Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

The 13 Books I’m Saving for My Daughter

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Steph Auteri

Senior Contributor

Steph Auteri is a journalist who has written for the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE, and elsewhere. Her more creative work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, under the gum tree, Poets & Writers, and other publications, and she is the Essays Editor for Hippocampus Magazine. Her essay, "The Fear That Lives Next to My Heart," published in Southwest Review, was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2021. She also writes bookish stuff here and at the Feminist Book Club, is the author of A Dirty Word, and is the founder of Guerrilla Sex Ed. When not working, she enjoys yoga, embroidery, singing, cat snuggling, and staring at the birds in her backyard feeder. You can learn more at and follow her on Insta/Threads at @stephauteri.

Obviously, I hope my daughter someday loves every single book I also love. That way, I can look forward to a future in which we sit around in our matching cat slippers and fleece pajama pants while braiding each other’s hair and debating the relative merits of psychological horror versus supernatural horror.

In reality, I know my daughter will develop her own interests, wholly distinct from mine. How else to explain her obsession with poop-themed picture books and her enjoyment of the outdoors?

Still, there are some books I read and enjoy and immediately think: Emily will love this someday.

Or: Emily will need this.

For the moment, Em is at the stage (2 and a half) where she’s still merely memorizing all the words to The Saddest Toilet in the Worldrather than actually reading them. But in preparation for the day when she no longer needs me to read aloud to her, I’m stockpiling the following books:

Dana Simpson’s Phoebe and Her Unicorn. I was charmed by this comic about a young girl and her best friend: a magical unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils (teehee). Like Calvin & Hobbes, but with an infusion of girl power, Simpson’s comic tackled loneliness and blooming friendship in a way that gave me the warm fuzzies… when it wasn’t making me snort laughter.

Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis’s Lumberjanes. Of course, Phoebe is merely the precursor to my true obsession. I am madly in love with Lumberjanesa middle grade comic about a group of BFFs battling supernatural beings at a summer camp vaguely reminiscent of the one I attended as a Girl Scout. I’m saving every single volume—about friendship and loyalty and kicking ass—for my future warrior.

Michael Ende’s The Neverending StoryBefore I started reading horror and only horror, and before my parents started worrying that their daughter was a bit morbid, my favorite childhood book was The Neverending Story. For one, it’s a book about a book—irresistible for a book nerd. For another, its epic tale of bravery and the magic of imagination was one I couldn’t help coming back to again and again. I saw myself in Ende’s lonely, bullied, bookish young narrator, and it was wildly gratifying to see his growth throughout the course of the book.

Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. Ende’s book was all plot, but Cisneros’s writing is pure poetry. It came into my life at the perfect time for a young girl who was growing to love words, and gave me a window into the life of someone whose day-to-day looked very different from my own.

Dear IjeaweleChimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. This letter—which is being released as a book this coming March—was initially a response to a friend who wondered how to raise her baby girl as a feminist. The suggestions Adichie came up with are pure brilliance, and the perfect road map for any mother / daughter duo to follow on the way to full-fledged womanhood.

Alida Nugent’s You Don’t Have to Like Me. I mentioned in a previous post that this book reminded me of my own feminism primer back in the day, Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal FeminismObviously, I plan to pass it along to my daughter.

Roxane Gay’s Bad FeministAnd since we’re on a roll with essential feminist texts, she just has to read the book that made me feel better about being an imperfect feminist. I first claimed the identity of “feminist” for myself when I was 22. Then, over time, I started to suspect I was too flawed to be a true feminist. Gay’s essay collection has helped me reclaim feminism at a time when women’s rights are facing a devolution.

Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. This is the book I gift to every woman in my life. And Em is the most important woman in my life (and also the most adorable). I find that this book is the perfect balm when I’m going through a rough patch. It imparts both perspective and wisdom.

S.E.X.Heather Corinna’s S.E.X. You may have noticed in past posts of mine that I’m a huge proponent of sex ed from an early age. When Em has graduated from the board books, I’ll pass along this book from the founder of Scarleteen for her to read in her own time.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. And because fiction can also impart important lessons, I’ll also suggest Speak. I read this one at the end of 2016. It’s a YA about a year in the life of a teenage girl who is sinking under the weight of a big, terrible secret: her rape at the hands of a high school senior the summer before. This book was gripping and true and heartbreaking and insightful, and the narrator is exactly who I’d want my daughter to be going on this journey with.

Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. I waited far too long to read Rankine’s much-lauded prose poem about experienced racism in our culture. I won’t let Em make the same mistake.

Isabella Rotman’s Not on My Watch. This comic artist regularly does artistic collaborations with Scarleteen. But I actually learned about her myself when I interviewed Erika Moen of Oh Joy, Sex ToyThis slim graphic manual is the perfect how-to on consent and responsible bystander-ship.

Jolie Kerr’s My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag… and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha. Finally, in the event Emily ever moves out (a reality that’s difficult to imagine at a time when I’m counting down the days ’til we send her to preschool) she’ll need this. Because she certainly won’t learn how to clean from me. I’m useless in that department.

At least I’m teaching her how to cook.

And to read, for that matter.