Words to Live By features exclusive interviews with authors, artists, and community members.
December 30, 2021
Linda Ashman is a prolific children’s book author, with over forty picture books published in numerous languages. She is also passionate about helping others become authors, frequently offering workshops, writing resources/tips on her website, and even a book called The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books. Her children’s books span a range of themes and include Babies on the Go, Outside My Window, Ways to Welcome, and her latest, Phoebe Dupree Is Coming to Tea!. Linda currently lives in Chapel Hill with her husband.
Is there a book or genre that stands out in your memory from your youth?
I loved poetry, particularly anything funny or scary, and fairy tales, especially with beautiful and/or melancholy art (Jessie Wilcox Smith, Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen were a few favorites). I also remember reading my way through The Childhood of Famous Americans series published by Bobbs-Merrill: biographies of Amelia Earhart, Babe Didrikson, Booker T. Washington, Jane Addams, Clara Barton, Nathan Hale and many more. (I wanted to be heroic too!) And I loved my parents’ editions of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights; the foreboding wood block prints by Fritz Eichenberg were mesmerizing.
What kind of reader were you as a child?
I grew up in a small town, so books were a source of adventure, escape, hope and possibility. I still remember the sense of awe I felt walking into the Free Public Library in Flemington, New Jersey: All these books, all for me! Libraries are still among my favorite places to spend time.
What book should everybody read before they turn 18?
I can’t imagine there’s a single book that would appeal to or resonate with every kid. I think it’s more important for children to love reading, and that can take some work. As parents, teachers, librarians and literacy advocates, it’s so important for us to find the right books for each kid. If we get them hooked early, they’ll be more inclined to choose reading from the overwhelming array of distractions at their fingertips. The more widely they read—and the more they build empathy and critical thinking skills—the better off we all are.
What kind of books are on your bookshelf?
I’ve always imagined I’ll find the answer to all my questions if I just find the right book. One of those questions is: What does it mean to live a good life? My bookshelves include many books about vocation, purpose and calling; religion and spirituality; memoirs; and aging and dying (I like to be prepared). And I’m an enthusiastic if not especially successful gardener, so a large chunk of bookshelf real estate goes to hefty gardening books, mostly for visual inspiration.
What are you reading currently?
I’ve been on a roll with excellent books in the last few months. I just finished The Vanishing Half (Brit Bennett), which followed Dear Mrs. Bird (AJ Pearce), I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou), The Other Black Girl (Zakiya Dalila Harris), and The Man Who Died Twice (Richard Osman), which made me laugh out loud more than once.
What is your favorite place to read? Pre- and/or during the pandemic?
Until a few months ago, my favorite spot was at one end of the couch in my office, my husband at the other, and our sweet old Lab Sammy lying between us, her head in one lap or the other (preferably mine). Sammy was my writing, reading and napping companion, and a daily source of laughter and comfort. She died in April, very peacefully in my office, at age 14. I miss her every day.
If you could have dinner with three authors from any period in time, who would you pick?
I can think of so many combinations of authors I’d love to talk to, but in furtherance of the question I mentioned earlier, I’ll go with three whose books have been meaningful to me over the years: Thomas Moore, Karen Armstrong and Pema Chodron.
What are the children in your life currently reading?
My son is 23, so no longer a child, but I’ll use him anyway. He’s a big fan of thrillers—books by Michael Connelly, John Grisham and David Baldacci, among others. He just texted his two-second summary of Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn: “pretty messed up like Gone Girl but highly recommend.”
Do you have a favorite quote from literature? If so, what is it?
Years ago, I started excerpting lines and passages from books that spoke to me. My “Words of Wisdom” document is about 40 pages now. I’d have a hard time choosing a favorite quote, but when I find myself fretting too much about things that are beyond my control, it helps to repeat the first stanza of Mary Oliver’s poem “I Worried”:
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
The whole poem is here.
Thank you to Linda for taking the time to thoughtfully answer our questions! You can read more about her work and her books at lindaashman.com.