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The ‘Playground Books’ Podcast Rethinks the Stories of Our Childhoods

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

“At my old elementary school, you had to be a special level of bookworm to bring whatever book you were reading out to recess,” shares Elizabeth Coletti in the teaser episode of her self-produced podcast Playground Books. “But while our classmates were skinning their knees in cutthroat games of kickball, or reaching toward the clouds as they jumped off swing sets, some of us were getting lost in other worlds — meeting new people and growing a love of stories, that in my case, has never waned since.” 

Playground Books, Coletti’s 10-episode series, offers a re-visitation of “formative literature,” a phrase she coined to describe the foundational nature of narratives consumed during childhood that influence how readers grow up to view themselves, the world around them, and the consequential means by which both are oriented together. “Formative literature is made up of the kind of books and stories that you read at an early age that shaped who you wanted to become, the books that taught you not only how stories could be told, but also what was important and interesting enough to tell stories about,” she says. 

Each episode of Playground Books features a deep dive into a different book that Coletti engaged with during childhood. “I tried to draft each episode with enough plot explanations and context so that you don’t need to have read the book to enjoy it,” Coletti says. “Whether you’re a fellow recovering child bookworm, want to learn more about the process of literary analysis, or don’t believe me when I say Frindle is about memes, I think you can find something to enjoy listening to.” 

The episodes of Playground Books are titled based on the books themselves, as well as fractals of the literary and universal truths that Coletti discovered during her rereading. With episode names like “Tuck Everlasting and the Existential Horrors of Immortality” and “Out of the Dust and Escaping History,” each selection includes a comprehensive exploration of Coletti’s chosen books, carefully connecting their craft and thematic components to a larger body of literary thought. In doing so, Coletti cites John Green as a model for how she sought to find this conjunction when creating her podcast between literary examination and her own memories from being a young reader. 

“A big inspiration for how to craft a compelling essay in an audio format was The Anthropocene Reviewed, which also works in this hybrid space of reviews that are both educational and revelatory of the educator,” she says. “There’s no way that I could revisit these books that I so vividly remembered reading as a kid and not put some of myself into the discussion of them.” 

Coletti first started the podcast in 2021 as a project for an undergraduate English class, with the initial goal of converging her passion for exploring formative literature with offering criticism that challenges the canon in nuanced mediums. “Playground Books was my foray into the type of writing that combines reviews, critical analysis, and a dash of memoir,” she says. “I wanted to prove that you could have an academic discussion about the meaning-making of these books that inspired me and set me on the path to that English degree in the first place.”  

She further explains, “I’d been interested in video essays dissecting movies or books for a long time. I learned so much from them about filmmaking and storytelling, but what I really loved was how they would take a serious approach to media that was contemporary or even pop culture. It’s like they were saying that your interest in these works is valid, and they’re worthy of discussion, even if they’re zeitgeisty or genre fiction.” 

In taking on the project, Coletti encountered the meticulousness of each step of production in everything from preliminary outlining to final technical edits. She shares, “Recording was three hours of me standing in my closet with pillows propped around my microphone to dampen echoes, repeating and almost acting out lines from my script over and over until I got the right delivery. It’s a surprisingly full-body process!” 

However, amongst the tediousness of the process, she also unearthed new information about these formative narratives that allowed for her to consider these stories in conversation with broader societal contexts. 

“I learned a lot in the research for Nancy Drew that I never knew about,” she says. “Did you know you’ve probably never read the original Nancy Drew stories? The series has a long history of rewrites to supposedly scrub out racism, a huge number of ghostwriters, and tension with Nancy as this archetypal yet paradoxical figure of female Americana.” 

In tuning in, Coletti hopes that listeners are able to make similarly valuable discoveries about the books they read as children, while also gaining new insights about themselves, the characters, and ideas that once accompanied their developing relationships with the world. 

“I feel a similar way about formative literature as I do childhood best friends, those people you were closest to when you were both trying to figure out how to live and who to become,” she says. “I’m no longer in touch with any of my childhood friends, but I carry them with me in the same way that I carry these books with me. They helped shape me, and I want to examine and understand that, for good or ill, instead of taking it for granted.”  

Playground Books is available for streaming on Apple Podcasts, PodBean, Google Podcasts, and Audible. You can keep up with Coletti’s latest projects, including her video essays on contemporary film analysis, on her YouTube channel, @editorpepper.  

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Emily Clemente is a staff writer at the Her Campus at Florida State University Chapter. She writes campus, culture, and lifestyle articles. Beyond Her Campus, Emily is also a writer for STRIKE and local music magazine The Tally Beat, and she has held staff positions for WALTER, Cellar Door Magazine, and The Carolina Quarterly. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have been featured in literary publications such as december, Star 82, and Jellyfish Review, among others. She currently studies Creative Writing at Florida State University with a concentration in fiction. You can find more of her work at https://emilyclemente.com/