Altered Books

Length of Program

Length of Program

One hour or more.

Program Description

This program is a rare opportunity for teens to come to the library and be encouraged to ravage a volume in the interest of self-expression. Teens will break all the rules as they rip, puncture, paint, and glue old, discarded books to create masterpieces of art! The goal is to alter the book’s appearance, turning it into a new kind of artistic expression. It is one part recycling, one part creativity, and fun all over! Display the books in the library for others to see.

Question: Just what is an altered book, you ask?

Answer: You take an old book and:

  • Color in, on, and over it
  • Paint over the pages
  • Paste in photos, magazine clippings, threads, sequins, etc.
  • Make pockets of its pages

Children altering a book with a purple ribbon

Children altering book with coins

View inspirational examples of altered books created by students at the Lakeview High School in Battle Creek, Michigan in 2004 in a PowerPoint presentation by Margaret Lincoln, which is adapted and included with permission. See these slides at the end of this program.


Gather these materials before the program.

  • Discarded hardback books, no more than 250 pages
  • Pencils
  • Drop cloths (to place under tables where teens paint)
  • Markers - water based (teens may use water and paintbrushes to run the colors)
  • Sharpies - include an array of colors and several black sharpies, including fine tip
  • Scissors - all kinds, including pinking shears and some with funky edges
  • Paint brushes - all kinds
  • Paint trays (3) (limit the amount of paint on the trays to avoid waste)
  • Paint
  • Rulers (to rip pages and to smooth down pages that are being glued together)
  • White glue, glue sticks, glue guns
  • Wax paper (to protect pages and covers when painting, etc.)
  • Stamps and stamp pads
  • Plain white and colored paper
  • Wallpaper or other decorative papers
  • Tissue paper (for decoupage)
  • Modge Podge
  • Old magazines
  • Staplers
  • Fabric scraps
  • Hole punch - single
  • Hair dryers (for drying paint, glue, etc.)
  • Ribbon
  • Box cutter / craft knife
  • Beads and sequins
  • Glitter glue
  • Shaped sponges
  • Embroidery thread
  • Old maps
  • Find interesting quotes and cut them out
  • Binder clips - large (to clip sections which are being glued together)

Allow for an hour of set-up time. Set up work tables together to make it easier to share supplies. Cover them with tablecloths. On the work tables, place glue sticks, rulers, scissors, markers and books. Place the remaining supplies on one or two additional tables. Leave enough space between the tables to allow the librarian to move easily to help and instruct the teens throughout the process. Organize the supplies so that similar items are grouped together. Set up glue guns, with paper underneath them, on the tables. Plug in hair dryers. Note: Clean up may also take up to an hour, or less if teens help.

Altered Book Creation

When teens arrive at the program, invite them to look at the examples of altered books on display and to look through the selection of discarded books.

When the program begins, tell the teens that the purpose of altered books is to take discarded materials and recycle them into art, and that the popularity of Altered Books is growing fast. Let teens know that during the program, they’ll learn techniques for enhancing their books and will begin creating them. Emphasize that this is just part of the process, since the altered book is an organic, evolving project and works best when it is added to over time, much like a scrapbook, they will probably not have time to completely finish their books. Let them know if the library will offer another workshop during the summer to allow teens the opportunity and supplies to continue working on their books. Or, suggest that teens continue to work on their projects at home, if they do not finish during the program. When teens complete their creations, display them in the library.

Invite teens to select a discarded book to alter and consider what they want to do with it. Ask them to think about the following design elements that will help them begin visualizing their creations.

  • Pick a theme. What do you want the focus of your book to be - friendship, family, school, pets, travel, quotes, music, journal... or maybe a favorite color?
  • Additions. Do you want to make pockets, journal pages, photo tabs, and/or picture frames in your book?
  • Subtractions. Do you want to rip out pages, punch holes, cut out windows and/or boxes in your book?
  • Mediums. Do you want to collage, decoupage, stamp, sew, or make rubbings in your book?

Here are some tips to share with the teens while they are working.

