In Praise of an Abundance of Books

I first learned about creating a rich print environment from Jim Trelease, and I really decided to take that advice to the nth degree and be as ridiculous as possible. We always have (literally) hundreds of books checked out from the library. Four cards, with a 150 book limit on each card means the Asbys have a filthy rich print environment. A new mom friend came over to our apartment a few years ago and said something like, “Are these . . . all library books?” Um, yes. Yes they are. Is that weird?

Children, of course, think their family is normal until they grow up and learn otherwise. We were re-reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe this week, and my son responded to, “In one corner there was a door which Lucy thought must lead to Mr. Tumnus’s bedroom, and on one wall was a shelf full of books,” with, “One shelf? Only one shelf? Geez!” My work here is done.

Happy reading, and here’s hoping I’ve skewed your definition of a reasonable number of books. The only reasonable amount is the most you can carry (or in our case, roll) out of the library. Throw a few sturdy bags in your car and check out these lovely books that celebrate the written word:


The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a huge favorite of mine. I won’t tell you anything else to avoid spoiling the magic.


I have this cover illustration of The Library framed on my wall . . . for obvious reasons. This book is perfect for book lovers of all ages.


Pair Building Books with Iggy Peck, Architect to gift to your favorite little builder.


The Children Who Loved Books reminds us that all you need is love . . . and books.


Castle of Books was actually a little tricky to find (I had to search by Bernard Clavel to find it on Amazon). I don’t remember it well, but I remember liking it, and now that I realize it’s hard to find, I’m feeling the need to check it out again at the library to make sure it stays in circulation!


But Excuse Me That is My Book is one of those manufactured books that has the original author’s name slapped on the front, but is totally franchised and written by other people. They’re usually terrible. This one isn’t. It’s actually quite fun. Lower your expectations (it’s not really written by the brilliant and hilarious Lauren Child), and you’ll enjoy this one.


The uber-talented Oliver Jeffers created this beautiful celebration of books and reading. Enjoy.


Speaking of Oliver Jeffers and books, you should also check out the very silly and very fun The Incredible Book Eating Boy


The Little Red Fish is an imaginative and dream-like little adventure.



And a little something for the grown-ups: First read The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe, and then follow that heaviness with the light and funny Dear Fahrenheit 451One may make you a little wistful and weepy, the next will make you laugh, both will make you fill up your library holds requests with new books and old favorites.

Happy reading, all you bibliophiles! Remember, there’s no such thing as too many library books.


A Few Books I Reckon Y’all Should Read

I’m from Texas. So is my husband Marcus, and technically so is my son, though he only spent 18 months living there. My daughter, however, is quick to tell anyone who will listen that she was born in North Carolina, that she is unique among her family members, who are so boring in their Texan uniformity. She claims none of it. In fact, one August, when we stepped out of the airport in Texas, my little girl, hit with a wave of real Texas heat, gasped in shock and said, “How do Annie and Granddad survive this??”

Here is my daughter, pretending to be a Texan and my son, the technical Texan:

Here I am in the background, the real deal, at about age 4:

My feelings about Texas are pretty much the same today.

Surprisingly, though, my daughter is the only Asby who slips into a rural accent regularly. This has very little to do with us, with her brief time in NC, or even the grandparents, and everything to do with Stockard Channing’s performance in The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection. Channing’s Miss Binney would fit right in in our rural Texas hometown.

My own Texas accent may have been drilled out of me by my fabulous high school theatre instructor (“Get not git! Just not jist! Poor rhymes with sewer, not four!”), but I can still sound like George W. when the occasion calls for it.

Pull out your own rural accents for the following lovely read-alouds:


Why hasn’t Maripat Perkins written more books? I can’t get through Rodeo Red without laughing. If you, too, like reading phrases like, “cantankerous lemon custard,” “sawing logs,” or “slippery as a snake’s belly in a mudslide,” this book is for you. It’s not designed to encourage sibling affection, so don’t read it with a moralistic bent. This one is just funny. Enjoy it.


Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse does have a moral compass – it’s a lovely book, with perfect illustrations. And it has a horse. Sort of. So I think it counts.


A book about books and David Small illustrated it? Yes, please.


This one will make you want to go someplace special yourself. It deals with racism and civil rights, but has a hopeful inclusive bent.


This one’s for the grown-ups. A friend gave me God Save Texas as a birthday gift one year, and I have to say that it did rekindle some love for my home state. Wright clearly loves Texas, even as he criticizes aspects, and it helped me remember you can be happy and sad at the same time, you know?

And now I have quips like, “Did you know there may be more tigers in Texas than in the wild thanks to lax exotic animal laws?” I sometimes forget how strange it is that one of our Texas cousins was licked by a camel in east Texas while out for a ride on a four-wheeler.

That’s definitely surprising, now that I think about it.

Happy reading, y’all!


Be Yourself Books for Kids Who are Lovely, Just as They Are


I just love compliments from my little ones. Recently one child said, “Ooh, Mama, the purple lines on your legs are so pretty!”

Thanks kid, really.

This moment reminded me of a mom I knew when I was younger and purple-line-less who used to joke that whenever her kids began a compliment, she would run away before they could finish. “Mom you look beautiful [Mom wearing fishnet hose runs away], like Spiderman!” “Mom you look awesome [Mom wearing go-go boots runs away], like a Power Ranger!”

I wish I could bottle up that ability to like what you like for whatever reason you like it (purple is a pretty color, after all) and swallow it whole. But I’ll take the closest thing – these BE YOURSELF books, celebrating unique individuals who like what they like and who are who they are.

Now excuse me, while I re-read some Brene Brown.


The Junkyard Wonders is just one Polacco’s many masterfully told stories, so feel free to check out her entire shelf in the P’s at your local library when you look for this one. Her picture books are generally long (which is ideal if you are reading to a mixed age group) and can sometimes be heavy (this one is), so be sure to preview before you read with your littles. Her books are worth reading more than once, so you won’t be sorry. I still remember reading one of Patricia Polacco’s books for the first time in elementary school. She has that effect.


The parents in I Love My Colorful Nails are pure gold. And if you aren’t misty-eyed with happy tears at the end of this one, you may need to visit Oz.


Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom’s What Do You Do With an Idea? is a New York Times Best Seller for a reason. Every page is beautiful and it will no doubt give many children the confidence boost they need to take risks and let their inner creative out.


Every page of Pearl is a piece of art. You’ll be tempted to rip them out and frame them. Don’t! I bet Molly Idle sells prints.


I Am Small,  and Oliver: The Second-Largest Living Thing on Earth are perfect for any kid who plays the comparison game.


Another Oliver, finding his place in the world!


I don’t even need to sell Julian is a Mermaid. Look at that cover. It’s perfect.


Check out Julian’s kindred spirit Morris, too!


Ideal in its simplicity, Red is a fabulous intro book on this topic but is great for any age (including mine – I loved it).


Work that fabulous neck, Edward!


Pair Perfectly Norman with the short story “The Flyers of Gy” by Ursula Le Guin for your next family book club (the Flyers link will take you to Lavar Burton’s short story podcast, which will radically change your next commute or workout session).


Happy reading and remember there is no one alive who is you-er than you.






What to Read When Your Home is an Absolute Mess


Well hello from our new home, where our petticoats are six inches deep in housewares. 

On Easter morning, my friend texted me 2.5 hours before departure time, and I told her we were running late. How did I know we were running late with almost three hours of time to accomplish tasks, you ask? Somewhere deep in a box with pink (or maybe blue?) tape, rested our Easter attire. Maybe in two different boxes. Possibly four. Plus no one had eaten or showered yet either (where is the conditioner??).

Another friend texted that moving is why God gave us wine and coffee. I responded that I couldn’t find my corkscrew or French press.

