Family Book Festival

Family Book Festival: Zoe Toft and the Barbapapa Books

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Welcome everybody to our first day of The Family Book Festival!

Festival of Book

We’re chasing away the doldrums of winter by jumping into the favorite books of our author, illustrator, blogger friends.

Today I’m happy to introduce you to one of my first Kid Lit blogger friends Zoe Toft.


Zoe and I share a passion about bring books alive for our children. Living in the UK, Zoe blogs at Playing by the Book. As well as creating wonderful book adventures Zoe is also a champion for global literacy. Every year she puts out an incredible list of charitable book and literacy projects, letting us know where our support is most needed. Currently she serves as the National Executive, Federation of Children’s Book Groups in the UK.

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Our Family Book Festival has been a great opportunity for me to get to know more about Zoe and some similar things we share in common like our love of Laura Ingalls Wilder as children and that both of our families are OPOL. Read more to find out what that means .

What was your favorite book(s) growing up?

I was not a voracious reader as a child. I did read, and one of my earliest book memories is saving up enough pocket money to buy each successive Laura Ingalls Wilder book. But if I’m totally honest, the books I remember giving me the greatest, delicious and illicit escape were trashy novels I read as a teenager when I needed a break from studying.

These books, by a disgraced former UK Member of Parliament, Jeffrey Archer, make me cringe with embarrassment now, but I tell this story for two reasons. For a start, just because your kid is not a bookworm now, it doesn’t meant they won’t become passionate about books later on in life.

And if your child is reading, even if the books she chooses cause you to despair, please let her continue to read what she chooses. Maybe it isn’t high literature, maybe it’s about topics that make you feel uneasy as a parent, but if your child has chosen it, it has meaning for your child. All reading, in my book, is good reading.

Does your family have a favorite book everyone likes to read together?
As an OPOL bilingual family (where One Parent speaks One Language, and the other speaks a second language nearly all the time), we don’t often share books as a family at the same time. What happens quite a lot is a book is read by one parent to the children in one language, and then the other parent reads it in translation. Books read in this way, that have become part of our family fabric include Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, and all the Pippi Longstocking books by Astrid Lindgren, Momo, and Krabat by Ottfried Preussler, Crusade in Jeans by Thea Beckman and Children on the Oregon Trail by A Rutgers van der Loeff.



Zoe’s Family Book Festival Choice:

A series of books that we all adore, that both parents read as children and that we now both read to our kids, are the Barbapapa books by Annette Tison and Talus Taylor. These are firm family favourites because they are such fun, and also because they express values that matter a great deal to us; the importance of being environmentally aware, and the need and joy which comes from being creative and working together as a community.

FBF Zoe Toft

In the past we’ve made a Barbapapa dollshouse and set of dolls out of modelling clay ( but in some ways the activity that goes best with these wonderful books is making a set of Barbapapas out of playdough. Afterall, Barbabpapas can change their form into anything, and this is exactly what playdough is good for .

Here’s our recipe for homemade playdough, to create enough for an entire Barbabpapa family.

In a large bowl mix the following together:

4 cups flour,
2 cups salt,
4 tablespoons vegetable oil,
4 tablespoons cream of tartar

Now boil the kettle and pour 4 cups of the water into your mixture and stir to combine. Finally, knead the dough to a smooth consistency.

I suggest making one big uncoloured batch, and then dividing it into 9 balls. Each ball can then be dyed by kneading in food colouring to match the colours of the various Barbapapas. I recommend using gel (rather than liquid) food colouring so that the dough doesn’t become any stickier when you add the food colouring.

FBF Zoe Toft 3

Here are our Barbapapas enjoying reading about themselves.

FBF Zoe Toft 2

Enjoy your reading and play fun!

Zoe Toft  Zoe loves bringing books to life through play as documented at her blog She get particularly excited by edible books and books in translation. She runs regular story+craft activities at two local schools and sits on the board of UK charity which promotes reading for pleasure for children. Her two favourite books so far in 2013 are The Snow Merchant by Sam Gayton and Findus Moves Out by Sven Nordqvist. When she’s not doing something related to books she’s learning how to play the accordion.
National Executive, Federation of Children’s Book Groups
Connect with Zoe on Twitter

5 thoughts on “Family Book Festival: Zoe Toft and the Barbapapa Books

  1. What a fabulous idea. Lovely feature from Playing by the book too-I get inspired almost every time I read a post by Zoe! Great to discover your site too, I shall enjoy taking a closer peek, thanks.

  2. I had no idea that we are an OPOL family too – I had never seen that acronym before.

    I read the Babapapa books as a child but I have forgotten all the stories. I don’t remember them being environmentally friendly which is a great theme to introduce through picture books. Will be adding them to the wishlist 🙂

  3. Such a joy to read this lovely interview with Zoe, whose Playing by the Book is a wonderful and inspirational resource. Thank you. I was especially interested to read that her family makes a point ofsharing the same book in different languages. Thank you for sharing with #DiverseKidLit

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