Sunday 22 January 2012

Inspiration Sunday - Interview with Zoe Toft

Inspiration Sunday  a regular post with interviews and guest posts by wonderfully inspiring people.

Today's interview is with Zoe from Playing By The Book, a blog I discovered and fell in love with a while ago now, I think it was the Barbapapa post that led me to the blog in the first place. Zoe takes a book and expands on it doing some great activities with her kids but not only that her blog is filled with interviews, recommendations, and lots of book related advice.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your family?
We are a family of four who...sing together every day, love to cycle (we don't own a car), need more bookshelves, have a penchant for banjo music, and are curious about the world. We also regularly grump, snap at each other, swear at the radio and eat dark chocolate.

What is it about books that find so important?
Can you imagine something that gives knowledge, helps foster understanding, makes you laugh, provides companionship, generates dreams, inspires imagination, provides answers, provokes questions, takes you out of yourself and into yourself, transports you to places you will never see, helps you see where you have been blind before, forms bonds between people, builds safe places and thrilling places and comforting places? What would that something look like? For me it looks like a book. Or better still, a library.

From reading your blog it looks like you manage to cram a lot of things in each day, realistically, how much time to you put into planning and executing each activity?
We do have days when we manage to do lots of things, and those days only go successfully when there has been some planning and preparation in advance. Quite a lot of the activities we do that you see on the blog have taken a while to form as a concrete plan - whilst sometimes I have creative bursts, normally my creative side needs time - time to mull things over and see what emerges. Actual time spent on a preparing a given activity wouldn't be that much - maybe on average 0-30 minutes - but all the background thinking might take place over weeks!

Where do you come up with your ideas, do you have a favourite go to website/blog?
The ideas typically come from the books themselves ie just immersing yourself in the book. If I get stuck for an idea, and if my girls don't have their own ideas then I turn both to the web and to craft books. My first port of call is always The Crafty Crow (for crafts/activities) and Zooglobble (for music). 

You are also a bilingual family (Dutch/English), can you tell us about the way you are raising the girls bilingually?
Yes, we're a bilingual family and it's very important to our family identity. Both my husband and I have a background in theoretical linguistics and so we'd read a lot of academic papers about bilingualism before the kids came along and it seemed completely natural to be bilingual in our home, though we didn't speak Dutch at home before the kids arrived. Yes OPOL (one parent one language) is the way we work 98% of the time. My husband speaks Dutch, I speak English. The kids speak a mixture at home, depending on who they are talking to and what the topic is.

You obviously love books, if you were to be cast away on a desert island, which 3 books would you want with you?
Shocking as it may seem I don't get a lot of enjoyment out of rereading novels unless years have gone by between reading, so I'd probably choose...
An atlas - not for practical purposes, but so I could dream. The Times Atlas is the one I'm most familiar with.
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary - a 2 volume treasure trove
A novel to totally lose myself in - perhaps Middlemarch by George Elliot, as I've not yet read it and it's a good hefty book!

How about the girls, which books would they pick?
I've just asked them and they said:
M (7)
Tonke Dragt De brief voor de koning (The Letter for the King). Unfortunately this has not been translated into English.
although it has won awards and Dragt is considered one of the very best children's authors in Dutch. It has been translated in to Japanese I believe...
Astrid Lindgren Ronia the Robber's Daughter (although M knows the Dutch translation rather than the English one)
Thea Beckman Kruistocht in spijkerbroek (Crusade in Jeans - it has been translated into English, and republished just recently)

But M didn't like choosing just 3 - she said it was impossible "There are so many great books Mum!"
J (3) would probably choose
You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart
Liedjes met en hoepeltje erom -  a book of songs every child in the Netherlands grows up knowing
There are Cats in this Book by Viviane Schwarz

As a book blogger, what do you enjoy most about the process?
It's very hard to pick just one thing!
I love the writing and editing and playing with words
I love the conversations that posts generate and the ideas that spin off into the universe as a result
I love how (for me) the blog makes it "legitimate" to be silly and creative and try new things.
What I find hardest about the process is reading emails/comments I get where I'm told how I've made someone feel inadequate as a parent, because they think they couldn't do what I do. Those comments always make me terribly sad, and have on occasion made me think twice about continuing with the blog.

Which has been your most popular blog post to date and which has been your favourite (if they are different)?
Month in month out the most highly viewed post is the one I wrote about Barbapapas! I did enjoy everything that went into that post but it's not in my personal top five. My top five might be:
Putting yourself in the shoes of your child learning to readA review that goes against the grain The ability of stories to transport usA love letter to Steve ColeThe best show in town this season

You have interviewed several authors and illustrators for the blog, is there any one interview that stands out as a favourite and why?
I was so very honoured when Jan Pienkowski agreed to an interview. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word and I am still amazed he spent so much time talking, via email, with me.

