column. And good luck with your books!

  • Laura

    I love powerpoint to make books. I find it super easy.

    • Natalie Hale

      Great idea, Laura; you’re right: once you learn the basics of PowerPoint, it’s as you say, “super easy.”

  • Kate Griffin

    Is it 100% necessary to have each sentence twice? My son is 9, but does not have a long attention span. So I was wondering if I could write the sentence on one page and just the picture on the other page.

    • Natalie Hale

      Hi, Kate- Yes, but only if you separate the two visually; in other words, the sentence is going to be by itself on the Right-Hand Page (RHP), and your son will need to turn the next page in order to see the picture, which will be by itself on the next RHP. Don’t put the sentence on the left page, for example, and the picture on the right page. Don’t show them both at once, or your son will be attracted only to the picture, and won’t make the effort to read. We also don’t want to give a picture cue with the sentence; that’s not our purpose. We want to make sure he’s actually reading.

  • Carrie


    I have been very interested in making my son a book for quite some time. My husband is not a fan of technology. Unfortunately, our laptop won’t let me download free apps without running our computer and that is all we have for technology world besides my older son’s kindle. Any ideas on how I can make a book? would it be easier to purchase books for him instead? He is 2 and loves to look at books very quickly 😉

    Thank you for your time,

    • Natalie Hale

      Hi, Carrie-
      You don’t need an app or anything fancy. All you need is a computer; it’s unclear from your message whether or not you can’t run your computer? Assuming you have a computer, simply use any word processing program (Microsoft Word, etc.) Set up the orientation to “landscape” rather than “portrait”. Just follow the directions I’ve given on my Personal Books blog to create the book. If you can’t upload digital pictures into the book, simply use photographs and tape or glue them onto the page. This doesn’t have to be high tech. And of course you can purchase early reading books. You can also check out my Pre-Primer Bundle, which has 5 early reader books that are all about FOOD…ice cream, spaghetti, etc. Your 2-year old might get hooked on reading!

      • Carrie

        Perfect. Thank you Natalie.

  • Susan Taylor

    Natalie, if I am making a flashcard for a word (not a proper noun) that is capitalized in the story, should the flashcard be upper case or lower case?

    • Natalie Hale

      Good question! Lower, because that is how your child will typically read it. I know this seems like it would be confusing for the child, for example, T vs. t., but in fact it’s not really a problem for them. Aside from proper nouns, don’t capitalize.

      • Sarah

        I had this same question, just to clarify, still capitalize the first word in a sentence in the book but don’t capitalize it on the flash card? I am so glad I found your blog and so excited to try our first book!

        • Natalie Hale

          Sarah, the answer is “generally, don’t capitalize the word on the flash card,” as the lowercase version is predominantly how the child will see it the rest of his/her life. However…if the capitalized word looks significantly different from the lowercase word, then I would make 2 cards. Example: “Do” and “do”. Good luck making your first awesome book!

  • Julie


    Should we print the books in red font also?

    • Natalie Hale

      No, Julie; the books should be printed in black ink, the way the child will always read print in books. A field of red ink is difficult to read; black on white paper is best. But a flash card with a single word in red is quite the opposite: the brain loves it and pays close attention.

  • Julie

    Thanks! I printed it in black but then was unsure. He LOVES his book!

  • María Luna

    Hola, Natalie
    Encantada de encontrar tu blog, desde hoy mi favorita, es algo nuevo, interesante y a la primera impresión dices, no, es muy rápido, no se podrá, pero los resultados pueden ser muy favorables …
    Aplicó el Troncoso para enseñar a leer a mis chicos, pero veo esto y es algo nuevo para ellos, el troncoso no es para todos!!!!!
    lo llevo acabo en mi centro conecta.
    te mando un fuerte abrazo, desde saltillo coahuila

    una duda que es RHP ?

    • Natalie Hale

      Hello, Maria Luna- Unfortunately, no hablo Español! But my friend translated your comment for me. You asked, what is RHP? I do not know. My article mentioned IEP. IEP is Individualized Education Program, or IEP.

    • Kimberly Schwalb

      Hi Maria,
      I think RHP is an abbreviation for right hand page. I only speak English, but had to think for a minute to figure it out;-) The left side of the opened book needs to be blank, so we are just supposed to have a sentence on the first page on the RHP, and a sentence with a picture on the second RHP, and so on. Good luck- I’m making my first personalized book with flashcards today. Special reads for special needs is working for my daughter- she loves the fast-flash method for learning sight words:-) Natalie Hale is wonderful!

      • Natalie Hale

        Yay, Kimberly! Thank you so much for answering Maria’s question! I have responded to her (with the help of Google Translate.) You’re the best! Thank you for solving the problem. And do let me know how your daughter’s very first personalized book is received! Pictures or videos always appreciated! Best of luck…

    • Natalie Hale

      Maria, did you see the wonderful answer for you from Kimberly? RHP means “right hand pages.” ¿Comprende usted? Páginas de la mano derecha.

  • Landonsef

    Many thanks, this site is very beneficial.

    • Natalie Hale

      You’re very welcome!

  • Maria

    Hi, Natalie,
    I just prepared the first book for my son, 4 years, and I realized that I do not know how many pages it should have. I put at the moment 5 sentances. Is this ok or maybe too much? Can you please explain!
    Thank you so much for all your post! I really got inspired by this one to do the book.

    • Natalie Hale

      see my reply to your other comment