Who'd have thought it.
Certainly not me 3 years ago, when I started plundering the recycling pile to make animals with the youngest. My husband had gone to Afghanistan for a year, I'd started blogging to give me a focus away from the endless routine; and making a menagerie of creatures to share online just sort of happened.
My daughter began putting in requests - for giraffes, elephants, hippos - then monkeys and flamingos, and it was a challenge, but I loved it. Slowly our zoo grew, and so did an idea.....
What about a book?
I've plenty of kids' craft books, there are hoards of brilliant ones out there, but not many, as far as I'm aware have a theme like a zoo. In my experience children like going with a theme and adding to a scene they can eventually play with. I've found it helps catch their imagination and their attention, which, quite frankly is key to crafting with kids because they get bored pretty quickly.
Well mine do, I've heard the sighs and seen the rolling of eyes when the cardboard and glue come out, but making the animals together was fun, it felt as if we were going somewhere. And because she was interested, my daughter came up with her own ideas, like making a turtle with a retractable head and putting the flamingo in an ice-cream lid pond.
The zoo also shows the enormous potential of everyday cardboard packaging - tubes, egg boxes, cereal boxes - stuff we all have that usually ends up in the recycling bin.
The fact you can make a whole zoo from these ordinary things has got to be appealing?
And, thankfully, it was. The lovely team at CICO Books took me on, and I embarked on one of the steepest learning curves of my life. Apart from having kids.
Truthfully none of this would have happened without the blog. It helped give me the push I needed to try new things and, importantly, see them through. It also gave me the confidence to take the next step, because I could see people were picking up my animals on sites like Pinterest and Facebook.
I had about 14 projects on the blog before I got the deal with CICO - and there are over 35 in the book, plus short, silly poems for each animal. I've been busy! All the original step-by-steps have been updated, and I've added birds, sea life, enclosures, trees and scenery. Even an aviary and an aquarium. I'm so pleased with how they've turned out.
Wherever your imagination takes you.
The book is packed full of pictures and easy to follow step-by-steps. There's plenty of scissor practice, sometimes a little challenging, so it's best for school age kids with adult help. Parents are always going to be the best judge of how much or low little cutting to let their kids do, but I've found the more you let them loose, the better they get. Some of the bits I thought my daughter would find hard, like making holes and cutting slots, were actually her favourite, once she'd got the hang of them.
I think one important thing I'd like to get across is, whatever you make will be your own unique creation. Working with recycling cardboard is not an exact science - packaging varies; sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Trust me, I know! So, this kind of crafting is about making the most of what you've got, adjusting and tinkering if you have to. Lots of room for artistic licence! Don't worry if they don't look exactly like the pictures; different is good - they are your animals with their own personalities.
And I'd love to see them! I've started a Facebook page called Make Your Own Zoo where I'll share ideas, and hope eventually people will post pictures of creatures they've made from the book or the blog.
That would be fantastic.