Hi, I’m Danni, founder of ZaZa’s Storybox and Mummy to two beautiful children, Zara and Ashton. Also wife, cleaner, chef, entertainer, storyteller, businesswoman, personal shopper…this list goes on! Through our Storybox subscriptions, I am on a mission to inspire more families to read to their little ones – it really is fundamental to the development of little ones. With more and more screen time creeping in, it is really important to go back to basics, pick up a book, and read aloud together. Before starting ZaZa’s Storybox I worked as a Business Manager to an Operations Director and various roles in Project Management, I absolutely loved these jobs having a role to play in a huge variety of areas within the business. It has really given me the foundations to be able to set up my business but it has also been a huge learning curve! I set up my business after choosing not to go back into a demanding 9-5 role and wanting to do something that allowed me to be at home with my little ones. It was my daughter’s love of books that inspired me to set up the business and I set it up during her nap times…I then launched my business 6 weeks before giving birth to my little boy…someone once told me there’s never the ‘perfect’ time to launch your own business so I just took the plunge knowing it would take time to embed and I could still enjoy time with my children before they start school.
Tell us about Zaza’s Storybox, how it works, and the benefits of subscribing to the service…
ZaZa’s Storybox is a subscription box service delivering Storyboxes full of beautiful books and toys to families once a month. We currently cater for babies and toddlers up to the age of two years of age and all our books are either cloth, bath, or board books – we do not include any paperback books so you can be safe in the knowledge that they will withstand busy little hands! Each Storybox is beautifully packaged, themed, and curated to the exact age of your little one. Little ones change and develop so much that it is important the right books are chosen to encourage their love of books. ZaZa’s Storybox takes the hassle out of knowing what is suitable for your little one’s age, saves you visiting a bookstore with a busy toddler or newborn baby, and gives you the perfect variety of books to build your little ones first library.
What inspired you to begin Zaza’s Storybox?
My daughter, Zara, inspired me to set up ZaZa’s Storybox – all her little friends call her ‘ZaZa’ hence the name of the business. We read to Zara from an early age and could really see the benefits of all the books we had read in her development. The more research I did into the benefits of reading to children, right from when they are born, and even whilst you are pregnant was absolutely amazing. Alongside this, the statistics about how many children are not read to or do not have books in their home really saddened me and I was determined to make a difference to these sad statistics getting families reading to their little people.
Do you work from home on your business?
Yes, I work from home which isn’t easy with a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old. I make the most of nap times and evenings!
If yes how do you juggle working from home with small children, is there a clever routine that you’ve sussed out, especially when juggling work and pre-schoolers?
The thing with kids is that as soon as you suss out a routine, something changes! I used to work really well when my daughter had epic 3-hour naps throughout the day but since welcoming our little boy and Zara dropping her naps it is a juggling act more than ever! I have to make the most of the evenings as I don’t want to jeopardise quality time with my little ones. I have a pretty big list of ideas for the business, but for now, it is about building the foundations of my business, and a loyal customer base so that when the children are at school I have something that I can really drive forward.
Do you use any online platforms to link through to your website?
We notice that the subscription boxes are for children 0-2 years of age. Will you extend the range to older children at some point?
I’d absolutely love to and it is something our subscribers ask us all the time when they reach the end of their subscription. Right now, it is about focusing on those precious early years where it really is fundamental to set the foundations of their development through reading. When I have more time on my hands, I’ll definitely look at venturing out to other age groups.
Do you think it’s more difficult for working Mums to juggle work and family life, more difficult for Dads, or equal when compared?
When I read these questions out to my husband, his instant response was ‘for Mum’s’ which is what I was thinking but I was a little nervous about saying it! I think in most situations, it is the Mum that takes on the role of carrying the mental load when it comes to running the family household such as meal plans, kids clubs, washing/ironing, cleaning and thinking ahead to making sure everyone is happy etc. so when you throw into the mix running your own business, it really is a juggling act. I know things are changing and there are a growing number of families where the parents have an equal responsibility but for me (and many others that I know) it is trickier for Mums but equally, we wouldn’t have it any other way in terms of the role we play in our families.
What would you say to working parents who feel they don’t have time to read to their children?
There is always time to read to your little one! For parents that work abroad a lot, why not try a FaceTime call where you read your little one a bedtime story? If you are in the car on your way to ballet or football practice, make up a story or go back to some of the classics such as The Three Little Pigs or Red Riding Hood. They are simple stories that are easy to recall but your little one will enjoy over and over again and will even enjoy the change of environment for a story. Just listening to your voice will really help their language development. Have an ‘activity bag’ of things to do when you are out and about that has some books in it, so whilst you are waiting for a meal to arrive in a restaurant, you can read a book together. The opportunities for reading together are endless, you just need to be a little more creative if you are a busy working parent. Books are not just for bedtime, try incorporating them into your everyday life if you can’t carve out a specific time to sit down and read together every day.
What would be your one key piece of advice to any parents wanting to start a business and juggle family life at the same time?
Do not put too much pressure on yourself. Family life is a juggle on its own and will pull you in so many different directions so my one piece of advice, (which I need to listen to more often myself!) is to be patient. Things will take a little longer than you anticipated, but always remember your business will always be there to come back to but your children are only little once and that time really does go in the blink of an eye.
What have been your biggest challenges with being a Mum and starting a business?
Time. Often by the time the evening comes, you are mentally and physically exhausted to be able to do what you wanted for your business. I guess it makes me more focussed in a sense because you have very little time to do a task so you have to sit down and just get on with it, there is no time for procrastination! I have so many ideas that I just want to be able to get out there ’right now’ but being a Mum comes first and my ideas will have to wait but I always worry that someone else is going to get there before me!
