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Building beautiful book bentos

My friend Jennifer LaGarde (@jenniferlagarde) recently introduced me, and our Young Adults Reading and Literacy students at Rutgers, to the idea of Book Bentos.

Highly visual, creative and interactive the book bento strategy invites book lovers to create, hyperlink and share book titles in an artfully arranged interactive collage.

I asked Jennifer to fill me in on the history of this book sharing strategy. She shared that the idea is inspired by Japanese bento boxes. While they feature books rather than food, like the original and delicious artful arrangements, these interactive squares also emphasize symmetry and beauty.

Jen first discovered book bentos on Crown Publishing’s ReadItForward. The huge community features blog posts, excerpts, giveaways, author interviews and excerpts, bookshelf lists, a book apothecary, podcasts and more.

Around three years ago, Read It Forward’s Abbe Wright introduced the @bookbento Instagram account in a post called The Instagram Account You Need to Follow.

Wright describes the Book Bento account as a browse-able bookstore of recommended reads and arresting book jackets paired alongside a still life of delightful objects. A veritable feast for the eyes!

Jen also led me to the HyperDoc slide deck created by Lisa Highfill and Rachel Kloos that demonstrates how the use of Thinglink in Book Bento creation. Filled instructions, a video tutorial, and lots of student samples, their suggested student project invites readers to construct visual collages that link to author interviews, book trailers, meaningful image, media, reviews, and more.

I asked Jennifer to describe her experience introducing the project to our pre-service grad students:

My awesome Rutgers #YAlit students created a #bookbento as part of a summative assessment to demonstrate their ability to connect titles from this semester’s reading list with a plethora of multimedia resources to inspire and hook readers! For my course, students were asked to create a #bookbento featuring a book of their choice from this semester’s reading and artifacts that were important to the book in some way. They knocked it out of the park.

Jen wanted students to demonstrate how to use their growning knowledge of YA literature and skills as curators to sell a book to two different audiences–students and teachers.

Students were asked to create a Thinglink Book Bento with an English Language Arts teacher in mind, link to reviews teachers would find credible, share author interviews, connect the title to three standards-aligned lesson ideas and suggest how the teacher might use the title in class with the support of the librarian.

The second part of the project asked students how they would use the same image they constructed with a specific K12 student audience. Which resources might you curate to hook the younger reader? Jen wanted this task to be a major focus of the project.

She reflected.

It’s the first time. I always want our students to engage in projects that can be applied to their practice. Several of my students are are English teachers coming into the library world and they were excited about using this idea with their own students. In their reflections, the LIS students noted that they were already introducing the strategy to other teachers in their buildings. And they appeared to have deep connections with their books of choice.

Because these products are born on social media, they should be shared on social media. Next time around, I will share our projects using the hashtag and encourage students to become part of the broader community of educators who share their reading lives, as a way to better understand social reading.

Jen pointed to the most important learning.

All year long their focus was on booktalks. Books the least important part of it. Readers are the most important. How do we harness all of our tools and talents to create readers in our libraries? This summative assignment is connected to a book, but it’s really about connecting to public librarians, recognizing teachers as an audience, connecting to standards. That’s where librarians get into trouble. If I were hiring, I’d want to hire a librarian who loves children more than books. Books are meaningless without readers.

What you don’t see in the image posted above is that they then uploaded these gorgeous examples to ThingLink where they attached their expertly curated resources to interest two different audiences: teachers and students. The results were epic and I’m so proud of and delighted by their finished products.

If you are new to Book Bento, these tips will help:

  1. Gather all the physical stuff that might help you tell your story–the book cover, relevant news or magazine clippings, artifacts/objects, images.
  2. Assemble the items artfully on an intentionally selected background in the share of a square, keeping in mind design elements like spacing, connections, color, etc.
  3. Take a photograph. (You can make the image even more beautiful by bringing it into your favorite image editing program–Canva, Picmonkey–for enhancement.)
  4. Bring your photo into an application that allows you to make it interactive. Thinglink, Buncee, Piktochart, Kapwing , Glogster, or perhaps Word, Powerpoint, Google Docs or Google Slides.
  5. Add media, text–reviews, author interviews, trailers, lessons, discussion guides, historic background, etc.–anything you find or create on the web to enhance, explain, engage or market.
  6. If you are working with a class, create a gallery of these works to share with students, parents, colleagues on Instagram, Pinterest, Pearltrees, Destiny Collections, Wakelet, Google or Microsoft applications or your LMS or LibGuides.
  7. If you’d like your work to be discoverable, tag everything with #bookbento or #digibookbento

And you will definitely want to check out the growing collections of inspiring, tasty and tempting examples for inspiration:

@bookbento (Instagram)

#bookbento (Twitter)


Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Mary Reilley-Clark says:

    Thanks so much for this! It’s almost the end of the school year, but I’ll be sharing this at our language arts department meeting next week. You also have me thinking about how to use it next year with our Project LIT book clubs. Our middle schoolers could create them for all the middle grade books to share with our elementary buddies! It would be such a great way to introduce all the books.

  2. Daniella Bonanno says:

    Thank you so much for this fantastic idea. Do you have a rubric for this project?


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