7 Books You Want Your Kids to Read

Let’s face it, the bookstore and library are saturated with children’s books. How do you know what to choose?

For me, if a book has dense paragraphs of prose per picture, I almost always put it back down, no matter how skilled/beautiful/cute the illustrations. My six-year-olds respond better to a decent balance between prose and pictures. They’re more engaged, and these are usually more concisely told stories that utilize language more effectively and, so, are more fun to read.

From my extensive hunt for optimal reading material for my feral kids, I’ve compiled a list of 7 tried-and-true children’s books you will love reading with your child.

Books about feelings

Bear with me here. I am still learning to express my own feelings, let alone teach my kids how to do so. But these reads assist them in understanding the range of and often conflicting emotions they can experience.

Both In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek & Christine Roussey and I’m Happy-Sad Today by Lory Britain & Matthew Rivera feature beautiful, bright colors and accessible discussions about feelings.

Bonus features: I’m Happy-Sad Today has helpful instructions at the end of the book for experiencing this book with your children and fun cut-outs for sensory-sensitive kids in In My Heart.

Books about socializing

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller & Jen Hill combines soft, skillful watercolors and sweet, rhythmic prose in an important story that demonstrates that how you behave toward others, even the smallest gestures, makes a big impact.

Sad books

Sometimes you just need to get up in your feels with a book. Oh wait, that’s me. Sometimes kids need a bittersweet read to prepare them for the bittersweet moments of life. I mean, that is the only way I can justify why our parents allowed The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein to be a seminal book of our childhoods. I’m only half-joking. It’s a classic, it’s beautiful, and it hits like 70% cacao.

Books that encourage

Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Suess delivers powerful life lessons with all of the fun wordplay and quirky story-telling Suess is known for. It handles ambition, achievement, and the inevitable failures of life.

Books with counting

Stack the Cats by Susan Ghahremani–I mean, you saw the picture, right? And the rest of it is just as freaking adorable.

Wordless books

Some of our favorites have been Journey by Aaron Becker, The Conductor by Laëtitia Devernay, and Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell.

Interestingly enough, I almost added Instructions by Neil Gaiman & Charles Vess even though it has words. I didn’t remember that, because I was looking for books that make you think outside of the box to find the line of the story. And Instructions kind of does that by dropping the reader into a setting/story without context.

I love the questions my kids ask when reading these illustration-only stories. It’s important for them to stretch their story-telling muscles and co-write the story with their interpretation.

A plain good story…

This is my favorite children’s book ever. It is like a warm hug. The colors and illustration are gorgeous, and the story is sweet with the good lived-in feel of a folk tale, like an old favorite sweater. A Mouse Called Julian by this same author is also a great read.

We are always on the hunt for new favorites. What are some of your favorite children’s books?

How Audiobooks Killed My Muse

Let me tell you a story.

Two days ago, I wouldn’t have uttered those words, let alone written them. I’d been too afraid to commit to telling any kind of tale; every idea that entered my head felt too fleeting, too flimsy.

After coming out of edits on two books over the last couple years, and writing a mere…

34,525 words to a new book during National Novel Writing Month, I felt like a shriveled husk of creativity. I’ve got my bag of excuses of course–kids, work, Netflix, life. However, behind the scenes, I have been filling every spare moment with reading. Paper books, ebooks, and audiobooks. Every moment my hands are busy but my brain is free, I found myself plugged into an audiobook (currently: Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune). This is because I have always felt that books provide knowledge and inspiration, the most important food groups for the writing kind. Thus, I find myself in an addictive relationship in which I feel if I can just read–well, everything, then I’ll be a better writer and a better human. I mean, yeah, it’s partially true, but at one point, you have to set the book down (and unplug the headphones) and live. Or in this case, daydream.

So after a veritable Mojave-like dryness of inspiration and drive, I happened to be washing dishes like a normie (i.e. no book being narrated directly into my earballs), and ideas for my November novel came pouring in. Are they genius ideas? No, just little snippets of scenes, glimpses at the characters’ minds, but this is the bread and butter of keeping a story alive in my imagination.

I realized I couldn’t expect to keep on filling every empty space with someone else’s words and have the work of daydreaming do itself. I was living in someone else’s final vision of the daydreaming into which they’d poured countless hours, days, months, maybe even years. I needed to give myself the breathing room to settle into the completely free-to-wander headspace I remember being able to call upon with ease as a child. Good old-fashioned staring into space fertilizes the ground to be struck with inspiration.

Next time I’m doing the dishes or checking the mail, I won’t take my phone with me, because I know now that my muse needs to run through empty fields.

Of course reading inspires, but do you think is it possible to read too much as a creative? What’s the first thing you change when the ideas stop coming?

“Specimen”

February is Women in Horror Month (recently changed to March). My love for the horror genre goes way back, before I began voraciously reading. It likely developed the moment my parents told me to go back in my room as they sat down to watch Poltergeist. Instead, I did what any curious and rebellious six-year-old would: I snuck out, crawling on all fours, and watched Poltergeist, terrified from behind my dad’s recliner. Though I couldn’t sleep for a week after, I was addicted.

