Books for Little Nightmare Warriors


My husband has always been mild, gentle, pleasant, and laid-back. For example, when accidentally left behind in a grocery store as a kid, he just waited in the aisles, thinking to himself, “They’ll figure it out and come back for me soon.”

His future wife, on the other hand, was not a particularly easygoing kid.

Had I been left in Lacey’s Grocery Store, I would have been scream-sobbing next to the gallons of Blue Bell, then running through the aisles, begging someone to call the police because I had been abandoned.

This intensity of mine was ever present, but most certainly at bedtime when I was desperately afraid to go to sleep because of The Nightmares. My nightmares today consist mostly of social faux pas, like arriving at my in-law’s Christmas celebration only to realize I forgot to buy presents for anyone or accepting a job only to have to back out because I didn’t think about childcare options or being publicly shamed for forgetting to write a thank you note. When I was a child, though, I was being chased by abominable snowmen or about to be run over by a truck and my legs wouldn’t work.

So I did the only reasonable thing I could do and refused to go to sleep.

Following should probably be a story of how my mother coaxed me to sleep night after night, but parenting is a thankless job, so this is a story about my cool older brother assuaging my childhood fears.

My brother suffered from night terrors, so my dreams must have seemed like small potatoes to him, but nevertheless he sat across from me at the dining room table (no chance of falling asleep there!), took my fears very seriously and suggested a solution to all my problems.

What if he hopped into his bed at the same moment I lay down in mine? Then he would travel to my dreams, meet me there, and take me flying through the world to see beautiful and amazing sights and keep all the nightmares at bay.

Because everything Neill said was absolutely true and he certainly had magical powers (he could travel to the moon at the speed of light, in case you were wondering), I believed him wholeheartedly, and skipped off to bed where I fell asleep quickly, so as not to miss my aerial appointment.

Unless you have a cool drum-playing, light-speed-traveling high-schooler at your disposal, this approach may not work for your child, but you can at least enjoy these read-alouds for little nightmare warriors.

**It’s hard to make a list of “nightmare” books that aren’t at least a little scary. Check out these feel-good books or maybe these if you’re looking for a distraction from the scaries at bedtime**

Everyone needs a Nightlight to guard against Pitch, the Nightmare King.

(And William Joyce is certainly a fantasy king, in my book.)


Full disclosure, I’ve forgotten most of this book. But I love Jessica Meserve’s cheerful illustrations and I’m going to pop this one on our holds list again, because everyone needs a story about learning to be brave when your protector is missing.


Humor is the best armor against fear! 


Speaking of humor, there’s No Such Thing as a boy on top of the bed.


Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen collaborating on childhood fear? YES.


Yarlett’s Dark is not close to as scary as Snicket and Klassen’s, if you’re looking for lighter (and fabulously illustrated) fare.


There’s an Alligator Under My Bed and There’s a Nightmare in My Closet are classics, but couldn’t be left off this list.


Speaking of classics, nothing is more classic than Seuss. And this one apparently glows in the dark!


I’ve mentioned Tiger vs. Nightmare before (it is excellent and warrants mentioning more than once), but fair warning – it is definitely scary. Don’t let the cute tiger fool you.


For your chapter book readers, check out these:

Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King brings Joyce’s brilliance to the big kids.


My son recommends The Last Kids on Earth, but says you should definitely start with book one. I haven’t read these, but if Netflix is investing, it’s probably solid, right?


We just put Nightmares! on hold; it has great reviews and falls solidly in this category.


Join the BFG and watch out for those trogglehumbers!


Happy reading and lovely dreams!

Books for Tooth Fairy Surrogates and Their Little Ones

At a Fourth of July barbecue last week, one of the kiddos in attendance lost a tooth during dessert. Upon hearing the celebratory news, another kid let out a deep sigh.

That’s the sigh of a kid with all his tenacious little baby teeth, I thought. (It was.)

There is something really special about the tooth milestone. Turning the pages of my kids’ elementary yearbook and hitting the first-grade page with all the toothy little grins makes my heart melt a little. I mean, when your kid starts crawling it’s thrilling, but also you’ve now lost the ability to plunk them down in one spot and expect them to stay there. First solid foods means cleaning high chairs. First steps are also first falls. And I don’t even want to think about the pre-teen and teenage firsts that are around the corner. But with teeth, the only thing you’re really losing is maybe the ability to pronounce the letter s. And there is, of course, the tooth fairy tax.

