I Made My Daughter A Choose-Your-Path Book For Her Birthday

My Daughter Learns To Be Careful What She Wishes For

So, for some years now, I have been inflicting a custom-made book on my daughter for her birthday present. They are fan-fiction about hobbits, in particular the "Old Took" and his three daughters. I write them, print them up, bind them (more or less successfully depending on how far my skill as a bookbinder has advanced by that point), and then read them to her. While reading her last year's book, she mentioned that "this would make a good choose-your-own-adventure (tm) book". So, I decided that this year's book would be choose-your-path (the generic term for such a tale).

At first, I had a hard time figuring out how to manage this, since it was pretty well set up in the last book that this would be the reading of Gerontius "Old" Took's second travel journal, with running commentary by his three adult daughters as they read it. How to make that a choose-your-path? Not uncommonly, a choose-your-path includes at least a few potential paths that result in the main character dying. It had occurred to me that it would make for an interesting existential crisis for the three daughters if they read an account of their father dying as a young man, as that would mean they would never have been born. But, while that was an entertaining prospect, I decided to make the story-within-the-story (Gerontius' travel journal) the conventional tale, and the choose-your-path part the outer layer, with the reader being one of the three daughters.

This means, of course, that the three daughters had to do something besides just read their father's travel journal. This was not such a surprise, since those three have consistently refused to accept a passive role in any of the previous books. The time in which the daughters are reading their father's journal, is also the year of the Fell Winter, a bad year when you did not have to leave the Shire to have adventure come right to your doorstep. It ended up being a combination of exploration of Great Smials (the Tooks' home), and trying to put together hints and clues from the travel journal to discover what was really going on in Great Smials in the daughter's time. For reasons I won't go into (wink, wink), it was important that the separate chapters be each their own volume. So, my bookbinding project sort of multiplied by twelve.

Recycling Materials

I go to Austin's "Creative Reuse" store from time to time, and sometimes when I do, I pick up scraps of material that I think might work for a book cover. One such find was this:

At first I thought I would just make one chapter/booklet per square, but that made for an odd aspect ratio. Instead, I decided to cut them in two:

That provided a front and back cover for each booklet, but I needed something for the spine, and a bit more, so I used another more leathery looking piece of vinyl that came from the same place:

The actual boards for the covers came from scraps sold cheap at Jerry's Artarama, not far from Creative Reuse. I cut a 6"x10" section of the brown material and glued the boards to that:

Then, I put them under weights for a while, sometimes overnight.

The blue viny squares were a bit thicker, and harder to bend around the boards. I had to use some binder clips and clothespins to keep them in place until the glue got at least somewhat dry.

After half an hour or so I could switch to the trusty old OED (volume 1, A-M) from the 1950's, my favorite book for helping me to make books. I would leave that on overnight, typically.

Then, all that was left was to use the bone folder to fold the printed sheets into "signatures".

No pictures of me sewing the signatures onto the cover, because my hands were busy sewing at the time. But here's the "finished" product.

I put the word "finished" in quotes up there, because now we have the issue of twelve more or less identical looking chapter booklets. So, in previous years I was using paper covers, and it was straightforward to just print out a label and glue it on (plus it was only one volume anyway). I could have done that here, but it didn't seem like the right choice. Unfortunately, the ink from the pens I chose to write with, didn't seem to adhere very well, even after being left to dry overnight. Fortunately I tested it on a leftover scrap before trying the books themselves. I also tried spraying them with hairspray and letting that dry overnight; it still would smudge somewhat. So, paper labels after all. After thinking about it, I came up with a slightly different format, rather than the oval-on-the-middle labels that I did in previous years. So maybe I am ok with paper labels this year after all.

Then, there is the question of what they should all go in. Perhaps a box? Do I have a box that will work? Of course not. So, time to make a box. Out of what? Well, I had some more matte board scraps that I could have used, but that might have been not quite sturdy enough to protect the books on the trip we were about to go on. You see, I normally read Juliet her birthday book in the car or train (depending on the year and how we travel) on our way to the homeland in southern Illinois. So, not matte board. What would be sturdier?

