Behind the Shelves: What is a Literature Based Makerspace?

the art exhibit

Hi! I just read your post on the Nerdy Book Club blog. You mention a “literature based makerspace.” What is that?? That sounds so cool!


A literature based makerspace is, quite simply, a makerspace that’s inspired by a piece of literature! Do you remember that feeling you used to get when you were a kid, when you’d be so excited after reading a book you loved, that it felt like you had glitter running through your veins? Most of us never really grow out of that feeling – we’re just taught that if we’re real readers, we must celebrate the books that we love in serious, scholarly ways like annotated essays and lengthy discussions. But a great story can light up amazingly creative and whimsical parts of the brain, and providing an avenue that empowers a reader to turn that joy and creativity into something concrete can make a lasting impact on their relationship with reading.

I love creating surprising and engaging experiences inspired by books, because they help learners with all different strengths to connect to literature and see themselves as readers. Traditional book clubs can be engaging and exciting for readers who love discussion, but some students share their ideas and expertise best through art, writing, or movement. Literature based or themed makerspaces remind students that books are more than just text on a page – they are their own worlds, and they can unlock worlds within us. When we provide the time, space, and materials, books can inspire amazing things from the readers that love them.

Like all great library programs, creating a makerspace inspired by literature starts with finding the perfect book. In my experience, it’s all about finding a quirky and unique book that pushes and inspires readers to think outside of the box, and leaves them itching to make something. When a text leaves a reader feeling creative, all a librarian or teacher needs to do is make space and time for that creativity to shine. To see some of the books that have inspired us, check out the literature based makerspace examples below.

Running a book club or makerspace by yourself is tricky, and finding support in your community to bring your vision to life can really help. I’m lucky enough to work with our amazing K-8 Computer Science Coordinator, Kim Wilkens, on most of my wacky makerspace ideas. Ms. Wilkens’ knowledge in making and integrating artistic computer science is unparalleled – from LED circuits to creating songs with Python, she has a bottomless toolbox for kids to create with. If you have an Educational or Instructional Technology specialist or Computer Science expert in your school, make a connection – it’s a relationship that can add so much student engagement and empowerment to your activities. (No ET/IT/CS expert in your school? Become the expert yourself! Integrating computer science principles and activities into your curriculum is much easier than it sounds, and well worth your time.)

From there, creating a literature themed makerspace is similar to creating regular library programming, with a bit of a creative twist. With your book in mind, choose your audience and make your plans. Are you an elementary school librarian whose story inspires students to create with paint, clay, or Legos? A middle school teacher looking to build off of the enthusiasm of a text with cardboard and duct tape? Have a group of high schoolers inspired by a book to create art or music with digital tools? The possibilities are endless. If you’re in need of supplies, consider asking your school community to help you collect (this works great with cardboard, Legos, and other easy-to-find materials). Set the stage for a certain type of making, or leave doors completely open for students to create. Open your space for makers to work, or choose a date in the future and act as a gallery for their projects. Invite other students or families to be an authentic audience, or put them on display in a community space. No matter what direction you take, a makerspace inspired by a book can change the way your students see both reading and computer science (win-win!).

We’ve tried four different types of makerspaces inspired by books:

Makerspace Book Club


(This makerspace model inspires students to work outside of school, and then celebrates their creations during class or book club time.)
6th grade students read the graphic novel Cardboard, by Doug TenNapel. After reading this quirky tale of bewitched cardboard bringing creatures and structures to life, Ms. Wilkens and I challenged sixth graders to make their own unique creations out of cardboard. We kept a giant pile of cardboard on the display in the library for students to use and offered storage and workspace in the library, but most of the students’ work took place at home. The week before our meeting, we offered two specific makerspace meeting times for students to work on their creations, including cool computer science add-ons with hands-on help from us. At our actual book club meeting, we had a gallery of student work to look through, touch, and play with as we discussed the book and all of the exciting things it inspired us to make.

Makerspace Family Event


(This makerspace model gives students time to create during school with help from teachers, and then invites family and friends to share their creations in an evening event.)
5th graders read The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. The creepy and wonderful text inspired Ms. Wilkens and I to offer students a challenge: Can we transform the library into a haunted cemetery and throw a Halloween party for our community? To pull this off, we took advantage of creative and student-lead time built into our school schedule, called FABLab. Students had one hour per week for the entire fall semester to make pieces of their haunted cemetery, with myself, Ms. Wilkens, and two fabulous art teachers leading the way. Some projects took shape in the art room, like a life-size cardboard coffin complete with real hinges, and a giant spiderweb decorated with splattered black-light paint. Others came to life in the CS lab, like a floor piano that screamed when activated, or a drumset made of tombstones that played ghoulish groans and sounds (both made with Makey-Makey). Students also created activities like a Musical Scares game and a mini-haunted house in our library’s treehouse, while teachers also lead stations during the evening event, like a spooky readaloud and a costume photobooth. Our Haunted Library event was the perfect way to show off all of the amazing work that students created, and it drew more than 200 guests (most in costume!) the night before Halloween.

Student-Lead Makerspace


(This makerspace model puts students in charge of creating a book club makerspace experience for another audience. Students create both in and outside of school, with an event that can take place any time.)
5th grade students read A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle, and used the classic novel as a jumping-off point to create an out-of-this-world book club experience for 4th grade readers. Brainstorming and planning for their book club took place during library time, while most of the making happened at home. Students worked in groups according to the projects they wanted to complete – including a tesseract tunnel, craft stations, and an It-inspired Escape Room – and it was their responsibility to bring their visions to life. Preparation for our book club took us about three weeks, meeting once or twice per week. The book club event took place over about an hour during the school day.

Makerspace Project or Curriculum 


(This makerspace model invites students to take the spark ignited by a book and use it to carefully plan and create something amazing. Students create during school over the course of a semester or unit.)
The Wild Robot
, by Peter Brown, also inspired a makerspace last year. After middle school students ran a Wild Robot makerspace and computer science event  for families (see more here), they still wanted more – so we invited students to participate in a FABLab experiment called Robots in the Wild. Our group met once per week over the course of a trimester to create a variety of Wild Robot-inspired projects. On our final meeting day, students presented their projects to each other and to the camera, and we were able to share our video with families and friends.

Hopefully that helps answer your question! Have another question for me? Shoot me an email, and I might feature it in an upcoming Behind the Shelves post. 

7 thoughts on “Behind the Shelves: What is a Literature Based Makerspace?

  1. Thanks for this explanation. I am returning to the library (middle school) next school year and am so excited to see and try some of these great ideas!


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