During her 12 years as a correspondent for ABC News, Linsey Davis has covered stories ranging from the Miracle on the Hudson to the Boston Marathon bombing. But after giving birth to her son Ayden five years ago and reading books to him every day, she started thinking about using her storytelling skills in a different way: namely, writing children’s literature.
During a “Christopher Closeup” interview, Linsey explained, “So often, I talk about murders and mayhem. This was a way to shift the focus for a little bit and do something that was upbeat and positive.”
Linsey wasn’t sure what form that story would take until Ayden, then age two, asked her one day, “Mommy, does God open up the flowers?”
Linsey said, “I was so pleasantly surprised by his curiosity and his ability to make that connection between God, nature, and the world around him. That was when I had the a-ha moment that that’s what I’m going to write about.”
God had been a major part of Linsey’s life since childhood. She grew up going to Sunday School, and taking part in the “young people’s division” of her church: “That meant on every third or fourth Sunday, the kids took over running the service. We welcomed the visitors, read through the affirmation of faith, and read the litany. I sang in the kid’s choir. My parents valued God [and] introduced [Him] to me at a young age, and that, I think, has been the game-changing difference in my life. [It] changed my trajectory, and that’s why it’s so important for me to give my son the same introduction.”
Linsey pondered how best to introduce God to Ayden in an age-appropriate way. They had several Bible Blessing books, so he was familiar with the stories of David and Goliath or Jonah and the whale. But, said Linsey, “I felt like at that age, he was too young to appreciate and understand God’s hand in all that. I wanted to make [my book] in a way that was accessible to him, to answer his question ‘does God open up the flowers’ and what is God responsible for. And not just for him, but for other children and toddlers. [The book] would be a gentle and subtle introduction to God, this architect and creator of all.”
That book became “The World is Awake,” co-written with Joseph Bottum and illustrated by Lucy Fleming. It tells the story of a young boy and his sister enjoying the great outdoors and a trip to the zoo. Along the way, they come to appreciate the wonders of God’s creation: from peacocks, panthers, and busy bees – to sunshine, rainbows, and glorious trees. The theme can be summed up with the lines, “The world is awake / it’s a wonderful place / alive with God’s power / and glad with His grace.” We were happy to honor “The World is Awake” with a 2019 Christopher Award in the Books for Young People category.
Though the book presents a timeless message to all children, the siblings depicted are African American, partially because Linsey’s son is African American but also because children of color still don’t see themselves well-represented in literature for young people. After conducting research, Linsey discovered that 50 percent of the children in the U.S. are not white, yet 90 percent of the protagonists in children’s books are white.
“Children look to books to find themselves,” she said. “They look to books for self-affirmation. So if they are looking at books and don’t find themselves, they’re going to start looking in other places. And I think that’s dangerous. We want to make sure that our children are readers. We want to make sure that our children find joy in books and that they are educated.”
Linsey’s approach was influenced by an essay she read that talked about windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. “Kids need mirrors,” she explained. “They need to see themselves reflected in books. They need windows so they can peer into a world that may be unfamiliar to them. And if that window is truly helpful, it’s able to become a sliding glass door to transport them into that world.”
Having a child can also transport adults into a world they’d forgotten about, helping them to look at their surroundings with a sense of wonder they might have lost through the years. Linsey admits that the “daily grind of everyday life” left her somewhat jaded and blind to “the butterfly, the rainbow, the sunset, and the grandeur, beauty, and intricacy [of nature].”
One day, when it was snowing heavily, Linsey looked at the streets and lamented how much trouble getting to work would be. Then she observed her son “holding out his little hand with his gloves on and marveling at each snowflake…I really did decompress and take the time to talk to him about how no snowflake is alike and they’re all different. Just the uniqueness of that and of God’s creation…It’s so rare, I think, that as adults we take that step back and appreciate with the eyes of a child, to see life with the same excitement.”
Linsey is continuing her efforts to reach kids with positive and faith-filled stories in her upcoming second book, “One Big Heart.” She said, “I wanted to give a message again to my son and to young people about how we sometimes do look a little bit different and sometimes we act a little bit different: our behaviors, our personalities, our physical features. But in the end, God gave us all…a big heart, and that’s most important because that’s where love starts. So the book’s setting is in a classroom and the children are initially looking at all the things that make them different, but then realizing that we really are more alike than we are different.”
Beyond her career, be it reporting or writing, Linsey knows her family needs to be her number one priority. She concluded, “Sometimes, we’re on our phones or computers, and we’re not paying attention. We’re neglecting those who are closest to us…[We need to get] back to those basics of being that united and cohesive family unit that we could all benefit from, myself included…[I have to] make sure that I’m connected with ‘face time’ in the truest sense.”
(To listen to my full interview with Linsey Davis, in which she also discusses her road to becoming a journalist, click on the podcast link below):