Make Better Poetry Chapbooks with This App

Girl holding notebook.

I made my own book using the app. Here it is.

Now that National Poetry Month is half over — and with the school year winding down, too — it’s a good time to think about ways to publish your students’ poems. Did you know students can make a professional book for around $8 using an app on their phones?

The app is Photobooks from Freeprints and, for the time and money involved, it offers a much better alternative than the Google Docs/Microsoft Word version I assigned last year (click here for that post).

Photobooks is a free app that creates a bound book using photos stored on a student’s smart phone.

Btw, I am not affiliated in any way with Freeprints — cue theme from Notting Hill — I’m just a teacher sitting in front of a computer trying to find a better way for students to make chapbooks. (In fact, Shutterfly or another vendor probably has a similar offering, but I’m familiar only with Freeprints.)

So, how did I discover Photobooks? I was already familiar with Freeprints and when I placed an order for their monthly deal of 85 free prints, I found out about their monthly deal of one free Photobook. I then created some books as mementos of my son’s wedding and college senior art show. As I thought about chapbooks and how to make them better for next time, it occurred to me that the Photobook concept might work for chapbooks as well.

To try out the app and to see how it would work for student chapbooks, I became my own guinea pig and made a chapbook using a collection of eighteen poems I wrote alongside my students in my poetry class at my previous school.

Here’s a photo of the cover of my Freeprints Photobook, which I titled, “Multiplicity.”

I picked “Multiplicity” as my title because the poetry in my book covers a lot of styles and genres, and I wanted to reflect that in a prominent way. After settling on the word “multiplicity,” I actually searched Unsplash using the keywords “multiplicity” and “multiples” and eventually settled on this photo of fluttering flags.

Here’s the thing: The Photobooks app works only with photos.

In other words, instead of typesetting like a conventional publisher would do, the entire book is a collection of photo files. Students take photos of their printed poems and then upload the photographed poems to the app. They should take care to center and align their poems within the frame of the photo, doing their best to avoid shadows and hot spots.

You may notice that in my book, some of the poems appear slightly crooked or wavy. That was to be expected, since I printed the poems on regular-weight copy paper and photographed them on my kitchen table under my dining room light. Students will likely have this same type of informal setup as well if they take their photographs on a desk or table or school or at home. Just have them do their best to have their poems appear as straight as possible on the page.

I decided to add photos to my book to accompany and/or illustrate my poems. I took some of these photos myself and found others on, a popular source for professional-quality copyright-free photography.

A quick tour of selected pages from my poetry chapbook:

I’m really happy with how my book turned out and I feel that this app offers an economical, yet professional, way for students to end the year with a tangible record of their creative poetic growth. There’s just something about having a printed book they can actually hold in their hands.

As you mull over whether Photobooks might work for your students, I’ve organized some more considerations below:

The Pros to Using Photobooks for Poetry Chapbooks

  • Low Cost: The books are free but do have a $7.99 shipping charge. What’s included at this level: a 6-inch by 6-inch square book, soft cover, twenty pages, plus lots of layout and color options (keep reading for those). Additional pages are 59 cents each. A hard cover costs $5 and is a larger size: 8-inch by 8-inch. For example, my Multiplicity book had a hard cover with 33 pages, and it cost $21.39 total. Here’s my invoice:

To keep a student’s cost to the minimum $7.99, have him or her select the basic twenty-page option. (Even better, keep in mind that one page can feature more than one photograph. See layout options below for more.)

  • Background Color and Pattern Choices: There are literally hundreds of color and/or pattern backgrounds that students can choose. I would definitely tell students to make sure their poetry is the star of the show because they wouldn’t want a busy palm leaf pattern, for example, distracting from their poetry. I chose a grey-beige solid background color for my book.
    • Students can also switch their photos to black-and-white.
    • They can also change the shape of their photos. See my round photo above. I turned this photo (found on Unsplash) into a round shape, so it would crop out bottles and spice containers that were on the countertop below the cabinets.
    • Layout options: Students are not limited to one photo in the center of the page. There are LOTS of choices. See my page above that contains three photos of Venice, Italy. (Btw, this page still counts as a single page even though it contains three photos.) You can also bleed your photos, which means that the photo will extend over the entire page. I used this layout on every other page for variety.
  • Size Options: There are three book sizes available: a square 6-inch by 6-inch (the free one), an 8-inch by 8-inch book ($5 more), and a rectangular 6-inch by 8-inch book (also $5). I’ve used both the square and rectangle shapes, but I like the square better.
  • Easy Editing and Book Previews: It’s easy to proof the books before ordering. Students will be able to move pages around, delete pages, add pages, and see EXACTLY what their book will look like before ordering.
  • Extra Books! Students can order additional books as gifts for the same cost each as their original book. Mother’s Day is right around the corner!
There are lots of color and pattern options for a student’s Photobook. Encourage students to choose a solid color so their poetry is the “star of the show.”

The Cons to Using Photobooks for Poetry Chapbooks

  • Shipping time: Plan for about 8-14 days to receive the books. Students can track their orders using the app.
  • Screen time: This is really the only thing I don’t like about the app: that it’s an app — LOL. I spent about three to four hours on my book over the course of a few days. It did kinda drive me crazy spending that much time on my phone, but I’m also really picky, and I wanted this book to be as perfect as I could make it. For a classroom setting, I would think about having students work on their books for thirty minutes max at a time. Making this a year-long project may allow students to work on their books a little chunk at a time.
  • As with any “free” app, the user is the product being sold. Students and parents should know that if they use Photobooks, their activity is being used in some way by the app’s maker.

What I’d Change on My Next Poetry Photobook

  • Make it more specific. I think it would be fun to create a book of poetry around a central theme, instead of my catch-all theme of “multiplicity.”
  • Put photo credits at the end. Perhaps put them in smaller type below the last poem, or even on their own last page.
  • Encourage students to include their photo near or on their bio page.
  • Add a photo to the back cover. That’s another cool option.
Marilyn Yung

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have questions about the app. I’ll do my best to clarify or edit this post if I’ve left something out. I hope you’ll consider this Photobooks idea if you assign poetry chapbooks to your students. Please let me know your experiences with the app if you decide to try it out. Use my Contact page to send a message.

I really think students will care more about their poems if they know that their work will eventually create a printed product. It’s an easy way to infuse some Project-Based Learning into ELA!

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Featured Photo Credit: Mikhail Nilov on

Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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