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Literature And Its Impact On Children And Families – Guest Author Josi Russell. Episode 2


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’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.”

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 also 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.

Josi Russell is an Associate Professor of English at Utah State University where she teaches Literature and Creative Writing.  She has been married to her husband Richard Russell for 12 years.  He is an artist and illustrator and his work can be found at for those interested in seeing his work.  Josi and Richard are the parents of two active children and love the experience of homeschooling them together.  Josi 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.

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.

Mom Squad Challenge:  Let your kids see you reading this week.

Favorite Book Lists From Josi, Beth, Andrea, and Camille:

Josi’s Favorites

Josi’s Preschool Fav’s:

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein

I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love by Nancy Tillman

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

Panda Cake by Rosalie Seidler


Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

Josi’s Middle Years Fav’s:

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen

Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren

The Hobbit by J R. R. Tolkien

Josi’s Adult Fav’s:

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Beth’s Favorites

Beth’s Preschool Fav’s:

Brown Bear Brown Bear (Great pictures, really repetitive rhythm so my kids all memorized it).  

Good Night Moon (Pictures are great, little mouse hiding in each picture).

Runaway Bunny (I apparently like this author…good message).

Snuggle Piggy And The Magic Blanket (May be an all time favorite.  There is a ladybug on each page.  My mom read this to us all the time as kids).

The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear (also a childhood favorite)

The Napping House

Beth’s Elementary Fav’s:

The giving Tree

A wrinkle in Time

Number the Stars

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

Magic Tree House Series

Beth’s Young Adult Fav’s:

The Hunger Games

The Giver

To Kill a Mockingbird

Beth’s Adult Fav’s:

The Alchemist

Tuesdays with Morrie


Andrea’s Favorites

(Sorry I had to add explanations, but all these books are my friends!)

Andrea’s Preschool Fav’s:

Parts (This book is so hilarious, all my kids still love to read it.)

Stellaluna (I have always thought this book had the sweetest message)

The Napping House (We all loved the pictures and the repetitive nature of the story)  


Read to your Bunny (My kids didn’t love this book as much as I love this book about the importance of reading to your kids.)

Any Eric Carle Book (The bright, pretty pictures and repetitive stories make Eric Carle’s book great for early readers.)

Andrea’s Elementary Fav’s:

The Junie B. Jones series: (This entire series is hilarious, and was always the first chapter books my kids started reading on their own because they are so fun.)

BFG: (Another fun read- and MUCH better than the movie.)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid series– (Both my boys and girls have enjoyed this series.)

The Indian in The Cupboard (One of the first chapter books I read out loud to my kids.)

Frindle (Short, fun read)

Andrea’s Young Adult Fav’s:

Sisters Grimm Series (This series finally got my daughter hooked on reading)

Wonder (This book has a such a great message, It made me laugh and cry)

Harry Potter Series (Need I say anything more about this amazing series?  If you haven’t read it…first: Where have you been….and second: READ IT!)

Goose Girl (Really anything by Shannon Hale.  I LOVE a fun love story.  This book is everything I love in a book!) 

Anne of Avonlea Series (As a teenager I loved these books.  Sadly I have not been able to get my teenage girls to read them yet..what is wrong with them?)

Andrea’s Adult Fav’s:

Edenbrooke (This is probably my all time favorite book.  Remember, how I said I love a good love story?  This is a clean, fun love story similar to Jane Austen without the old english language.  Aaah, I fell in love with all the characters)

Unbroken (This book took me a while to read, but WOW!  I don’t think I have ever read a book that made me think more.  Such an amazing story.)

The Miracle Morning (One of my favorite self help books.  It is a very short book, but contains great tips for success!)

How to Win Friends and Influence People (This classic self help book is a must read for everyone.  We have studied this book as a family to learn to successfully communicate with people.)

Pride and Prejudice (of course I have to mention this classic.  I love all of Jane Austen’s work.

Any Dan Brown Book, except Demons and Angels, ( I find all of Dan Brown’s books fascinating!)

Camille’s Favorites

Camille’s Preschool Fav’s:

Hooway For Wodney Wat (Sooo funny.  A story about a rat that gets teased and comes out the hero in the end)

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (Again…funny.  You’ll notice a theme in what we love.  About a preschooler who loses her blankie.)

King Bidgood’s In The Bathtub (This book is not only funny but the artwork is so fabulous!  A treat to listen to as well as look at.)

The Rattlebang Picnic (Funny.  Great artwork.  A story all about the importance of family over wealth.)

Any Dr. Seuss Book (I think these are amazing.  I never tire of reading all the imagination of Dr.  Seuss.  He makes words fun for little people just learning them.)

Camille’s Elementary Fav’s:

A Long Way From Chicago and its sequel A Year Down Yonder  (These are among my all time favorite books. Hilarious. Heartwarming.  About a spunky grandma and her two grandchildren. In one word: Perfect.)

A Whole Nother Story and it’s sequels.    ( I love this series.  We have great family memories reading it together.  A story about family, adventure, hilarity.)