In a lovely bit of astrological alignment, my horror story “Specimen” came out in Trembling with Fear today. You can read it for free here. This is massive and deliciously circular to me because I remember when I was a wee babe of writing and putting my short, horror work out there, Trembling with Fear was one of the first venues I came across. It is such an honor to be included.

Here is how Editor Stephanie Ellis introduces it:

“First up this week is Specimen by Ashley B. Davis, a hauntingly atmospheric story of an abandoned naturalist on an island uninhabited by humans. His obsession with the specimens he is observing is gradually changed, roles reversing as he struggles to survive.”

Trembling with Fear

Looking for more ways to celebrate women in horror this month? Of course you are! You can read and listen to my other work by visiting my Published Works page, but here’s a quick rundown of my most recent publications. You can listen to me reading my poem “Time Consuming” at Liquid Imagination or listen to a full-blown audio production of my story “Feud” at The Grey Rooms 😱 (my story starts at 19:54). I also spoke (awkwardly) at length about my story and the horror genre with the inimitable Brooks Bigley at The Grey Rooms Podcast in my Behind the Door interview. Lastly, if you enjoyed the naturalist protagonist in “Specimen”, you can read about another scientific-minded protagonist in my story “The Wake” at Jamais Vu.

Happy reading, listening, whatever poison you choose. May your month be full of wicked female wiles and all the horror.

The Self-Anointed Artist: My Audio-Produced Story “Feud” and First Author Interview

I have been following Amie McNee, creativity coach and book doula, on Instagram for some time. McNee encourages authors and artists to claim their creator title. The messages she writes to herself and to her followers are designed to systematically restructure our sometimes debilitating inner monologues about being a creator. Even in writing that last sentence, I had originally written “Her little messages”–McNee has taught me this is how doubt, negativity, and fear of others’ perceptions can alter and minimize the self we are striving to be.

I’ve always considered myself as someone who processes life through writing. I don’t get angry at someone and then write them into a novel to then put them through horrible trials. It’s a different kind of processing I undergo when creating art. It’s like I become a sieve, where the sand of any heavy emotion falls to the bottom and all of the bigger stuff like truth rises to the top (wait, do I know how a sieve works?). Though I’ve always instinctively resorted to this act of processing/creating, whenever I have thought of myself as ‘Artist’ or ‘Author’, I would always inwardly cringe, and I certainly never proclaimed myself aloud as such.

Years ago, I started this blog as a home for my creative works, a platform for a writer. I’ve always been more comfortable with calling myself a writer, because it so tidily sits beside reader and doodler. But to call oneself an “Author” is big. It comes with a truckload of connotation and entitled-sounding opinion, but I mentioned in an old post that declaring yourself the self you want to be by living as though you already are, is part of the becoming process. Even now, I feel resistance writing this post, worrying whether it is trite or whether it will resonate with anyone. But I couldn’t honestly share this milestone without talking about about everything I’ve had to fight against to get here.

All this to say, as soon as I changed my online presence descriptors to say “Author”, as soon as I anointed myself with that whole truckload of connotation behind it, that in and of itself didn’t make things happen for me, but it gave me the power to start opening those doors that had been there all along.

Image credit: Cassie Pertiet

Last year, I’d received the acceptance from The Grey Rooms Podcast for my most recently published work, a short horror story “Feud” (click here to listen; my story starts at 19:54). Since then, I have decided to self-publish a novel (more information on that soon!), scheduled a photoshoot for my author photo(!), and have been interviewed (listen to the interview here!) for the first time as an AUTHOR (notice I removed the quotations on that one 😏). I’m not saying that acceptance made those things happen. But my decision to proclaim myself certainly gave me the power to reach out and take what I wanted.

Writing this from the place of the final pass through of edits on upcoming debut release, where I am ripping my hair out, wondering if it’s as close to done as I thought, feels a little fraudulent, but it’s time to fly!

Let’s chat in the comments. Have you ever let yourself fall into this trap of self-denial? How did you anoint yourself?

Top 9 Books of 2021 & New Year Reading Goals

I measure my life in pages read. I remember reading Carry On while home with my newborn twins, reawakening my love for the chosen one’s tale that Harry Potter once ignited; I remember reading Catcher in the Rye during a rough time in high school and falling in love with a voice; I was in the midst of consuming Dracula as I was defending my graduate thesis.

Instead of measuring my life in pages read, this year I completely escaped into books to avoid all negativity. Which means 2021 had a lot of comfort rereads (8 total), but it was also packed with many great new reads. Given the majority of my ratings were 5 stars, I know I am getting better at pursuing the books I will love. And if I didn’t love it, I didn’t beat myself up about dropping it like a hot potato (In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake in the Woods and surprisingly, One Last Stop).

The first book of 2021 feels like a millennium ago. Just what the eff happened to this year? And The Year That Shall Not Be Named for that matter. Given this strange liminal space our world is in right now, it’s time for some romance recommendations.

