Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do


Posted on | March 25, 2010 | 47 Comments

For my 100th (!) post on Playing by the book I’ve chosen one of my all time favourite books from my own childhood, a book which – fortunately – has also become one my own children adore – Barbapapa’s New House by Annette Tison and Talus Taylor.

Barbapapas are animals which can change their shape in to anything they wish. There are many Barabapapa books but this story (which like all the books in the series, can be read on its own without reference to any other Barbapapa story) recounts how the Barbapapa family create a new home for themselves.

With their large family, they have outgrown their original home and so the Barbapapas move to beautiful, old house. Although in need of some TLC, it is idyllic – turrets and winding staircases with room for all. But one day the wrecking machines come to town – it has been decreed that all old houses are to be knocked down.

The Barbapapa family are relocated to a flat in a high rise tower but they become very unhappy in this uninspiring environment and they decide to move out to build their own home.

They find a perfect location, and all working together create their ideal home. Once again their home is threatened by the diggers and bulldozers but this time the Barbapapas put up a (non-violent) fight, and secure the future of their home. Everyone is delighted and they celebrate with a happy party.

This story, like many Barbapapa stories, has an undercurrent of environmental awareness – it’s understated, but definitely there, with the idea that “modern” doesn’t necessarily equal “better than before”. Although I don’t think I was particularly aware of it as a child, as a parent I certainly do appreciate this subtle backbone to the story.

What I did notice when I was little, and which has stayed with me ever since was the delightful, humorous illustrations. The Barbapapas are just such magical characters – brightly coloured, interested in everything around them. They look not unlike balls of plasticine in their natural state, but can change in to anything – a boat, a ladder, a snail. This ability completely enchanted me as a child (as did Morph for those of you who saw British TV in the 70s!) and my kids now love the friendly, creative characters too.

Barbabapapa's New House

The inside of Barbapapa's new house

Inspired by this wonderful little book I spent quite a few evenings creating a Barbapapa house and a family of Barbapapas for M and J to play with. I used balloons and papier mache to create the basic pods.

Once several layers of papier mache were dry, I popped the balloons and used yet more papier mache to stick them together on to cardboard box with two of its sides removed.

The kids then helped me paint and decorate it!

We used fimo (you could use Sculpey) to make our Babarpapa family (but we ran out of black, so there is no Barbabeau (or Barbabob as he is known in Dutch versions of Barbapapa)).

Lots of playing ensued! We made beds and chests of drawers out of matchboxes, and also plenty of little books for Barbalib!

Barbapapa’s new house has now supplanted not only the doll’s house but even the playmobil hospital as no. 1 toy of choice! And it’s not just M and J that are enjoying playing with it ;-)

Barbapapa’s New House: *** (3 stars)

Here’s a selection of Barbapapa related links that we’ve enjoyed:

  • The official Barbapapa website (English language version)

  • Bees Knees Reads loves Barbapapa too!

  • An unofficial but detailed site about Barbapapas

  • The Japanese site dedicated to Barbapapas (Barbapapas are big in Japan apparently!)

  • Barbapapa fairy lights we must remember next time there’s a birthday in the family!

  • Some tips on how to make a Babapapa set of gloves or slippers

  • Lots of Barbapapa images scanned from books

  • Several Barbapapa colouring pages – here, here and here (containing several of the same images)

  • Strictly for the grown ups – a Barbapapa inspired cocktail!

  • Barbapapa crochet patterns from 2 different Esty sellers – here and here

  • And because no post at Playing by the book is complete without a little bit of music, here’s the (French) Barbapapa theme tune for you to enjoy!

    To celebrate reaching my 100th post I’ll be announcing details of a great giveaway tomorrow – please do check back in then and try your luck!

    Today I’m linking up again with stART – why not head on over to A Mommy’s Adventures to find some more inspiration for book inspired kids’ art and play :-)
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    47 Responses to “Barbapapa!”

    1. Natalie
      March 25th, 2010 @ 4:47 am

      I’ve never heard of Barbapapa before – so now I am on a mission to see if my library has it. This house that you created is fantastic, and what a fun little family. Thanks for sharing your great reads, useful links and interesting craft ideas.

