For some women, motherhood comes as a shock. Zoe Toft was one of those women. Having spent much of her working life in universities, working with technology, being faced with entertaining a baby all day was something of a challenge.
Fortunately, Zoe soon discovered that she was able to share her passion for books with her two young children. The results are captured on Playing by the Book, a treasury of book reviews and book-related play ideas for babies and children.
"Initially, I wrote the blog just for me, as a way to remember the things I did with the children, because I have a terrible memory," says Zoe. "I could have written a diary but a blog allowed me to include pictures and to be a bit more creative."
Since July 2009, Zoe has published book reviews and play ideas on her blog, and readers can now go and browse for books on virtually any subject under the sun, from Iceland to ballet and toilet matters.
There's also advice and support for parents who want their children to love reading.
What you won't find on Playing by the Book are reviews of the typical toddler books featuring TV characters. "I love books that capture children's imaginations and try to feature books that are a little more unusual, and take you to places you might not have imagined," says Zoe.
"There's this whole world out there that's exciting, and once you start sharing those stories with your children, they travel with them to all sorts of places and learn lessons from the books for their real lives."
That's not to say that children's books shouldn't be lots of fun – one of Zoe's favourite recent discoveries was Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants, guaranteed to reduce most children to helpless giggles.
Playing by the Book is now one of the UK's top parenting blogs with tens of thousands of readers a month.
Zoe loves interacting with her readers and it's now one of her favourite things about blogging. "In the early days, I didn't even reply to comments. Can you imagine?" she says. "But now, community is such an important part of what I do, and gives me such a lot of satisfaction."
From time to time, Zoe will run a special feature or competition on her blog. At the moment, readers have the chance to win an original drawing by Emma Chichester Clark, one of the UK's best-loved children's illustrator authors. All you have to do is make a cake, inspired by a children's book. The Edible Book Food Festival is perhaps Zoe's biggest competition to date, and there are some brilliant entries already.
Blogging is entirely a hobby for Zoe, and she has no plans to 'commercialise' her family record, but that's not to say Playing by the Book isn't very important to Zoe and her family. "Parenting can be lonely at times, and I value the friends I've made through the blog enormously, as well as the immense satisfaction there is from hitting publish and knowing I've created something," she says.
Ultimately, Zoe believes that Playing by the Book has made her a better parent.
I'm always looking for fun material for the blog, and that means we do fun things as a family. It's a virtual circle. And of course, on those days when I feel like a rubbish mum, I can look at the blog and think, no, we have a lot of fun together.
Suggest a correction
Twitter.com/playbythebook: I am new to Twitter but I find it a great deal of fun, and the best place to find out about new books.
www.zooglobble.com: This is a wonderful site for children's music.
www.soulemama.com: A truly beautiful and inspirational blog.
www.abebooks.co.uk: I try not to buy books, and use the library wherever possible. If I'm buying books online this is a great site for second hand books.
www.guardian.co.uk/books: This is daily reading for me, I love to read about new books, although I put more stock in personal recommendations.
www.thebookpeople.co.uk: A great resource for cheap books, especially if buying sets of books for children.
bloesem.blogs.com/bloesem: A wonderful place for getting inspiration about nice things I'd like to have in my home.
www.bergerandwyse.com/blog/: The best place to make me laugh, as it features all the Berger and Wyse cartoons.
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