So the first amazing romance read (arguably a romantic sci-fi) that blew me away was Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell. I did a FULL post on this treasure of a reading experience here. Tl;dr: The world-building was flawlessly immersive and the political intrigue was deeply human and threaded so well into the love story. I keep this book pressed inside my trench coat and push it into anyone’s face who passes–not really, as I listened to it on audio, which I also highly recommend. If you submit your receipt for a purchase of the paperback to fan artist, graphic novelist, and author Vanessa Kelley prior to 1/31/22 you get her GORGEOUS fanart *drools*

This takes me right into The Darkness Outside Of Us because Winter’s Orbit gave me a fever, and the only prescription was more m/m space opera (props if you get that Walken reference). The Darkness Outside of Us was a little more intimate and psychological and a lot darker, but just as sweeping. I ADORED the audio narrator and compulsively spoke in Kodiak’s accent for at least two weeks to show my love and devotion to James Fouhey. Because, you know, I do my part to support the arts.

MOAR romance:

Cochrun’s romantic comedy was the very definition of what you’re looking for when you bust out your finest rosé (or Belgian white, we don’t judge here) and you have the next 48 hours responsibility-free. This sweet book had the added bonus of being very relevant to our does-art-imitate-life-or-life-imitate-reality-tv world. It also handled mental illness with so much grace and empathy. I was utterly besotted with this love story.

This graphic novel was like a warm blueberry scone with bright notes of lemon zest in the trash fire continuation of the 2020-2021 period. It was sweet, inventive, heartfelt, and hilarious. I adored every second of it, even the hockey scenes to which I was completely ignorant. I have no IDEA how on this green earth Ukazu kept all of this in her head–the art, the storyline, the sports and college aspect. Just wow. To top it off, I just realized that one of my favorite author’s wrote the blurb, so yep. I was bound to love it.

This book was a time capsule. It transported the all-consuming experience of reading fantasy as a teen to me as a grown ass adult. It has the YA capital EFF Feels, the main character that ages as the story progresses (sometimes referred to as a bildungsroman–one of my favorite structures!), a bad ass gender-subversive elfin heroine (I mean, if you aren’t already walking out your door and heading to your local bookstore or library after reading that, then I don’t know what else I can say), and an engaging, richly crafted world.

Can you even with that cover?! Nope. No, you can’t.

I loved this novel so much. It flirted with every gothic romance that has thorned its way into my barren chest cavity while simultaneously delivering a fresh, modern take on the horror genre. I am all about mood and atmosphere and Moreno-Garcia delivered both by the haunted estate-load.

Okay, it’s becoming apparent that I absolutely do judge books and their potential to light all my happy centers in my brain by their covers. But hey, hasn’t let me down thus far

Look, I think all you need to know about this one is that it inspired me to write an embarrassing gushing fan letter. Could you just go ahead and burn that, Lee? Thaaaaanks….

In all honesty, I fell so deep into this narrative, I had no idea when I might ever come out and nor did I care. It was beautifully done, grief-felt, stomach-swoopingly surprising, and gasoline charged. And I would do it all over again.

This candy-coated contemporary gem held me in a chokehold for over a month. Another bildungsroman, this novel is exactly the kind of novel you read and wish you had thought of and had the barest talent to execute. I, I mean. I wish I had thought of it and had a sliver of Boyne’s talent with which to execute even a facsimile. Dios mio, I needed a stiff drink and an actual hug from someone who wasn’t simultaneously stabbing me with a salad fork in the back after (and while) reading this. Seriously though, will read again when my inward bleeding resolves.

You only come across a talent like Khorram’s–so like a finely crafted arrow with which to pierce what you thought was your dead heart–once in a lifetime. That arrow is his ability to resurrect the angst, fears, and hopes of my teenage years. Every YA author should aspire to this greatness; we plebs could all only hope to be so wise and timeless in our harrowing tales of youth.

Honorable Mentions

+A Man Called Ove (contemporary) by Fredrik Backman

+Any and all Emily Henry (all hail the queen of rom com). Fight me. I laughed so hard reading a part from People We Meet on Vacation to my spouse I legit almost died.

+The Witch Elm (mystery) by Tana French

So yeah…next time someone asks what kind of books I like to read and I’m like ‘everything’ and they’re like *suspicious face* I will just refer them to this list.

New Year Reading Goals

You may be asking what I could possibly hope to improve upon in the upcoming year after these phenomenal 2021 reads. I gotta say, I’m pretty happy with my 50 book goal. It’s nice meeting my Goodreads goal while being completely doable with my other obligations like reading copious fanfic and binging Star Trek Discovery. But truly, I hope to be a bit more creatively productive in 2022 than I was this year, so 50 is a comfortable standard with which to hold myself.

Something that is becoming increasingly important to me is reading widely as a writer studying craft, yes, but even more than that, reading for enjoyment. If I am not enjoying a book, I will have zero qualms about dropping it.

What are your 2022 reading goals? Do you hope to read more than you got to this year? Or are you focusing more on quality than quantity?