All in all, I’m a pretty terrible fairy surrogate. Not only am I cheap (the value of baby teeth is severely inflated, in my opinion), but I’m also forgetful. Mornings are my jam; in the evenings I’m worthless, and I’m likely to forget there is a gross leftover body part under my kids’ pillows that I’m supposed to somehow extract and replace with nonexistent cash (do kids Venmo these days?). My one shining moment was when I bounced into my kids’ room wearing my daughter’s fairy wings, to bestow the (gloriously remembered!) treasure on my sleeping child. My oldest was awake and thought it was hilarious.

If you are inclined to reject the whole money-for-teeth business, you could slip these lovely reads under your child’s pillow instead:


The Tooth Fairy Wars by Kate Coombs and Jake Parker began a total obsession with trapping the tooth fairy at the Asby house. Our kids wrote (slightly disturbing) stories about destroying the tooth fairy, planned elaborate traps, and generally had a blast with this pretend play. You’re welcome.


The Tooth Mouse by Susan Hood and Janice Nadeau is beautifully illustrated and a fun introduction to the Tooth Mouse tradition in France.


Check out Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat, which features a cat AND a mouse.


Speaking of milestones, join April and Esme: Tooth Fairies on their first tooth expedition.


Okay, so Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO is on order at my library, which means I am on the hold list and haven’t read it yet, but it LOOKS fantastic.


And finally Josie’s Lost Tooth, for kids like my little friend at the BBQ, who feel like everyone else is losing their teeth first.


Happy reading!



Feel-Good Books for Kids Who Love Ramona

I’m not used to feeling old. Maybe it has something to do with dating your grade-school sweetheart. High school doesn’t feel that long ago because we’re still writing the same story, just, you know, less let’s-play-house and more let’s-buy-a-house. Add to that the fact that we decided at the wise old ages of twenty-three and twenty-four that we were ready to be parents, and you can see how I often find myself as the youngest adult on the playground.

But I finally had my first oh-my-gosh-I’m-aging moment this week.

It was not a grey hair (my husband has had those since he was sixteen). It was not my child saying something like, “Did you have cell phones back in those days?” (We did!) It was in fact a reference to Harry Potter in a Judy Blume book.

Since Blume’s first children’s book The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo was published in 1969, you’ll forgive me for not realizing that the fabulous Fudge books are from the 1990s and early 2000s. Plus, the covers look like this:

Fudge-a-Mania book cover.jpgDouble Fudge book cover.jpg

And anyway, how is it possible that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in 1997? I remember it. My brother’s toast at my wedding included a jab for scheduling the event on the night of the release of Book Seven (how could I, really?).

So you see why this moment felt so anachronistic to me. Fudge shouldn’t know about Harry. They belong to different ages. How can Potter be over twenty years old if I remember reading the first edition? It can’t be true.

All this is going somewhere helpful, I promise. Let’s get back to the Fudge books and why children love them. There are some authors like Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume and Margaret Wise Brown, who never forgot what it’s like to see the world from a child’s point of view. And when people like that write stories about family life, stories that are so relatable and lovely, children can read them for hours.

So please enjoy these fabulous stories by authors who truly get your kid.

The Ramona Quimby Collection and The Henry and Ribsy Box Set by Beverly Cleary (of course)

There is no fictional world that feels more a part of our family than this one. We refer to Ramona and Henry almost every week. Whenever there are claims of injustice, we say, “Having been the youngest . . . she had learned to watch for unfair situations.” Tonight at dinner when one child was leaning halfway off her chair, still technically sitting down, we said, “Just like Ramona on the curb, teasing Henry!” For Christmas one year, we found an Etsy artist who would make a Ramona “Q” for us (see below). We can’t get enough. I highly recommend the audiobooks, read by Stockard Channing and Neil Patrick Harris. 


(I love this ornament so much.)

