Cori's Corner

When I first began researching children's entertainment and children's books, one of the first series that attracted me was 64 Zoo Lane, a TV show created in 2000 by An Vrombaut. It was instantly nominated for a BAFTA and won the Best preschool category at the British Animation Awards in 2002. It was originally shown on the BBC's, CBeebies. Since then, It is currently a popular show on Noggin and Playhouse Disney.

The TV show and the books feature a 6-year old girl named, Lucy who lives next door to a zoo. Every night she is told a story by the animals who live there. Each episode is beautifully written and emphasizes friendship and responsibility.

While over in London in 2007, I met with An. She was warm and wonderful and has remained connected to our Dream Jam Book Club programs ever since. The children delight in her stories and illustrations and enjoy the art activities she has provided (see the DJ Bookworm column).

Interview with An Vrombaut Why did you choose to write children's books?

I’ve always loved drawing and writing, and I’m good at expressing things in a straightforward direct manner, which is an important skill when writing for children. But I see myself foremost as a visual storyteller.

Where did you get the names of your animal characters?

I use a baby names book! And sometimes I invent names, like 'Snowbert the Polar Bear’.

What is it like to live in England?

I was born in Belgium but have lived in a suburb of London for almost 20 years. It’s handy because I can get into central London quickly, but it’s also very leafy. I like pottering in my garden and I even rent an allotment where I grow my own vegetables.

Do you draw the pictures in your books?

Yes, I write the stories and draw the books. I also directed the animated TV series of ’64 Zoo Lane’. I actually studied animation at art college, so I was an animator before I became an author and illustrator.

What do you like better, writing or drawing?

Illustrating is very relaxing. For writing you need to be in the right mood. I like the variety, and working in animation is great too because it’s teamwork (writing and illustrating are solitary occupations).

What was the first story you ever wrote?

It’s a story about a girl called Little An and some guinea pigs. I wrote it when I was 6. It was written in Dutch.

What was the first picture you ever drew?

I can’t remember the first one. My mother has kept a lot of my drawings. There’s a lovely one I did of a giraffe when I was 6. I have a thing about giraffes!

Do you have a favorite of the books you've written?

‘Clarabella’s Teeth’ and ‘Dear Dragon’

Did you know a real little girl named Lucy?


Why did you decide to have Lucy live next door to a zoo?

I wanted to do something about a zoo because I love drawing animals. But I suppose my eureka moment was when I came up with the idea of Lucy sliding down the giraffe’s neck from her bedroom to the zoo. I called it 64 Zoo Lane, because I liked the sound of ‘64’ (not because I lived in number 64!).

Do you draw the same way for 64 Zoo Lane as you do for your picture books?

I use oil pastels for my book illustrations. The backgrounds for the TV series were done in water colour and more recently using a computer. So the processes are different, but the colour palette is the same.

Are your stories based on any of your own experiences?

Some of them, yes. The 64 Zoo Lane story ‘Henrietta the Hairy Hippo’ was inspired by my own experiences as a child, being bullied because of my ginger hair. ‘Snowbert the Polar Bear’ and ‘Georgina the Giraffe’ were also inspired by events in my life.

Does being a mom help you to write children's stories?

Yes, it gives me inspiration. I wrote ‘Clarabella’s Teeth’ to encourage my daughter to brush her teeth.

Do you try to get a message across or just write for fun?

A bit of both really.

What do you think is your greatest achievement so far as an author/ illustrator?

My greatest achievement overall must be the TV series of 64 Zoo Lane.

If you were to give one bit of advice to parents about choosing books to read to their child, what would it be?

Read a bit of the book out loud. That’s the best way to discover the best ones.

And allow children over 5 to read picture books! Often I’ve been in bookshops and seen a 6 or 7 year old who has chosen a picture book, but the adult tells the child to put the book back on the shelf because they’re too old to read books with pictures in. That makes me sad.

Who are your favorite children's authors?

As a child my favourite was the Dutch author Annie M.G.Schmidt. I am also a big fan of Julia Donaldson’s books.

Click here to read DJ Bookworm's introduction toHenrietta the Hairy Hippo

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