The Harry Potter Series (I personally owe J.K. Rowling a HUGE debt of gratitude.  These   books taught my kids in elementary school something that no other book ever did.  It taught them that they could read big books!  Once they finished one of these, their world was never the same again.  They suddenly realized that there was so much available to them and the world was their oyster.  It was the perfect mix of simple enough for them to understand, exciting enough to hold their attention, well written enough to transport them to an amazing world, and big enough to push them and give them CONFIDENCE in reading.  It is filled with good v.s evil, family love and relationships, the importance of good friends, and example after example of doing the right thing even though it’s hard.  I can’t say enough good.  It has been the “secret sauce” for all 4 of my older kids.  Love. Love. Love.)

Three Times Lucky  (Such a great read.  Adventure.  Family.  Hilarity. Mystery.   I just re-read this one again with my 4th grader.  He loved it!)

The Chronicles of Narnia Series (These books are amazing.  Perfect for this age.  I can’t say how many great family discussions have come out of this series of books.  So well written!  Each one is nothing short of a treasure.)

Camille’s Teen/Young Adult Fav’s:

To Kill A Mockingbird  (This is my all time favorite book.  It teaches amazing things about prejudice and family within its pages.  Brilliantly written.  Funny, thought provoking, mysterious.  It is all wrapped up in the end as one of the best stories ever written.)

The Westing Game (This is a really fun mystery.  Well written. All of my teens have loved it.)

The Lord of the Rings series (A classic.  An amazing tale that will challenge the skills of teens.  Writing and excitement doesn’t get much better than this though.  A similar advantage, like kids reading Harry Potter, is that teens who make it through this AMAZING tale come out of it with great confidence in their reading abilities.)

The Sherlock Holmes series (This is a great and challenging series that my teenage son has loved.)

Sadie Hoffmiller Mystery series by Josie Kilpack There are 12 books in this culinary mystery series.  These are a fun, light read that my daughter and I have really enjoyed.  Each book follows Sadie Hoffmiller as she cooks her way through one murder mystery after another.  Clean and tons of fun…recipes too!)

Caretaker series ( a fun sci fi adventure that is appropriate for all ages and explores the ties of family and responsibility while in a life and death space adventure.)

Camille’s Adult Fav’s:

Jane Austen (I absolutely love her books.  Definite favorites are Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion.  I never tire of her writing with the rich characters, witty repartee and terrific descriptions of human nature.  She was a genius at recognizing the audacious, the hysterical, and the foibles of man.  Reading her works makes living everyday life funnier.)

Life Expectancy (This is a brilliantly written book.  It is a thriller meets amazing family relationships.  It mixes heartwarming with scary and is hilarious to boot.  One caution is that there is some language in this book that some will find offensive.  This book makes you want to love your family more and re-read it the moment you put it down.)

Elizabeth Gaskell (This English author is just amazing.  Though more difficult to read than Jane Austen, her books are so, so beautiful.  My life got better when I discovered her.  Favorites :  North and South, Cranford, and Wives and Daughters. One word: Beautiful!)

Jane Eyre (I only recently discovered my love of this book.  It has so many beautiful overarching themes.  It brings joy to my heart.)

Erma Bombeck (The all time greatest, and first, lady of her kind.  This author will make you laugh out loud again and again.  She was amazing at taking real life, everyday, mom and kid situations and making them the funniest thing you’ve ever heard.  My all time favorite: It’s Time To Go Home When You Look Like Your Passport Photo.  I love this lady so much!!)


9 Comment

  1. I love books! I love reading! I love Josi and her books too! I love reading with my kid and she loves to read!
    I love that you added your favorite books in all categories, I now have a huge list of books to check out!

    I just wanted to add is a good resource for book reviews/suggestions. You add your friends to your lists. You can look at the books they have read and their reviews. You can also just search by book title, author or genre. I use it almost every time I choose a book to read.

    I am loving your podcasts! Thanks for being such amazing women!

    1. Thank you so much Ashlie! I love books as well and really enjoyed recording this episode. Thank you for the suggestion of Good Reads!! I totally forgot about it, but you are right, it’s a great resource!
      Thanks so much for your support!

  2. Love this! Big advocate of reading to my boys. I often find them reading/looking at books often. One thing that I know has helped my 3 year old with his vocabulary is having him reading scriptures out loud repeating after me. Definitely like the idea of reading books that are movies. I need to get into chapter books with them.

    1. Thanks for sharing Vanessa. I agree, I think scriptures are a great way to improve their vocabulary. I also love to hear how they pronounce all the names in the scriptures. 🙂

    1. Oh my goodness Makenzie! That was hilarious. Now that is some read out loud time I can get behind. Audible needs to have a section for children’s books that are read as a rap! Kids AND adults would love it. Thanks for sharing.

  3. In the episode we mentioned we were searching for a place that rates books based on appropriate content for kids. Here are some websites that do just that: and These websites give a summary of the book and will determine if they are appropriate for kids. hasn’t been updated in a couple years, but there are still a ton of books that have been reviewed and rated available on it. Kiss The Book is still up and running. Thanks Tara for the tip!

  4. Erma Bombeck is my spirit animal. And Jane Austen taught me manners better than my own mother. Reading is balm to the soul. Thanks for all the great suggestions and ideas!

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