Guest Blog: Giving the Gift of Storytelling to Your Kids

Something we strive to inspire in our readers is a vivid imagination. There’s nothing quite like diving in to a good book and your mind immediately running wild with images and ideas. Helping children utilize and explore their curiosity and creativity is an important element to their development.

Books and stories have a special way of helping form a child’s imagination, and to help them understand the importance and the fun of creative play. Blogger, educator, and book enthusiast Ryan Billingsley tells us about the importance of storytelling in his household, and how he thinks it has positively effected his children. Read in his own words below!

Dad Suggests Giving the Gift of Storytelling to Your Kids


The Magic of Reading

My favorite way to describe the magic of reading books to kids is calling it a noble and sacred duty for parents. The benefits of growing up surrounded by stories are numerous, and I’m not just talking about the academic benefits and the boost to reading skills – not by a long shot. There’s a lot more to it than that. I honestly believe that consistent exposure to books is the second-best gift you can give your children – just behind your unconditional love.  

All parents have their own set of priorities and things they want to teach and pass on to their children. And long ago I decided that imagination, creativity, and wonder were all going to sit at the top of my list. And I’ve found that stories are the perfect fuel for that fire. For that reason, books have been a part of the bedtime routine in our house every single night of our kids’ lives.

Imagination and Curiosity

I like to imagine that this constant exposure to beautiful art is responsible for giving our 6-year-old the heart of an artist and an inventor. He’s curious and imaginative, and he’s always wanting to create, express himself, and explore new things. I’ve long believed that having that sort of deep-rooted interest in life was a major key to happiness. And it’s my duty as a dad to nurture that spark and that excitement. 

“I honestly believe that consistent exposure to books is the second-best gift you can give your children – just behind your unconditional love.”

I actually consider this cultivation of imagination and curiosity one of my most important fatherly responsibilities. After all, if kids are able to hold onto their childhood wonder as they grow older, they’re going to be well-equipped to find happiness in life. And it’s undeniable – the more they explore and the more they discover – that makes it all the more likely that they’ll find that thing they’re passionate about and gives their life meaning. And we should all be so lucky to discover that. And that’s why my family explores new worlds and new ideas and new types of people in the pages of books every single day. Every new story brings new understanding and new possibilities.


Dad’s Picks

We read a lot of different kinds of books together with our children, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t personally attracted to certain types of books. My very favorite picture books can be split into three major categories: scary picture books, picture books about imagination, and picture books with life lessons.

Explaining the scary books is easy. I’ve always loved scary stories, and the books from my childhood that I have the most nostalgia for are by far the spookiest ones. When I pulled them out of my parents’ attic, I was ecstatic to share them with my own kids. And if I’m excited about the books, the kids are definitely going to pick up on that. And I think it’s particularly important for Dad to be a reading role model. You can’t ask for more than a read-aloud where everyone involved is excited about the book. That’s exactly the type of bonding experience we’re after.

I’m drawn towards books about the imagination for obvious reasons as well. I’m a sucker for nostalgia, childhood, and the imagination – so of course I love it when books encourage creativity. And I love stories that are so beautiful and imaginative that they stretch our kids’ imaginations and challenge what they believe to be possible. And it’s also why I have a soft spot for Blue Manatee Press for their stated mission of encouraging “experiencing the world through hands-on, creative play.” Books have an aura of authority, and I love it when they use it to encourage kids to be kids.


And, speaking of books using their authority for good causes, I absolutely love using books to teach. As an example, going back to my list of priorities as a dad that I want to pass on to my kids, the undisputed number one item on that list is empathy and kindness. Books have an incredible ability to grow empathy in children as they meet new characters and explore their feelings. But that’s certainly not all they can teach. I credit books for helping us teach our kids about death, fear, self-confidence, the environment, love, equality, and so much more.

That’s what I mean when I say giving the gift of storytelling is about so much more than the academic benefits and the boost to reading skills. When I’m sharing the books I loved as a kid, reading together is a powerful and important bonding opportunity that can’t be underestimated. When we’re discovering new worlds and exploring beautiful art together, it’s a chance to feed our kids’ imaginations and give them the tools that help them discover happiness in life. And whether the lessons in the books are explicit or not, there’s definitely more learning taking place than we can ever fully understand.

 Ryan Billingsley is a father of two, a teacher, and the lead writer for – where he highlights personal recommendations for kids books, family games, and more.

Be sure to follow Ryan on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook using @dadsuggests for book recommendations, tips, inspiration and more! And follow us on Instagram @bluemanateepress for all blue manatee press updates!

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Who Is Claire Sedovic?

Claire Sedovic is the illustrator of  Odd Animal ABC’s , on sale this spring.

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Claire studied graphic design and minored in printmaking at Drake University, where she says she “developed an understanding of the interplay between text and imagery.” But by the age of six, she already knew she wanted to be an illustrator.

“Everyday experiences, such as childhood dance classes, working in the garden with my mother, and cooking dinner with my sister, have provided inspiration for the words and pictures that fill my sketchbooks.” — Claire Sedovic on what inspires her

After graduating, Claire started to work more consistently with watercolor, and ultimately left her corporate graphic design job to pursue her dream of becoming a published illustrator.

Odd Animal ABC’s!

blue manatee press_odd animal abcs_3.JPG

One thing that Claire hopes readers get out of Odd Animal ABC’s is understanding how diverse the animal kingdom is. “Of course I hope they laugh along with all the wonderful, and often weird critters as they travel from A to Z,” she says, “but on a deeper level, I also hope that it sparks new curiosity about the natural world and a desire preserve and protect it for future generations.” 

The Artist’s Process!

In her own words, this is Claire’s artistic process:

I work primarily with traditional media: paper, pencil, watercolor, and brush. I begin by lightly sketching my illustrations (and always keep an eraser close by!)


When I am satisfied with the pencil drawing, I fill it in with watercolor. I especially love to add a little more life to my creations with a light touch of the magenta on cheeks, noses, and chins. After the watercolor is dry, I retrace the pencil with a softer lead for added detail and contrast.


Once I’m happy with the finished illustration, I scan it so I have a high-resolution digital file that matches the color of the original work as closely as possible. From here, I take that file into Photoshop, drop out the white paper background, and clean up the edges. Finally, I take the edited illustration and add it as a layer to the storybook spread.

Her Favorite Odd Animal!

With so many fun animals to choose from, we were curious which was Claire’s favorite. “I fell in love with the Tree Kangaroo!” she says. “They look more like cuddly teddy bears than they do kangaroos, and I enjoyed mixing the paint for their reddish fur and pale pink noses.


“The animal that gave me the most difficulty was the leaf-tailed gecko,” she adds. “These amazing amphibians look more like a piece of dried foliage than they do a living animal!”

Advice For Young Artists!

Claire has simple but important advice for children who show an interest in art: Make art, and lots of it! “The old adage of practice makes perfect really is true,” she says. “The more you practice your craft, the more you will improve your skills and build confidence in your own abilities.  

“And most importantly, draw what you know, what you love, and what you’re curious about,” she adds. “If you’re not first and foremost making art for yourself, then what’s the point of making it at all? We make time for the things we love, so if you want to keep yourself coming back to the drawing board, make art you are passionate about. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Every doodle, every scratch and scrawl of your pencil is mark closer to becoming the illustrator you wish to be.”

Do you have any young artists in your family? Share their work in the comments below, and make sure to follow us on instagram @bluemanateepress for your daily dose of books, art and inspiration!

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