    2. Zoe @ Playing by the book
      March 25th, 2010 @ 7:27 am

      Hi Natalie,
      Yes, I don’t think Barbapapas ever made it big in the US – though they seem quite popular in Canada. France, Germany, Netherlands, the UK and Japan are other places where they seem to have a following. Finding the books in English doesn’t seem straightforward nowadays – but you’re in luck if you want French/German/Dutch versions!

    3. Choxbox
      March 25th, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

      wow. barbapapa was hsown on TV in india in the 80s when we were kids and we loved it. we managed to find DVDs on a paris trip coupla years back and were totally delighted. didn’t know there were books as well.

      and that craft you guys did – totally fab!

    4. Nancy
      March 25th, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

      I love, love, love the Barbapapa playhouse and all the related links! I hope we will see some reissues of these stories in the states. A lot of their gentle messages are smart and still timely.

    5. Zoe @ Playing by the book
      March 25th, 2010 @ 1:34 pm

      Hi Choxbox,

      Wow, didn’t know they had been shown in India. I’ve just found out today that they’ve been released in China for the first time this year (the books – don’t know about DVDs)

      Hi Nancy,
      So glad you like the playhouse – I was SO happy when I discovered that you too loved barbapapas!

    6. Saints and Spinners
      March 25th, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

      Happy 100th post! Thank you for sharing the process of the Barbapapa house.

    7. Janelle
      March 25th, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

      That is a most unusual home. Thanks for introducing us to the Barbapapas story!

    8. Sarah
      March 25th, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

      I’ve never heard of them before, but it looks fantastic. I love your project!! Its so creative and like so much fun. came out great:)

    9. Anna J
      March 25th, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

      Wow: brilliant idea, and so much fun! Thanks for posting about this as I, like other commenters, had never heard of these before . . . and happy 100th :-)

    10. Almost Unschoolers
      March 25th, 2010 @ 4:57 pm

      These characters are strangely familar. I must have seen them in my childhood, and forgotten them. I’m going to have to look them up. And, that house is awesome!

    11. AZ
      March 25th, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

      I don’t think many people in the US know of Barbapapa…

      While growing up, we had a copy of the first Barbapapa book in our home thanks to a vacation my folks had taken in England. I’ve always loved loved loved it, but had no idea there were other books in the series until a few years ago.

      Congrats on you blogiversary!

    12. Christianne @ Little Page Turners
      March 25th, 2010 @ 6:41 pm

      Oh, they look like so much fun, it’s too bad we can’t get those at our library. Your house is SOOOOO cute… I think I’d want to play with it too! It would make a great gnome or fairy house for those of us who are Barbapapa-deprived. :)

    13. vanessa@silly eagle books
      March 25th, 2010 @ 7:14 pm

      This book looks amazing and once again, you have outdone yourself!! I love this project–so creative and beautiful.

    14. Alex
      March 25th, 2010 @ 7:46 pm

      Wow!! I grew up (in France) with Barbapapa, the tv show! What a trip to the past when I heard the theme music!
      I really like the house you made, and I would guess my children would love it too..just got to find some books now so they can relate!
      Thanks, Alex.

    15. char
      March 25th, 2010 @ 8:15 pm

      Wow, what a great project. Your Barbapapa house turned out great.

    16. Zoe
      March 25th, 2010 @ 8:38 pm

      Thanks everyone for your comments! It’s such a shame that Barbapapas aren’t better known in the US – I have seen several copies for sale in Canada on ebay so that might be the easiest way for people to get hold of copies if they wanted to track them down. Amazon (UK) has loads of French and German language versions (modern publications) too.

    17. Kellyi
      March 25th, 2010 @ 10:27 pm

      Impressive house!

      I found a book at the library that made me think of you, it’s called “Welcome to the Zoo” by Alison Jay. Hope you like it!

      Of to check the library for Barbapapa.

    18. Michelle
      March 26th, 2010 @ 2:34 am

      Oh wow this is amazing!! I have never heard of this book before either. I am hoping that my library has it because I think that Emily and I would really enjoy this book.

