BBAW Interview Swap, featuring Zoe of Playing by the Book!

I was tickled pink to be paired with Zoe of Playing by the Book for the BBAW interview swap--I've been reading her blog for over a year with great enjoyment (her Reading Around Europe series, in particular, is delightful) and it was lovely to have the chance to get to know her better!
Question 1:
Me: What is the UK children's book blog scene like? Yours is the only UK blog that I know of that focus on books for younger children--are there others that you'd recommend?

Zoe: It has to be said that the UK children's book blog scene doesn't do justice to the brilliant children's books that come out of the UK - there are very few bloggers dedicated to reviewing children's literature and book illustration and I think this is partly because technology doesn't play the same role in UK families as I believe it does in the US. I know only a single parent who owns an iPad (and that's largely due to the fact that she is a librarian specializing in electronic book resources). Indeed families who don't even have a computer are much more common in my circle of friends and acquaintances.

I am a loyal follower of Library Mice and Fantastic Reads, two UK based children's literature blogs which I wholeheartedly recommend.

Me: I will definitely check these out! Thanks!

Question 2:
Me: Have you ever had a chance to get together in real life with other children's book bloggers?

Zoe: I have met up on a couple of occasions with Ali, who writes Fantastic Reads, but other than that, unfortunately not. I've met more children's authors and illustrators than I have bloggers! Every year I look at the Kidlitosphere conference and day dream about living a parallel life where I might attend it.

Me: I wanted to go to this year's conference so badly...but it just wasn't possible.

Zoe: I'm hoping that next year I'll find a way to attend the annual conference held by the Federation of Children's Book Groups. This isn't for bloggers, but it's a great place to meet other adults passionate about children's books.

Me: Meeting other adults passionate about children's books is one of the great pleasures in life! I hope you get to go.

Question 3:
Me: Has blogging changed your relationship with books for your kids?

Zoe: Blogging has enabled books to be almost the life blood in our family. Of course we've always loved books, but now we receive so many for review and I do all sorts of other book related activities, at least half linked to the blog (such as running Book Week at my daughters' school, or attending the Just So Festival [one of Zoe's pictures of this event is shown below] which has many authors and illustrators attending each year) books really are everywhere in our lives and this makes me very happy.

It gives us a very rich life.

Me: And just as a little side question to this--do your children know about the blogging part of your life? And another related question-- Do you think that as your children get older, the age level of books you review will also change?

Zoe: Yes, my eldest (who is 6) does know about the blogging. In fact it was very interesting to overhear her recently introducing our family to the family on the neighbouring allotment plot who we were meeting for the first time. My eldest said "My mummy reviews books. She writes a blog about books and then tweets and emails lots about them". I was quite taken aback by how succinctly she put it all! I'm not quite sure what our new neighbour made of it...

As to how Playing by the Book will evolve as my kids get older I can imagine that there will be more reviews of chapter books, but I can't ever imagine leaving the world of picture books behind. I love illustrated books, I love the art, the beauty they bring into our home. So it may be that my blog will stay primarily a place to celebrate picture books - come and visit me in a year or two years and we'll see how we're getting on!

Will do!

Question 4. Me: I'm assuming you are the English half of your family, and your husband the Dutch half. Did you read Enid Blyton as a child? Are there any of her books that you'd actively offer to your own children? (I loved the school stories, myself....)

Zoe: Yes I'm the English half (though I'd never identify myself as English unless pushed, having been born in Zambia and lived a lot of my life in Scotland as well as elsewhere in the world).

Yep, I went through a stage of reading lots of Famous Five and Secret Seven, though looking back now I don't feel so especially fond of Blyton apart from the description of tables groaning with food. I'm sure I'll suggest them to my kids as I know how wonderful it feels to know there are lots and lots AND lots of books by the same author to read if you get hooked on that particular author (my eldest is currently going through a Steve Cole phase and it makes her so happy to know that there are many more books out there by him to read). I'm not worried about Blyton's books perhaps being a little "dated" (for want of a better word) - all books are written in a certain context they are bound to reflect, and learning about that is important. I don't think I'll be offering my kids the updated versions of Blyton - it doesn't seem right to me. Just this weekend we listened to a new audio version of Dahl's Matilda which had been updated to make references to Lady Gaga and so on [me--yoiks!] and in doing so I found it lost a lot of its charm and appropriate innocence. It was too "knowing" and "clever", definitely not an improvement or any more intelligible/accessible than the original version.

Me: And with regard to the Dutch side of things, have you read the Dikkie Dik books? We find them awfully charming!

Zoe: Aah Dikkie Dik. Yes, he's adored in this home, especially one story we have where he pees in a plant pot :-)

Me: I like that one too!

Zoe: I wish Dikkie Dik was as well known as those other Dutch characters, Miffy (Dick Bruna) and Frog (Max Velthuijs).

Me: Max Velthuijs seems to be pretty much out of print here, which is too bad. My favorite translated Dutch books are those of Toon Tellegen, illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg. I love them!

Question 5:

Me: Do you have a mental list of books your children must read before they are twelve? Have you ever put off reading them a book you love because you are anxious that they might not like it? (although your children are younger than mine, so there is still lots of time for you....)

Zoe: I don't have a very clear list, if I have one at all. There are of course books I enjoyed as a child which I hope to share with my children. I'm really hoping that I'll be able to read them as bedtime books (even as the children get older) and so the experience will be really one of sharing. These books include the Little House series, the Narnia books, and books by Ursula le Guin and Alan Garner. But I'm also aware there are so many books out there that I didn't read as a child, that I don't necessarily even know about yet so I'm very open to lots of new discoveries (for all of us). I'm continually learning more about great Dutch children's literature (of which there is a lot, but sadly a very small percentage is translated into English) and I know my husband has just as many books he wants to share with my kids as I do.