Is there an author past or present that you love to interview?
From the past, I'd particularly love to interview Primo Levi, CS Lewis, Leo Lionni, Astrid Lindgren and Ervin Lazar (a Hungarian author/illustrator). As to authors and illustrators who are alive now... there isn't anyone I wouldn't enjoy interviewing!

As a kid I loved Enid Blyton books and things like Malory Towers (stories about girls at boarding school who rode ponies and played lacross) and of course anything by Roald Dahl, how about yourself?
I don't have a great memory, and I certainly don't remember reading masses as a kid. I'm not one of these people that has always been a book worm. Hopefully that will give some people hope! I do remember enjoying Alan Garner, Ursula Le Guin and Penelope Lively though.

When you are net reading books or crafting what else do you like to do?
Cooking, fruit and veg gardening, and teaching myself the piano accordion

Clearly it is easier to engage a child in books and book based activities if the child has a love for books but what about those kids who just don't like books, do you have any advice for parents who want their kids to become more engaged with reading and books?

First I'd ask those parents to take an honest look at their own reading habits. Do they read? Do their kids get to see them reading? If they don't display a love of reading, then it will be much harder to get the kids' enthused about reading. So maybe the parents will have to change their behaviour...
But assuming the parents do love reading and the kids have easy access to reading material (even if this means a regular weekly visit to the library rather than lots of books/comics/newspapers around the home) then I think one single and simple thing that parents can do to enthuse and inspire their kids is to take them to see an author/illustrator live.
Whilst not all authors and illustrators are happy doing live performances, some were born to do so, and their enthusiasm and passion and joy and energy is likely to rub off on the kids in the audience.

All images © Zoe Toft, Playing By The Book.


  1. I love your creative ideas, Zoe! And I was touched by your sensitivity about parents' commenting that they feel inadequate. We all have our talents and they vary. My stepson is a PHD physicist and he gets sad when people say, "Oh I could never do that, " but that's just the way it is. We don't all have minds for complex math. I certainly don't, but I have other talents and I work to expand them. Parents set the best example for their children when they find what it is they do best and show a passion for it. Don't you feel bad about being passionate about what you do so well! Now, about those book-shaped ice cream sandwiches or cookies.... :-)

    1. You are so right, my talents lay in creating a creative mess not in having a spotlessly clean home lol.

    2. Creativity is more important. They can clean up after us when we're gone! Thanks for this wonderful interview.

  2. Thank you, Jo, for this wonderful interview!

  3. Thanks for asking me such good questions Jo! I had a fun time being interviewed.

    1. thank you for agreeing! and allowing me to be a nosy parker lol

  4. Very much agree with the last paragraph. Seeing Michael Rosen perform live was an inspiration for all of us - in fact it's what got me writing again after a long hiatus - and my children are constantly demanding that we watch YouTube clips of him performing.

  5. I love reading the words of one of my favorite bloggers in another fun space! Great interview!

  6. Thanks Elli, Stacey and Iza for your encouraging comments!

  7. Lovely! Thanks Jojoebi! Many questions I've been meaning to ask Zoe but never got around to! Some day i hoep to meet her in person!

    Loved her answer about what books can do.

    Pippa Goodhart's You Choose is all-time favourite with my (now) 6-year old too. It is easily the most read book in our house - for the last 4 years. Still likes to browse through it, especially with the grandparents.

    Message to Zoe: Please do not even say you'll stop blogging!!! You *are* a great parent and yes I cannot do what you do (or what Jojoebi does) but hey you guys sometimes manage to shake my laziness away! Plus these days I look at a new book and find myself thinking what Zoe would do with it!

    Last of all: Jojoebi, been meaning to tell you this- my 6-year old loves Rumer Godden's Miss Happiness and Miss flower as well as Little Plum - thought they'd be much appreciated by Ebikun especially because of the Japanese dolls and such.
    We have very close friends from London who have now moved to Tokyo, they are also English-Japanese family and we have learnt many things about Japan from them. So regularly lurk around your blog :)

    Long comment!

    1. I will have too look those ones up! Thank you for taking the time to reply :o)

    2. Thanks Choxbox for your lovely comment - it's put a smile on my face :-)

  8. What a fab interview. I first started reading Playing by the Book about 18 months ago, through a link from your blog. This introduction to the kidlitosphere couldn't have come at a better time or to a better person. Nice to learn more about the woman behind the blog!

    1. Glad to have you as part of the Playing by the book community - I always appreciate your comments!


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