      Congratulations on your 100th post and thank you for linking to stART :0)

    19. Jolly Green Mommy
      March 26th, 2010 @ 3:09 am

      This looks like a great project! I’ve never read this book before, but I can’t imagine a project that would fit any better. I know I love paper mache projects a little one. It looks like everyone had a great time!

    20. Choxbox
      March 26th, 2010 @ 5:02 am

      Just came back to say I showed this post to my kids – they love Barpapa from the DVDs and were delighted by this post.

      And CONGRATS on the 100th post. Been reading your archives – am glad to have found you!

    21. Zoe
      March 26th, 2010 @ 7:10 am

      Thanks for the book suggestion Kellyi – have now reserved it at the library! Can’t wait to read it.

      Hi Jolly Green Mommy, Yes, papier mache project can be fun – unfortunately my eldest doesn’t like getting her hands sticky so that’s why I did all that side of this project and left her to do what she loves best – sticking shiny, glittery things! (and of course playing!)

      Hi again Choxbox – so glad your kids liked this post! If it inspires a bit of play in your kids that would make my day.

    22. Kristine
      March 29th, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

      the little pod house looks fantastic – what a tremendous effort you went to – you must love that book

    23. Zoe
      March 29th, 2010 @ 4:33 pm

      Yep, Kristine, a lot of effort, but we do really love the book. And it was a lot cheaper than a new dolls house and yet is getting just as much (if not more) play!

    24. meninheira
      April 9th, 2010 @ 9:32 am

      Hi from Spain!!
      Here we love Barbapapas and your work is amazing, I love it and I would try :)



    25. Aimee
      April 9th, 2010 @ 10:09 pm


      I came here from The Crafty Crow, and I loved Barbapapas as a child! When I mention them to others, though, most people look at me like I’m insane. I’m so glad someone else loves them! I have to find the books for my son, and do this fun project, too! Thank you so much for posting this.


    26. April – Craft Carnival – Nominations Theme « Redtedart’s Blog
      April 10th, 2010 @ 10:04 pm

      [...] Zoe was also mentioned by TheMadHouse, here is another fabulous book/ art project of hers – the Barbapapa family – this is definitely more ambitious, but great for those of you that would like something a little [...]

    27. anneke schuddeboom
      April 11th, 2010 @ 1:42 am

      Oh my ! I think we will have to do this ! We live in Montreal Quebec and Barbapapa is well known here. My kids love them. Thanks for all the links and the wonderful project. i know what to do with all my son’s leftover birthday balloons !

    28. Christy@pipandsqueak
      April 11th, 2010 @ 5:29 am

      I loved that book as a child. My library does not have it and it appears to be a collectible now as it is $75 on amazon. I hope my mom has it and can find it so my kids can read it.

    29. Zoe
      April 11th, 2010 @ 8:12 am

      HI Anneke, Yes barbapapa seems to be much better known in Canada – I guess it is the French connection. If you do make a barbapapa house with your son’s left over balloons I’d love to see a picture!

    30. Keri
      April 11th, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

      My 4 year old and I just got back from visiting friends in Austria. While we were there, our friends introduced my daughter to Barbapapa. Their books were in German, but she translated them for my daughter. My daughter loved them so much that when we spotted the books in French (in Paris), we had to pick up a few. Since returning to the US, we and have enjoyed learning French while reading these new Barbapapa books. :)

    31. Zoe
      April 11th, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

      Hi Keri,
      I love this story! My german improved when we got a DVD of barbapapas – we could only find it in German!

    32. Barbapapa Playscape | Okul Öncesi Akademik Bilgi Deposu - Okul Öncesi Eğitim
      April 11th, 2010 @ 9:02 pm

      [...] Author: admin [Translate] Based on the book and characters in Barbapapa's New House, Playing By The Book recreated the home where the Barbapapa's live using papier maché and balloons as the [...]

    33. Cristina
      June 23rd, 2010 @ 1:11 am

      I grew up with Barbapapa books, and have been lucky to find a few to read to my son. The house is just so cute! We may have to do our own Barbapapa house project one of these days!

    34. Zoe
      June 23rd, 2010 @ 6:59 am

      HI Cristina, do let me know if you get round to making your own barbapapa house – we had lots of fun making ours!