When on the road (holidays or travel) what key items would you choose to take to keep little ones entertained?
Books obviously! Books offer so much play potential beyond reading and there are a huge variety of activity books on the market these days such as sticker books, water painting, wipe and clean books, etc. that are easy to pack and will stimulate your little one for a long time. Healthy snacks are also important because the right nutrition is key in supporting concentration levels. On really long journeys such as long-haul flights, don’t feel guilty for a little screen time, it is hard for us as adults to sit in one place for such a long period of time and even harder for your little one!
You offer a variety of books in your subscription boxes, will there be a Zaza book one day in the Zaza Story Box offering?
Oh, I would love this! It is one of those things on my ideas list but it requires a considerable amount of time, something I don’t have at the moment but watch this space, you never know what I might be able to juggle!
If yes, what would the books be about?
I have a few ideas, I think we would have to bring the fox I use in the ZaZa’s Storybox logo to life!
What advice could you offer parents who can’t read to their children for whatever reason, (never learned or have a visual impairment or another reason); how could they still be involved in Zaza’s Storybox?
Do you offer audiobooks or will these be available in the future?
This isn’t something we offer at the moment, and to be honest, I’m not sure it is something I see us looking into any time soon. Our focus is on babies and toddlers and they really benefit from that one on one time spent with their loved ones reading aloud and reading together. Little ones, particularly babies love the familiarity of the voices they recognise and the closeness of reading together is perfect for bonding which isn’t something that can be replicated with audiobooks. A lot of the books we have are interactive too to stimulate and engage little ones such as textures, sounds, and lift the flap books which really encourage a love of books because they are able to have fun with them.
Are any brail books available for little ones and parents?
Not at the moment, but it is one of many avenues I would like to explore to allow everyone to be able to enjoy the books we provide. We get lots of questions from parents asking what books are suitable for their little ones who are autistic or have global development delay for example and we’d love to do more to support these families as the business grows.
Now that in 2020 more parents are working from home, how can they juggle work and reading which is clearly so important for children’s development?
Working from home should give parents an opportunity to spend more time with their little ones, the time spent out the house is dramatically reduced by not having to commute so I believe all parents should be able to find the time to read to their children.
What’s your favourite book that you offer via Zaza’s Story Box?
This is an easy answer because I am absolutely in love with the books we stock from a company called Wee Gallery. We include a number of their books, and their black and white art cards in our Newborn Storybox. The contrasting images that they use are perfect to engage and stimulate babies long before they can hold toys and really encourage those first little gurgles and smiles.
We like your recent video (below) on ‘book inspired play set-up’, we’ve never heard of this before but it sounds/looks great…
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Welcome to our first IGTV helping you simply set up book inspired play at home. See how you can use Five Little Speckled Frogs to encourage your little one to love books. . Make books part of your everyday incorporating them into play ❤️ . #bookinspiredplay #zazabookplay #bookishplay #bookishplay #bookishplayideas #bookplayideas #eyfsinspiration #invitationtoplay #tufftrayideas #tufftrayplay #homeschoolideas #bookclub #readingtips #parentingtips #motherhood #mumsofig #sensoryplay #sensoryplayideas #storytime #bookbasedactivities #bookbasedlearning #shareyourplaywithme #raiseareader
…could this be the answer to keeping little ones content with an activity while working parents answer emails?
Thank you! I’m looking forward to providing more book inspired play videos. Book inspired play is where you use books as the basis for a play activity. Take the well-known book ‘Dear Zoo’ for example, you can easily re-create this story by getting all the animals together from the book and turning it into a play activity that will support language development, name recognition, learning of animal sounds and ignite their imagination. You can buy this book from our website alongside all the wooden animals that go with the book, I’m sure it won’t be long before I do a video with this book and these animals demonstrating how you can set it up at home. Parents can easily set up some book inspired play activities at home that will allow their little one to do some independent play whilst answering a few emails as long as they take the time to explain to their little one how to make the most of the activity, you can’t expect little ones just to do independent play without being shown first, like with anything in life you need to be taught first.
Will you be filming more ‘book inspired play’ videos and creating a book inspired play channel?
Yes, we will and have just started uploading them to YouTube. We’d love for you to join us on our social media platforms to help us on our journey inspiring little ones to love books.
-(Emocto: We will do our very best!)
Would you incorporate selling additional packages on your website in the future, of craft packages to compliment books with inspired play, could there be an inspired play kit in the future?
Yes, this is something in the pipeline which we hope to launch over the coming months! Watch this space…
For parents who may struggle to afford Zaza’s Storybox, where could they find pre-loved books and create a little at-home-library?
Charity shops are a great start, you can often pick up a great variety of books all in really good condition. Board books seem a little harder to track down second hand, I think they sell very quickly as they are naturally more expensive to by new and often tend to be passed down between families rather than donated.
Is this something Zaza’s Storybox will offer in the future, more ‘affordable subscription boxes’ with ‘pre-loved’ books, which would be more sustainable, bridging the gap for more cash-strapped households, perhaps sourced from charity shops?
This is something we have given some thought to and would love to explore further. Looking after our environment is so important and anything we can do to play our part in this would be amazing.
Should we be splitting books up into zones for little ones or making sure we have them available in every area of life, eg bath books, bedtime books, books to inspire play…?
Absolutely incorporate books into your everyday play! Making books accessible is the most important thing – having them look pretty on a bookshelf that your little one can’t reach isn’t going to encourage their love of books. Like with toys, it is good to rotate the books on offer to keep things fresh and maintain their interest. We have books in every room of the house. One of the things I love the most at the moment is when Zara picks up a book to read to her little brother, she loves the musical ones where she can sing nursery rhymes to him.