  • Acrylic paint will stain clothes. Offer large donated shirts or garbage bag ponchos for them to wear.
  • Depending on the thickness of the teens’ pages, suggest that they glue 4-10 pages together, using a glue stick, for a thicker canvas on which to work.
  • Rip out 4-10 pages between altered pages so that the book does not expand so much that it will not close.
  • Dilute acrylic paint with some water before painting the book covers.
  • Diluting acrylic paint with water will cause the pages to warp a little bit. This can be a cool effect.
  • Use wax paper between the painted pages.
  • Use the blow dryers to dry the pages.
  • While paint and/or glue is drying, select enhancements for other pages, such as magazine clippings, ribbon, etc.
  • Mistakes are easy to fix. Teens can rip the page out, glue something on top, and start again.


Teen Altered Books Contest

As a part of the program, allow teens to enter their altered books into a Teen Altered Books Contest and display the books in the library for patrons to view. To see photos of Teen Altered Book Contest entries, visit the Dakota County Libraries web site at

Guest Speakers

Invite a scrap booking professional from your local craft store to discuss journaling and scrap booking techniques with the teens.

Developmental Needs and Assets

By participating in creative activities, teens are building self-esteem and positive self worth. They learn to be resourceful with the materials they are given. Teens labor diligently on a project and as a result, they find purpose in their work.

Books to Display

Altered Art: Techniques for Creating Altered Books, Boxes, Cards & More by Terry Taylor.

Altered Book Collage by Barbara Matthiessen.

Altered Books Workshop: 18 Creative Techniques for Self-Expression by Bev Brazelton.

Alter This!: Radical Ideas for Transforming Books into Art by Alena Hennessy.

The Altered Book Scrapbook by Susan Ure.

Books to Share or Booktalk

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson.

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen.

Bulletin Board/Display

Tear out pages from a discarded book and alter the pages with paint and glitter. Using a paint pen, write the words “RIP”, “TEAR”, “GLUE” in large lettering across the altered pages. Display the pages, or affix them to your bulletin board.


Serve “altered” snacks such as chocolate or yogurt covered pretzels or raisins.


Purchase bookmarks, scrap booking materials, stickers, and/or stamps at a local craft store to give as prizes.


Show these videos and DVDs or segments of them if you have public performance rights. Otherwise, display them for home use.

Freaky Friday. (97 minutes)

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. (119 minutes)

Transformers. (144 minutes)

Professional Resources

Carrie on Copyright: Altered States: Is Transforming Books a Reckless Experiment or a Legal Act? by Carrie Russell.

Library Media Connection, Nov/Dec2004, Vol. 23 Issue 3, p20-20, 1p.

This article provides legal justification for the book altering process.

Weeded Books Inspire Student Art Projects by Margaret Lincoln.

School Library Journal, 8/1/2007


This article details one high school’s efforts in making altered books.

Altered Art Books from HGTV’s Home & Garden Television,1789,


HGTV offers instructions for creating an altered book.

Altered Books - The International Society of Altered Book Artists (ISABA)

This web site features a great gallery of altered book images.

Dakota County Libraries - Teen Altered Book Contest

View entries in a “Teen Altered Book Contest” hosted by the Dakota County Libraries in Minnesota.

How to Alter a Board Book - Part I: Preparing a Book to Alter

Tutorials for making altered books.

YALSA’s 2007 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults - Get Creative - creative

“Get Creative” is a themed booklist of fiction and nonfiction title recommendations in ALA’s 2007 Popular Paperback for Young Adults list.

Program Materials

Altered Books PowerPoint Presentation Slides (14 Slides)

View inspirational examples of altered books created by students at the Lakeview High School in Battle Creek, Michigan in 2004 in a PowerPoint presentation by Margaret Lincoln, which is adapted and included with permission. For more details, see the attached PowerPoint slide (File Size: 1.61MB).

A book is altered with buttons and cut outs

Texas Teens Read 2009! Programming Manual / Time Twistin’ TTR.09

Published by the Library Development Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Page last modified: June 10, 2011