    35. We Heart Books » Borrowed and thrifted: Barbazoo from the Barbapapas
      July 2nd, 2010 @ 8:31 am

      [...] For some lovely Barbapapa links, check out these crochet cuties on Meet Me At Mikes and an AMAZING craft project building a house for the family on Playing By the Book. [...]

    36. stephen
      August 27th, 2010 @ 2:49 am

      Hi,Great stuff!
      I just came across your site by chance.
      I have a vast collection of Barbapapa books myself as my kids love them. Around 25 books or so. Ranging from comics to paper and hard back books. Plus 5 Fantastic English spoken DVD’s that I have transfered from original bought VHS’s. My children love the great stories and fantastic cartoons.
      The book the New house costs between £50 and £100 if you are lucky enough to find a copy now all these books are deleted in English SHAME!.
      These cartoons were aired in the 1970’s in England as I grow up watching them myself. AHH the memories.

    37. Nina
      November 10th, 2010 @ 10:53 pm

      Wow, awesome idea, I am going to make one. This is my favourite book, and I love reading it to my kids.

    38. It’s ‘Barbapapa’ Week! « Squashed Tomatoes
      March 31st, 2011 @ 8:25 am

      [...] (Instructions and the idea came from here) [...]

    39. Red Ted Art's Blog » Blog Archive » Kids Craft – Barbapapa &playing with all our crafty things
      April 2nd, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

      [...] We made our craft project very simple – we made some playdough (click here to see How Make Scented Playdough) and then had some playdough fun! (For a truly awesome Barbapapa project visit Zoe and here girl’s at Playing By the Book here). [...]

    40. Nick Hood
      November 9th, 2011 @ 6:02 am

      THANKYOU!! I am 44yo and I had in my mind a memory of this book. I googled the descriptoin of their bodies and house and I found it!! I am SO happy. I want to buy a copy of this book. I was fascinated as a 5yo child how these blobby beings lived iin their round house!
      THis is great. Thanks again!

    41. Shala Howell
      December 16th, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

      I love this idea! (and the books sound cool too). I’m going to have to check them out with The Four-Year-Old.

    42. Natalja
      January 22nd, 2012 @ 10:15 am

      Dear Zoe! Just got led to this post through your interview post. Could not hold myself and have to leave a comment! This one is totally amazing! Brilliant idea! We love Barbapapa to such an extent that I had to buy German DVDs with all the cartoons (apparently the only available version :). They have printed a great series of books in Danish and I think we have all of them, the babysitting story is top favorite.
      But I never figured out how to make a Barbapapa house, but now….! I am very excited. Thanks a lot for the ideas!

    43. Zoe
      January 22nd, 2012 @ 12:02 pm

      Hi Natalja, Have you checked out YouTube – there are lots of barbabpapa clips on there in various langs. Don’t know about Danish in particular though. Let me know if you do make the Barbapapa house (or the barbapapas themselves – ours our now a little “worn” but still played with everyweek)
      Zoe recently posted..A little light reading

    44. Natalja
      January 22nd, 2012 @ 12:58 pm

      We have a morning kids tv show, which has Danish barbapapas. But actually, even the German version is still going strong. Luckily the kids don’t care about the language. We have made some barbapapas, similar to yours, out of playdough, and some out of maxi perls, but none of them lasted too long. Maybe if they have a place to live in … :)Thanks again for the great idea.

    45. Red Ted Art's Blog » Blog Archive » April – Craft Carnival – Nominations Theme
      February 13th, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

      [...] Zoe was also mentioned by TheMadHouse, here is another fabulous book/ art project of hers – the Barbapapa family – this is definitely more ambitious, but great for those of you that would like something a little [...]

    46. Family Book Festival: Zoe Toft and the Barbapapa Books - Jump Into A Book
      February 4th, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

      [...] 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 [...]

    47. 10 Activities To Do At Home With The Kids | Planning With Kids
      December 22nd, 2013 @ 10:33 am

      […] since we have made and I don’t think the younger three have ever made it. This creation from Playing By The Book is amazing, but I will not be aiming that high. More like a balloon for each child and they can […]

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