Described as the “Best British Children’s Literature Blog” by the School Library Journal, an online magazine for American Libraries, Playingbythebook.net is written by Zoe Toft. The 37-year-old mother from the UK is a trained linguist and a self-confessed lover of dictionaries. She reviews picture books with her children, and, interestingly, builds each review around an activity inspired by the book. For instance, when Toft reviewed my book, Nonie’s Magic Quilt, she merged it with a description of making a quilt for her daughter.
In 2010, Toft had an unusual idea. “We love receiving ‘proper’ mail, and wanted to participate in a postcard swap,” she says. “There were many swaps, but none that the kids could enjoy. So I thought up a swap where every postcard would include a children’s book recommendation, because sharing a favourite book is a concrete way of making a connection. I hope to hold the swap every year.”
The swap is structured so that each family sends postcards to five families across the world. In turn, they receive postcards from five different families (not the ones they sent postcards to). The postcard can be printed or drawn, with a note recommending a favourite book. Toft says, “You can suggest the same book to all the families or—ideally—a different book to each.”
Toft’s first postcard swap brought together over 250 families from far-flung places: Alaska, Argentina, Brunei, Bulgaria, Israel, Marshall Islands, Pakistan and Poland. “The toughest part is pairing up people, making sure everyone receives families from five different countries, with children of similar ages. The reward is hearing about the little connections they make.” After the 2010 swap, many families went on to become penpals.
During the swap, Toft “met” many people, including Sandhya L., a Bangalore-based writer for Saffrontree.org. Sandhya’s family sent cards to the UK, US, Singapore and Spain. Her daughter “was delighted to receive letters addressed to her. One came from the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean!”
Another new friend was homeschooling mom Bronwyn Lavery of Christchurch, New Zealand. Lavery says, “I set up a world map, marking the locations of families we connected with.”
To participate, email email@example.com. The last date to register is 17 May.