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Family Looking Up

Nov 14, 2017

This week on Family Looking Up we talk with author and Professor Josi Russell about literature and its impact on children and families.  We explore ways to help all family members to enjoy literature more and how to help use stories to teach and create meaningful conversations with our families.

Josi Russell is an Associate Professor of English at Utah State University where she teaches Literature and Creative Writing.  She is a writer and has five published novels, one of which, The Caretaker, was a finalist for the Utah Book Award and for the Whitney Award.

Josi’s number one tip for what parents can do to help kids have a positive reading experience and learn to love reading?  Parents need to read.  She said kids will love what you love in many instances and letting them see you read and enjoy books is the very first step.

What if parents and/or kids really hate sitting down to read?  Are audiobooks an acceptable replacement for the reading experience?  Josi said that she believes in immersing kids in story and if that is through audio books then that’s fine. “What you are trying to accomplish here is a love for story and a love for narrative.  I would say give them all the options you can including audio books, picture books, chapter books, novels, anything you can to foster that love of narrative.  Once they get that they will find their own most comfortable path.”

The Scholastic 2017 kids family reading report was referred to which showed that children who are read to hear millions more words than children who aren’t due to hearing words that are not in the everyday vocabulary of their parents.  As far as audio books are concerned, this would apply to reading or to listening.

When dealing with a parent who really dislikes reading, she tells them to find the type of narrative that they enjoy whether that be sports stories, oral stories, family stories and communicate those to children to help them develop a love of story and the world of the mind.

Josi said that if you can get kids to love story, then they will find the series that they love to read.  There isn’t one magic series for everyone because we all have very different intelligences.  If you help them to have a love of story then what they need in school will follow because they already have that passion and a confidence.

Speaking of reading out loud to children, she said that it is the best thing that you can do with children.  First because of the literacy and second because it brings closeness with your child which they crave and need.  Read for fun rather than reading for a literacy goal.  If they enjoy the book with you then the literacy goal will intrinsically follow.  

When picking great literature to read with your family look for “family strengthening themes.”  Those are the “big ideas” or themes “that will strengthen your family and give your kids a road map beyond what they see already around them.  Beyond the mirror, it gives them a window into new experiences and things they may face.  Some of those themes are the great themes of literature, such as sacrifice, where a character gives something up for another character.” Forgiveness, change, and redemption were others Josi talked about as wonderful themes to look for.

How do we deal with finding books that we find appropriate for our kids?  First, we read the books ourselves to find what we want them to read.  Other than that, it’s hard to find good lists that mirror what we really want our kids to be exposed to.  Talking to friends who we trust and trying the books they recommend can be a very good resource for finding good literature.  At the end of these show notes there are lists from each of us at Family Looking Up as well as from Josi Russell on favorite books divided up by age.  One other resource available to parents is Amazon reviews.  A lot of content information can be gleaned as parents read reviews of books sold on Amazon.

How do we help kids deal with coming across content in literature that they are uncomfortable with?  The best thing that parents can do to help?  Be talking with your kids about the books they are reading.  Be used to having literary conversations with our kids about the books they are reading.

If we are having those literary conversations and find out about things they are uncomfortable about reading, then sometimes we need to advocate for our kids in appropriate circumstances.  We wouldn’t want our kids to watch a sexually explicit movie, but we oftentimes hold literature to a different standard.  We need to be in tune with how a book is affecting them and still be the parent.

In Josi’s book Caretaker, there is an overarching theme of family and sacrifice that follows the lead character, Ethan Bryant.  In her writing Josi has been inspired by the good people that Josi has met in her life. She is also inspired by the big questions of “what would you do if you were in this circumstance?”

Josi’s books are very family friendly. She has made a conscious choice to keep them that way because she says that stories are powerful and in our society we do not recognize the power that stories have.  Going through life and encountering stories that seemed to have more power to her than to others.  She saw how she would be devastated by certain stories that would stay with her for a long time.  This led her to understand as she writes that she has a strong respect for the power of story and if she is giving the world a story, she wants it to be one that matters and that anyone can read and come away with something positive from it.

To learn more about Josi Russell go to  All of her books are also available at in E Book and print version.  The first two books in the Caretaker Chronicles, Caretaker, and it’s sequel, Guardian, are available in audiobook as well.

To see our favorite book lists, as well as Josi's favorites, visit our website at