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

Clementine has been compared to Ramona and for good reason. She’s an absolute delight and Frazee’s illustrations are perfect.


The Gooney Bird Greene books by Lois Lowry

From the mind that brought you The Giver, comes a delightfully fun and quirky series, featuring yet another strong young woman.


The Lulu Collection by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith and Kevin Cornell

While I like Lulu and the Brontosaurus best, they are all full of Viorst’s signature wit.


The Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

There are so many instances when you need the phrase, “toughy little buffalo.” This three-book series is both laugh-out-loud funny and also surprisingly poignant. I loved these books, which was not surprising at all, since Jenkins’ What Happens on Wednesdays is a big favorite of mine (and a totally unsung delight – you can get Wednesdays for less than four dollars on Amazon because the world apparently hasn’t discovered how absolutely perfect it is). They aren’t from a child’s perspective (rather, toys’), but for whatever reason they seemed to fit in this category.


And, of course, the Fudge Books by Judy Bloom

If you love Henry Huggins, you’ll probably also be a fan of Peter Hatcher and his crew.


Enjoy these feel-good chapter books with your littles, and happy reading!



Back Soon!

Look for a new post in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime, enjoy this trip down memory lane:

Both of my children loved Paul Zelinsky’s Wheels on the Bus. Whenever I read the swish-swish-swish page (see top photo), my daughter would frantically point at the bus driver and say emphatically, “Papa! Papa! Papa!”

I laughed every time.

To be fair, I have included a page from The Foot Book. My son used to point to the woman in the yellow dress and say “Mama, Mama,” and Marcus found it similarly hilarious.

There is really nothing better than reading with a kid.

Happy summer reading!!

Books for Bridge Builders

(This post is full of books about literal building, not, you know, kids building bridges across cultural/social/economic barriers. In case you were wondering. )


Here in Bridgetown, public elementary students learn all about Portland’s bridges, how they were constructed, their history, etc., and then they make a bridge of their own at the end of the year.

This is cool.

Also, you know, SIGH.

I vacillate between wishing my children’s education were more project-based and then wishing they were never-ever-ever assigned a project, especially one with the word “family” attached.

Family project?? I already did my time in third grade. I spelled delicatessen and made a jaguar diorama. So I decided to delegate all “family” engineering help to my lovely spouse, who responded by joking, “But I already made a bridge in elementary school!”

I was shocked.

We attended the same elementary. We had mostly the same teachers. How did I miss this essential part of my STEM education? Where are my engineering skills?? I needed them at this crucial moment when my son was required to build an eighteen-inch bridge that could hold a pound of weight.

If only I had just been assigned a bridge project in grade-school, then I could have helped my son create something like this:


Ha, just kidding. My architect friend helped her son make this.

Look closely. I kid you not, that’s the topography of the land under the Steel Bridge. Also, her son ran up to us after school, stressed because a ball hit his bridge during transport and the “telescoping feature” wasn’t working. I joked that I didn’t even know what that meant. I was only half kidding.

Nevertheless, while I may be a bridge-building novice, I can read inspiring STEM books to my children, no engineering degree required.

Here are a few books to spark your inner engineer:

Iggy Peck Architect and Rosie Revere Engineer are two fun and very popular stem books. They are sure winners, with colorful illustrations and rhyming text.


Jonathan Bean remembers his family’s 1.5 year building project in Building Our House, which even includes photographs from the actual project at the end of the book. It’s practical and exciting to watch unfold from a child’s perspective.


For a more whimsical take on house-building, check out If I Built a House by Chris Van Dusen. 


Speaking of whimsy, your kids will immediately whip out a sketchpad to design their own imaginative tree house after reading the very fun Secret Tree Fort.


For more treehouses, check out the beautifully illustrated Everything You Need for a Treehouse


Okay, just one more tree house book. Maybe I should change the title of this post to “Books for Aspiring Tree House Builders.”


How about a waterfall-house, for a change of pace? 


Okay, I’ve veered very far. Let’s get back to bridges with Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing, which is an attention-grabbing title if ever I read one.


Brooklyn Bridge is not for the casual bridge enthusiast. It is text-heavy with dark illustrations and doesn’t sugarcoat the deaths and difficulties present during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Worth reading to a bridge-obsessed (or even bridge-curious) kid with a long attention span.


