100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

Extreme Library Makeover: Seating Edition

We did something cool in my 3rd and 4th grade library. And by “we” I mean “mostly not me” – all credit for this project goes to library assistant Nancy and aides Tina and Mary. I helped, but they had the vision and the painting skills.

About a year or so ago my school district was giving away some of the furniture from recent renovations – including some 70s era folding auditorium seats. We snatched up a batch of them (batch = seven), with our minds set on painting book characters on them. This led to a few questions:

  1. Which characters?
  2. How do we paint them?
  3. How do we install the seats when they’re finished?

Question 1: Which Characters?

This part was tricky. We wanted characters that worked for boys and girls, so that everyone felt comfortable sitting in any chair. We wanted some classic characters that aren’t lame, and some new characters with fairly stable popularity. We settled on:

  • Cat in the Hat (younger than this age range, but if I know one thing, it’s that the Cat can hang with  any crowd)
  • Bad Kitty (kind of a new one. I see these books sticking around for a bit. Note to Nick Bruel: keep writing them)
  • Judy Moody
  • Wimpy Kid (impossible to deny this one)
  • Harry Potter
  • Captain Underpants
  • Spiderwick Chronicles (this book is part of our Battle of the Books competition, so kids are very familiar)
  • Goosebumps (kickin’ it old school! Spooky is always a crowd-pleaser, and the Goosebumps books still circulate like crazy at this school)
  • Thing 1 and Thing 2 (why not?)

Why nine if there were only seven seats? Two of them had end pieces on the sides, which allowed for a couple bonus characters.

Question 2: How Do We Paint Them?

Characters determined, it was time to get them on the chairs. We turned images of the characters into transparencies (you can do this on most standard copy machines), slapped them on an overhead projector, and got to work tracing. I like the idea of calling upon a nearly obsolete technology for one last job. We made a projector very happy in the twilight of its life.

Once we had the outlines drawn, out came the acrylic paints. Nancy, Tina, and Mary worked wonders here, beautifully recreating the book covers (and in the case of the Wimpy Kid chair, adding a “five books in one” twist).

When the painting was finished, we coated them with a clear acrylic spray a whole bunch of times to prevent chipping. More in-progress photos:

Question 3: How Do We Install the Seats?

Before making these things permanent, we had to decide on the configuration – we toyed with a few different arrangements

We tried a circular organization, but it seemed to block traffic too much. We ended up with chairs against the wall and rounding a corner.

We had them bolted to the floor. This took some convincing, but was the best way to go.

Now any self-respecting home design blog would have a beautiful before and after shot. This is not a self-respecting design blog. So what you have is many after shots. Trust me – better than the before. Students approve.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. I am FREAKING out over those chairs! I love them! You guys are geniuses!

  2. This is VERY cool! I love it! Well done to everyone involved!

  3. Elizabeth says

    Love it! Thank you for sharing!

  4. These are Great! Really impressive.

  5. Well done, thoroughly impressed!! (Slightly jealous as well to be honest.)

  6. Absolutely brilliant, and you have some amazingly talented staff!

  7. These look wonderful! A perfect addition to any library!

  8. Kelly Ramsdell Fineman says

    SO. GREAT!!!!

  9. Brilliant idea. Great job.

  10. So. cool.

  11. Awesome! Love it and I can tell your patrons do too. =)

  12. Awesome idea and fabulous painting! I really enjoyed seeing all the pictures.

  13. Those are Utterly Amazing!!!!

  14. Deb Bonner says

    Did you have to get permission from the publishers/authors/illustrators to be in compliance with copyright law? How did you go about doing this, just want to know in case others may want to do this project too.

    • Travis Jonker says

      Hi Deb – I would argue that our little DIY project falls under fair use protection, as it is for nonprofit educational purposes. This may not be the case in a public library. I’m going to check with my fair use guru to find out more on this.

  15. I echo the comments and appreciate the detailed pictures AND how-to’s!

  16. Ahh-MAH-zing!! Lucky kids!

  17. Wow, those are freakin’ amazing! I am sure they took a ton of work. Your school is so lucky to have your team! Please come to my school! We need cool stuff too!

  18. How beautiful! Kids would be excited seeing these chairs in your library. Hard work, but it is surely worth it.

  19. Beautiful!! Well done. What a welcoming corner you have now.

    I too would be interested in the answer re fair use.