What luck! I got to interview Zoe of Playing by the book, a blog whose tag line is “Reviews of kids’ books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do.”
Her blog is sheer fun.
It’s packed with photos that capture the joy of reading, and it’s filled with fun activities and music linked to the books she and her daughters read together.
Here are my questions in italics and Zoe’s replies in standard font.
I really enjoyed getting to know Zoe and her blog–I think you will, too!
1. On your blog, you write about the books you and your daughters read together. As a child, what was your favorite book?
One of the earliest I loved was called “Flippy the Frog” by Ruth Ainsworth, illustrated by Ronald Ridout. I still have it now and have read it many times to my children. The illustrations are classic 1960s vintage and the words (sung to a little melody I assume my mum made up) continue to make me smile. “I’m flippy the frog and I live in a bog, I go hop hop hop and I never stop”… Later on I remember saving my money to buy the complete the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. I’ve recently re-read the series and still love it. Older still, I raced through The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper.
2. Which children’s books (for slightly older children) are you most eager to share with your daughters (and blog readers)?
I’m really looking forward to reading many of Phillip Pullman’s books with my girls – I think his storytelling is phenomenal. At the moment I’m reading The Dolls’ House by Rumer Godden with my eldest daughter and it will be great to read some of her other books – I have fond memories of Little Plum in particular. So far my blog has been very focussed on picture books – whether it will remain so as my kids get older, or whether it will turn into a place I review primarily chapter books I just don’t know.
3. Why did you decide to start blogging?
When my eldest started nursery there was a running joke with her nursery staff – M (my daughter) would turn up every day and refuse to acknowledge that her name was “M” – rather she was Gilbert, Alfie, or another character from one of the books we were currently reading. She just loved playing out the book and pretending to be the people she and I were reading about. M’s imaginative play soon became more involved and we were finding other ways to play out the books we were reading, taking inspiration from them to get crafty, messy and try new things. This was great for me as when I had first become a mum I felt quite unsure about how to play with my kids (I remember reading books like Games to Play with Babies by Jackie Silberg to give me ideas and confidence). Books did come to the rescue but not how I thought they would – although tomes like Silberg’s were a starting point it was really my eldest showing me she wanted to do more with a story than just read it that helped me learn to play. As we started doing more things I realised that I wanted to be able to remind myself of the play we were getting up to – I have a very poor memory and wanted to find some way to keep track of what we were getting up to. Thus Playing by the book was born, and now it’s hard to imagine life without it!
4. What do you look for in blogs that you enjoy reading?
A clear sense of a love for life, of passion whether that’s for books or play or food or whatever. I don’t tend to read confessional / diary style blogs but rather ones which can inspire me and get my head buzzing with ideas of things I want to do, read or make.
5. How many books do you read each year?
Kids’ books? It must be 300-400. But adult books? Well, here’s a confession. I’m not a great reader. To be honest, I have no time in the day to read for myself other than the paper, and by the time I’m in bed I’m so exhausted that often the most I’ll manage is to browse through a cook book for some ideas of what to put on the table the next day. In the past year I’ve averaged about a book a month, and most of them have been non-fiction, such as Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez or I Didn’t Do It For You: How the World Used and Abused a Small African Nation by Michela Wrong, although my biggest discovery was finally reading The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – a book that moved me immensely. I’m currently reading King Leopold’s Ghost: A story of greed, terror and heroism by Adam Hochschild
6. What book have you re-read the most times? (How many times?)
If we’re talking kids’ books then there are many that I’ve read what feels like THOUSANDS of times, such as any of the Richard Scarry books, and books by Shirley Hughes or Julia Donaldson. As for adult books I’m not sure there are any I’ve read more than once. I simply don’t like the experience – I have tried but when I start reading it everything comes back so vividly that there isn’t any fun in turning the pages for me. Also life is so short and there are so many worlds to explore in books out there that I’d like to read that it seems almost wrong to re-read a book, even if I know that re-reading a book now that I’m older and have had different experiences in life might give me new insights or pose new questions to me. I don’t know why it works like this with me – I love listening to music over and over again and becoming completely familiar with it, but somehow I don’t experience that same enjoyment with books. Do you (Unruly Reader) often re-read books?
UR: Yes, but for the reasons you mentioned (so many books, so little time!) I’m particular about what I re-read. If I re-read, usually it’s because I’m head over heels in love with a book.
7. Do you participate in any reading challenges?
No. I feel bad writing that, especially as I see how many you take part in! But “no” is definitely the honest answer. What’s the best challenge you’ve taken part in, Unruly?
UR: Zoe, I think you’ve actually created your own style of reading challenge: read a children’s book, create activities related to the book, and listen to music linked to the book. Then blog! It’s a genius construct. I’m completely new to challenges this year. The one I like best is the “U.S. Presidents Reading Project,” because it gives me a reason to read all those presidential biographies I adore.
8. What’s your favorite book written for adults that you’ve read in the past year?
Grapes of Wrath.
9. What are your top 5 favorite books of all time?
The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) – Honestly it really is one of my very favourite books! At university I studied Linguistics and I love words and seeing how they travel across languages and time. Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass If not now, when Primo Levi The collected works of Annie Proulx (this doesn’t actually exist, but it’s very hard to pick just one of her books!) What are your top 5?
UR: I love how you invented The Collected Works of Annie Proulx! I wholeheartedly support your fondness for the OED—there’s so much to like about it. My top 5 (and I’m cheating, because some of my top 5 materialized in the 8-books-that-represent-my-life-list you wonderfully requested) Peace Like a River by Leif Enger The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys by Michael Collins Jackie by Josie by Caroline Preston Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg
10. On your “About” page, you tell us you love dancing to good music in your kitchen. What are some of your favorite songs for kitchen-dancing?
Aah… well, most played at the moment is Travelin’ Band by Credence Clearwater Revival – both my girls go crazy for this one. Their second most requested song is Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash! When I’m tidying up the kitchen on my own however, I’ll dance to anything by Vampire Weekend or Mumford and Sons, although I also enjoy singing along to lots of country/folk music such as Coope Boyes & Simpson or Earl Scruggs.
Thank you, Zoe, for telling us about yourself, your reading, and your wonderful blog. Wishing you a wonderful Book Blogger Appreciation Week!