Unfortunately, I had a leftover piece of pine board from a previous project, 5.5" x 48", that turned out to be almost exactly the right amount of material for a case to enclose the 12 volumes on all sides but one (so that you could still see them, but they were kept together and somewhat protected). I say "unfortunately", because that encouraged me to add a minor carpentry project to what was already running up to the wire, schedule-wise. There's also the almost complete lack of carpentry skills on my part. For example, cutting a line that is straight along all axes, is not my forte. Nonetheless, forward ho. A project of this sort calls for dovetails, made using a good set of carpentry saws. I used wood glue and nails. It turned out to look about as you might expect.

What Is In These Books, Anyway?

Well, there are some pretty cool maps from my friend, Patrick.

You can click on any of these to open up a full-sized image as a separate page.

He also drew some of the places as Gerontius Took saw them.

Again, you can click on each one if you want to see a higher-resolution version.

There are also several drawings by my sweetheart of a wife, who can draw animals far better than I can. This is Hildigard, Gerontius' dog and fellow traveller.

There is also a starling, named 'Who', that accompanies a young hobbit-lass named Ricarda.

Also, in the later timeline of the Old Tooks' daughters, there is a crow named Tassel.

Speaking of Gerontius and Ricarda, the hobbits in the earlier timeline, here's my attempts at drawing them. Gerontius first, along with the photo I used as a model.

Ricarda, a hobbit-lass that Gerontius unexpectedly encounters along the way, and the reference.

So, How Did It Turn Out?

We started it on the train ride from Austin to St. Louis. We took the sleeper car, so we had a bit of privacy (although Cassandra had to put up with listening to me). Each chapter has four choices for the reader, and Juliet would choose one and I would read just that one outcome. So, approximately 3/4 of the 2nd person, path-you-chose text was unread in each chapter. We read about four chapters on the way north, three during our stay with friends in southern Illinois, and another four on the way back, leaving the final chapter for the day after our return.

One nice thing about reading your book to someone is that you get to hear the responses, sometimes, as she guessed (mostly correctly) at what was going on (but unstated). Also, the occasional chuckle or other emotional response generally said that we were at least approximately on target.

At the end, after trying every possibility, Juliet realized that there had to be another option than the ones she was seeing (none of which turned out well). At that point, I turned it over to her, and she started getting out her graph paper and pencil and making notes, looking for clues, etc. She continued for about half an hour or perhaps 45 minutes, after which it was getting late and her brain was getting tired. She had made some progress, and it was a delicate balance for me to sit nearby, mostly reading a different book quietly, not letting too much show in my facial expressions. I did at one point show her that the Goldogorin script was actually translated in one of the previous chapters' visuals, since she had started in on it under the assumption that it was a cipher, and I didn't want her to spend a couple hours trying that out and getting nowhere. Plus, it got across the idea that she would need to look back over the previous chapter volumes more carefully, which she started to do.

But, as I said, she started to get tired, and put her notes and the books down and went to bed. For the next couple weeks, they sat there on the kitchen table, untouched. Eventually, they were moved to her room. Will she ever pick them up again? Or is the main character, Donna, trapped forever in a hold state, without anyone to help her choose the path that leads to success? Only time will tell. That's the thing about writing a choose-your-path instead of a normal linear tale; you are leaving a lot more in the hands of the reader. It's a lot like the difference between parenting a 7-year old (when I began writing her the first book) and parenting a 14-year old.

Oh, Wait, One Last Thing

In case you're interested, here are the pdf's of the 12 chapters.

  1. chapter 01
  2. chapter 02
  3. chapter 03
  4. chapter 04
  5. chapter 05
  6. chapter 06
  7. chapter 07
  8. chapter 08
  9. chapter 09
  10. chapter 10
  11. chapter 11
  12. chapter 12

Just a note: for reasons which I do not choose to divulge, you might find at some point that you need a paper copy of each chapter, but not altogether in one binding. But you could probably read it electronically at first, if you felt like it.