Top tips on building with books and a BIG thankyou

It all began with a jokey conversation on Twitter.

Polly (who has her début collection of stories, Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig, out this September, illustrated by Clara Vulliamy) shared a picture of an igloo built of books and from there, things pretty quickly spiralled out of control.

I just knew I had to build something out of books. It was one of those moments where you are vaguely aware that the idea is slightly bonkers but you know the thought won’t leave you alone until you succumb to it.

And so it was I set about planning to build a book den out of books, using the opportunity to raise some funds for a charity I’ve a long-standing relationship with, Book Aid International.

First I did my research and scoured the web for other buildings made from books.


Then I started stockpiling books from all over my home in one place.


It was rather disconcerting to see my shelves gradually empty.


I stocked up on coffee and cake and then World Book Day arrived.

It was time to start building.

The kitchen table was dismantled to create enough space for the den; I knew I wanted it to be large enough to comfortably sit inside and read.


Then building began in earnest. I used encyclopedias and other large non-fiction books to create foundations. The big Dorling Kindersley books were excellent for providing stability!


Although my hands got very dry handling all the books, and there were dust fairies flying everywhere, it was a sheer delight to go through my books, remembering when and where I’d read them, who had given them to me, who I’d given copies to. It was a little like watching my life on a screen before me, going through so many memories of people, places and times.


Much as I adore picture books, I soon learned that paperback picture books are not the best thing to build with; you need about a zillion to gain any height, and they tend to be rather slippy. Topsy and Tim books and Beatrix Potter books worked excellently for chinking, but the books I really loved building with were great tomes like SF Said’s Phoenix, or Marcus Alexander’s Charlie Keeper books; these are not only immensely satisfying to read, they give you a real sense of achievement and reliable strength when building!

My biggest worry in all the building was the roof. I really wanted to build using the fabulous technique seen in Maes Howe and other chambered cairns I’ve visited in Orkney, a technique known as corbelling (here’s a good example, and one I’m hoping to revisit this summer), but I felt that for safety’s sake I had to go for something more lightweight.

Thanks to inspiration from my engineer Dad I decided to give magazine and comic tiling a go instead. And I’m very pleased I did so! (Thanks, Dad!)


All in all, once the books were stockpiled, it took me about five hours to build. It’s only up for 24 hours, but we’ve made excellent use of it in this time.


We’ve eaten in it, read in it, simply relaxed in it, giggled in it and generally had a VERY good time!

Late last night I was going to treat myself to a glass of wine and a little bit of piece and quiet in it, but when I went into the kitchen I found my eldest has snuck out of bed to read in it!


I left her to it and took my wine elsewhere 🙂

And now it is the morning after the night before and shortly I’ll begin dismantling my dear book den. But what did I learn in the process? What are my top tips for building with books?

  • 1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Stockpile your books by approximate size for easy, level building.
  • 2. Remove book covers. Dust jackets make books slippery when building.
  • 3. Keep small or thin books in a separate pile – they are excellent for filling in little gaps and levelling things up.
  • 4. Keep some moisturiser near by – as any librarian will probably tell you, handling lots of books, especially dusty books, can leave your hands very dry.
  • 5. Give yourself time to stroke all your books. You’ll find books you’ve not looked at in years and you’ll want to sit down and re-live them.
  • 6. Allow yourself more books than you think you will need; I had to raid some extra shelves as I was beginning to run out of books towards the end. I reckon I used about 1500 books and 40 odd magazines/comics to build this den (which easily accommodates two, with blankets, cushions and a small table).

  • NOW. Before you click on to your next blog or read your next email, here comes the serious bit.

    I did all of this to raise funds for Book Aid International, and it’s not too late to add a small donation (you can donate from anywhere in the world, in several local currencies):

    If you’ve ever enjoyed my blog or my banter on Twitter, please consider donating a small amount today. Book Aid International works in partnership with libraries in Africa, including in Zambia where I was born (hence my support of this charity), providing books, resources and training to support an environment in which reading for pleasure, study and lifelong learning can flourish.

    I want to say an enormous THANK YOU to everyone who has already donated, including Daisy, Katherine, Anamaria, Elli, Zehra, Damyanti, Catherine, Polly, Jonathan, Ann, Helen, Anabel, Melanie, Abi, Book Island, my parents, my sister, Emma, Clare, Colin, Anne-Marie, Lizz, Natalie, Maxine, Sara, Kate, Bea, Tasha, Sam, Susie, Sandra, SF, Christine, James, Anne, Dan, @storyvilled, Alex, Nicky, @OlivaceousD and all the anonymous donors. YOU are the real stars in all of this.






    19 Responses

    1. Emma | My Book Corner

      Brilliant work Zoe!!!

      Love it, congratulations! Loved following the updates on twitter yesterday too. Now the question is, how long are you going to keep it up for???

      • Zoe

        Alas, it’s already coming down 🙁 We need to be able to eat in the kitchen! But it was all worth it.

    2. ReaditDaddy

      Such an awesome and awe-inspiring project! I wrote a short story about a man who ended up building a house out of books when I was a kid and this reminds me of that, I always dreamed of having a booky den (but always wondered what would happen if I wanted to read the book keeping everything else in place!)

      So cool, such a shame it has to come down but what a brilliant cause to support, and what a fantastic way to show just how much fun you can have with books!
      ReaditDaddy recently posted..ReadItDaddy’s SECOND Book of the Week – Week Ending 6th March 2015 – “That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown” by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton (Hodder Children’s Books)

      • Zoe

        Oh Phil – do you know Castle of Books – a picture book about a boy who builds castles out of his dad’s books? Someone on twitter alerted me to it yesterday so I’ve just ordered it.

    3. Rebecca Westcott

      This is fantastic Zoe! Such a brilliant idea and I hope you eventually got to relax inside with your wine! I don’t envy you having to dismantle it but it looks like it was a lot of fun to create – one for our school to remember for World Book Day 2016, I think!

      • Zoe

        It was enormous fun Rebecca. My arms/shoulders are aching a little from all the lifting, but it’s been worth it all.

      • Zoe

        Thanks Claire, yes, fairy lights seem to make everything that bit more sparkly, don’t they? 🙂

    4. Lesley Ely

      Oh, well done Zoe. Hope your daughter won’t be too disappointed when you take it down…but I’ll bet she’ll never forget it. Made me think of Zambia too btw I taught (er,learned)there from 1968-70. My son was born there. Happy days. 🙂

      • Zoe

        Both girls have loved the den, but they also had very special days at their schools which they won’t forget in a hurry, especially bedtime stories in pyjamas at the infant school. It’s so lovely to see how creative and enthusiastic everyone has been.

    5. Gisele

      Hi! Oh! We love to build with books! We made a house Once, but we didn’t have engouth books for the top! Loved your house very much! Did the girls help you put the books back? Mine Kids let me do ir buy myself! 🙂

      Want to Thank you for the internationalbookgivingday swap! I received a Beautiful book Yesterday, from Germany! 🙂 thanks!!!
      Gisele and Kids
      Gisele recently posted..Lembrancinha de chá de fralda (Cathe)

      • Zoe

        So glad you got a lovely book in the swap Gisele 🙂 Yes, the girls were very good and helped me with all the reshelving – actually at their request because the didn’t want me organsing THEIR bookshelves 🙂

    6. Greet Pauwelijn

      Very impressed! We’ll follow your manual when building our own book den. With 10 000+ books in our storage room downstairs we should be able a decent-sized one:-)

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