I guess I'm saying that in general I don't think there are any books my children "must" read before a certain age. I'm a great believer in free choice when it comes to reading for pleasure (although I'll certainly make sure opportunities to read brilliant books abound).

I don't think I'm worried about my girls having different preferences when it comes to favourite books (but I have yet to experience a situation where they do feel very differently about a book that I care about, so I reserve the right to change my mind!). What matters to me is that they become passionate readers, that they find books, authors, illustrators that they want to read and read again, whoever they are.

Question 6.
I have two boys, you have two girls....any thoughts on gender stereotypes and children's books? Are they attracted to pink books?

Zoe: My eldest adores books about Greek Gods, Dinosaurs and Vikings so I don't think she's (yet) attracted to pink books. It's probably fair to say I have made a very conscious effort to avoid bringing them into the home (as I have with pink clothes) as I want don't want her to start feeling already at the age of 6 that she has to dress in a certain way or do certain things because she happens to be female. My youngest adores any book I'll read to her so she too seems to so far be escaping the worst of the pink curse. And I call it a pink curse as I don't want either of my daughters to start thinking that there are books for particular groups to the exclusion of others. Now my eldest is beginning to enjoy picking her own reading books I'm sure she'll stumble across pink books before too long, but I'll always make sure there's a good supply of other books to entice her too!

Although some of M's favourite topics aren't what you'd call girly, my eldest loves stories with really strong girl characters, such as Ronia in Ronia the Robber's Daughter by Astrid Lindgren, or Quenelda in the books by Lucinda Hare. She'll spend days believing she is Ronia or Quenelda. If a story doesn't have a strong female lead (such as the Astrosaurs books she's currently devouring), then she just pretends she's the female twin of the lead character.

Question 7.
Me: What books did you read for pleasure when you were a teenager? I know quite a bit about early to mid 20th-centuryBritish school stories, and a decent amount about British children's books, but almost nothing about late 20th- century British "young adult" books.....

Zoe: (1) I have a terrible memory and (2) as a teenager I was keen on studying hard and these things combined mean I don't remember reading a great deal purely for pleasure as a teenager. I did lots of school projects (not related to English, but rather Geography or History) and played a lot of piano and flute but I was certainly not a book worm. What I do remember reading as a teenager is quite a few Jeffrey Archer books. A very shameful admission, but there you go!

Question 8.
In your first post, you stated that your blog would focus on "kids’ activities based on our favourite children’s books. I intend to review the books we’re reading and then document the crazy stuff the books inspire us to do." You still do a lot of this--but how do you feel your blog changed since 2009, and what sort of posts do you most enjoy writing these days?

Zoe: As I've become more established I've made more links with authors, illustrators and publishers and this has enabled me to do more than simply review books on the blog - I now interview authors and illustrators quite regularly and share book related news. I hope it makes for a richer blog! I still see the core content of my blog being (picture) book reviews accompanied by play inspired by the book in question. These posts are the ones which give me the greatest pleasure, although each takes much longer to prepare and write than any of the other sorts of posts I do.

Question 9.
Me: If you could visit one book related place anywhere in this world (past or present) where would it be?

Zoe: Ooh Charlotte, how long have you got? Although I'm not religious I'd love tovisit the monks who made illuminated manuscripts such as the Lindisfarne gospels and watch them at work (if you and your kids don't know the wonderful film The Secret of Kells I can highly recommend it. I'd love to visit any ancient/historical society where writing was still something highly specialised and treasured - writing papyri in an Egyption court or carving runes in a viking settlement for example. These societies would still have had many great oral storytellers too and I'd love to have sat around fires listening to their stories.

In the modern world I'd love to visit and of the kidlit destinations in Sweden I described in this post of mine. I love Swedish children's literature and could have so much fun in Astrid Lindgren's World [shown at right] or Junibacken.

Three places that I might actually get to visit relatively soon are Seven Stories in Newcastle, this bookshop in Maastricht and the Children's literature museum in The Hague. In my dreams I work for Seven Stories, helping them create their exhibitions. As to the bookshop I could probably spend several days there if given half the chance, popping out just occasionally for a coffee and a sticky bun.

It's such a great question Charlotte! Where would you like to go?

Me: I think I would like to go to Moomin World in Finland!

Thanks so much, Zoe, for being my inteview buddy! Zoe's questions for me can be found at her blog, here.


  1. I love the images you found to illustrate the interview! Ever since you posed the question I've been day dreaming about the bookish destination I'd travel to - that question really caught my imagination :-)

  2. Fantastic interview! I've only just "met" Zoe and her blog and this interview manages to bring out so much interesting information! Well done, both of you.

  3. Thanks, Zoe!

    and thanks for stopping by, We read it like this! Zoe's blog is a lovely one.

  4. How interesting to get a glimpse inside a UK kitlit blog! I wasn't familiar with the scene, but i'll definitely check it out now.

  5. I've been following Zoe's blog for quite some time now and it just keeps getting better. I'm very interested to see how her blog evolves as her children grow older. I'm so glad she takes the time to put her play inspired book posts together even if they do take more time. I very much enjoy seeing how other parents integrate books into family life.

  6. Zoe, your blog sounds fascinating. I'll be checking it out.

    Thanks ladies for the interview. :)

  7. Thanks Memory, Janelle and Bea for the positive vibes :-) You're always welcome at Playing by the book.

  8. Zoe, thanks as always for your support of Fantastic Reads, and thank you for introducing me to Charlotte's Library!

  9. And thank you, Ali, for stopping by, and you too, Zoe, for introducing me to Fantastic Reads!


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