In the end, we managed to find everyone’s dress-up clothes except my son’s, who was absolutely thrilled. Is there a Greek god of loungewear?

But thanks to brilliant planning on my part total luck, our books were packed in open-top banana boxes and they were easy to find.

Following are the books that can make even clutter look beautiful.


Sprout Helps Out by Rosie Winstead


Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace


Super-Completely and Totally the Messiest by Judith Viorst and Robin Preiss Glasser


The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Marla Frazee



Happy reading! Enjoy these lovelies, whether your house looks like Marie Kondo’s or mine. And if you must choose between cleaning or reading, you know what the Asbys recommend.




Kids Can Love Poetry, I Promise.

I know I joked about poetry in my last post, but it can be so much fun, really. Especially if you aren’t opposed to a little April fooling.

This absolutely silly and hilarious book by Chris Harris and Lane Smith is the Where the Sidewalk Ends for a new generation of readers. And if you’re really, really mean, you can do what I did when I read this page:


Without missing a beat, I said, “If you’re a good child, then you’ll read it just fine—/But if you’re a bad one, you won’t.” When my little darlings protested, “NO, it doesn’t say that! There’s no fourth line!” I laughed and refused to be tricked by them. I said I knew they could see the fourth line, because they are the best kids in the world, and I wouldn’t be fooled. They looked at each other wide-eyed, while I walked away to hide my laughter in a sink full of dishes. I heard them whispering, plotting. Then they scrambled to try all their ideas. They tried holding it up to a mirror, they took it into the dark to check for glow-in-the-dark ink, they tried their invisible ink pen light, they looked through a magnifying lens. When they had exhausted all their experiments, they came back to me begging for relief, an admission of trickery. I laughed at what I called their elaborate ruse and again refused to be had by my own children.

I did eventually spill the beans, of course. They thought it was hilarious. Or maybe they were just so relieved they couldn’t stop laughing. Either way, it was a lot of fun.

Now if you’re looking for more serious books of poetry, here are a few collections my kids have absolutely loved:

I love Mary Oliver for myself, but especially for children. Her books are a wonderful starting point for future poetry-lovers, because her writing is both beautiful and accessible. Because she writes about the natural world, and children are expert observers of nature, her writing clicks for them in a way that other works that require more background knowledge just can’t. Also, every time I pulled out this book I would give her a silly last name like Pickles or Olive Juice, just to prompt the kids to say, “No! Mary Oliver!” I really pull out all the stops when it comes to poetry. The stakes are too high to play sloppy.

Speaking of a good starting point, this HBO special is lovely:

I know. A show? Come on, Meg. This is supposed to be a book blog. But while technically a screen, in The Poetry Show the actors are reading classic poetry to your children. Reading. This is the screen time you can feel good about. And guess what? They made one more: A Child’s Garden of Poetry. When my daughter was a newborn, my son watched these over and over, and I didn’t feel one bit guilty. They are lovely, truly. Buy copies for every new big sibling you know.

If you’re looking for a collection from a variety of poets, a way to dip-your-toe, find out what your children like, we loved A Child’s Anthology of Poetry:

There aren’t pictures in that one, though. If you need pictures, try Poems to Learn by Heart:

Once you’ve discovered which poets your children like, you can find all sorts of short picture books, or longer books of poetry featuring their favorite. For example, maybe they like ee cummings, so you discover Enormous Smallness and I Carry Your Heart with Me and Little Tree. Or maybe they love haiku, so you have some fun with Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku or Guyku or Hi, Koo! The possibilities!!

I started to list more of our favorite picture book versions of classic poems or biographies of poets, but the post would be almost as long as my dinosaur post and most wouldn’t realistically make it to the end. I can’t help but include A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, though, because it has double-bling on the cover, and you really need to pull out all the stops when your child’s love of poetry is on the line.

Happy reading and good luck! Please share your own recommendations in the comments!