I loved, loved, loved Dave Egger’s book on the Statue of LibertyThis Bridge Will Not Be Gray about the Golden Gate Bridge is also an excellent read.


Happy reading and building from our popsicle-stick-laden playroom to yours.




Picture Books to Encourage Sibling Affection

I’m not one of those parents who thinks that if you just encourage sibling affection, your kids will be best friends. I know how ridiculously lucky we are that our two have been buddies since day one, especially given that one is a calm soul and the other is . . . well, not.

And full disclosure, my kids fight like the best of them. “Warting” is an Asbyism for purposefully annoying your sibling to the point of provoking an outburst. We inherited this word from my husband’s family of three boys, and use it regularly. Maybe every day. But I’ve also found them like this almost every day, too:

Speaking of my in-laws, when they decided to surprise their children with a swimming pool a hundred years ago, they called their three boys into the living room for a family meeting so they could share the special news. The eldest boy trudged in, sighed, and said, “Not another baby.”

I love that story.

But back to brainwashing reminding your kid that the new addition is not a screaming, smelly, parent-stealer, but rather a new friend with whom to share books.

These stories are a great place to start:

I went through a phase where I bought One Special Day for every toddler-turned-big-sibling I knew, and for good reason.


I discovered Sisters at my in-law’s house and couldn’t believe I hadn’t found it before. It is simple and lovely.


The Baby Tree is my FAVORITE book for discussing the birds and the bees. It’s hilarious, lovely, and perfectly illustrated. A great introduction for even young new siblings.


Loretta’s Gift is a lovely book that really empowers young helpers.


For books that don’t sugarcoat sibling trials but are heart-warming nonetheless, try Big Red LollipopDear Sister (an Asby favorite), Carmela Full of WishesWhatever Happened to My Sister?, and The New Small Person


King Baby is just for giggles, which is totally worthwhile. Not everything needs to be imbued with deeper meaning here. Babies are funny.


And on that note, also check out Mission: New Baby. I’m so surprised it only has two reviews on Amazon as of this writing. It’s hilarious, too!


Gentle and lovely, Mama’s Belly will encourage your little one to feel comfortable asking all the questions.


For lovely adoption stories try A Most Unusual Day or A Family is a Family is a Family, the latter of which includes many different types of families, not just families by adoption.


You Were the First is a celebration of firstborns. The sequels include The Second: Meh, We’ve Done This Before, and The Third: You’re Just Lucky to Be Here. (I’m totally kidding.)


And how could I not include this sibling book with a big sis desperate to read to her baby brother??


Happy reading (and warting)!



Star Wars Books for People Who Can’t Sense The Force

My daughter was recently the only girl in attendance at a Star Wars Jedi birthday party. I love everything about that, despite the fact that I immediately forget the plot of every Star Wars film after the credits roll. What’s a ewok again? Is “young padawan” a compliment or an insult when someone calls me that? Does Nerfherder predate Nerf guns? Are they related? Are Stormtroopers humans or robots? Clones! The Clone Wars . . . right? Right??

My son’s lego robotics competition has a Star Wars theme next year, and instead of thinking, “Wow, I need to learn more about coding for this next level of competition,” I’m actually thinking, “I have GOT to re-watch all those movies this summer so I don’t make a fool of myself in front of the kids!”

Side note: that awesome birthday party featured a back-flipping Jedi master who taught light-saber technique was pummeled by twelve foam light sabers for the duration of the party. It was really fun to watch.

But back to business – here are books even someone afflicted with Ackbar-amnesia can enjoy.

Just from the cover, you can tell Are You Scared, Darth Vader is hilarious. I won’t ruin any of the jokes for you here – just check it out.


I’m not sure who the audience is meant to be in Darth Vader and Son, but my son and I both loved it.


I knew BB-8 on the Run was meant for people like me when I saw Drew Daywalt’s name on the cover.


Tony Diterlizzi’s take on Star Wars is a good primer for kids who think the movie is a little too scary but still want to be in the know. Actually, maybe I should take another look.


Happy reading and may the force . . . oh, you know.