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Karen Kingsbury and Tyler Russell on "Never Grow Up"

Never Grow-up

Of Karen’s dozens of books, some of the most popular are a series of 33 (and counting) centering on a fictional family, the Baxters, comprised of parents John and Elizabeth, and their five children: Brooke, Kari, Ashley, Erin, and Luke. The Baxters first came to life on the pages of Karen’s 2012 book, Coming Home, a stand-alone novel meant to end the eventual series. Three of the most recent Baxter books form a series for middle-grade kids, ages 8-12, explaining the Baxter kids’ childhood. 

In Never Grow Up, 6th-grader Kari is assigned an essay about what she wants to be when she grows up, and her mind draws a blank. She doesn’t want to grow up; she wants everything to stay just like it is. In time, Kari comes to realize that she can’t make time stand still, but she can enjoy every moment with her wonderful family. Her sister, Ashley, a 5th-grader, feels the same way. She’s worried her siblings are growing up too fast. When Ashley wins the role of Wendy in her school’s play, Peter Pan, she gets an idea. Maybe she and her siblings can pledge to never grow up at all! 

In addition to fostering a love for reading in children, Karen wants readers to understand this lasting message: Though growing up is tough, the Lord, family, and friends will be there to help and guide. Tyler wants kids to know that it’s okay if they don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, or have answers to life’s big questions. The tremendous popularity of the Baxter series, Karen believes, is that readers experience a loving, healthy, but not perfect family.  While many relate to them, others find the kind of family dynamic they’ve lacked and desire to emulate in their own lives.  

Mother-Son Teamwork

Tyler has enjoyed storytelling all his life, and won a national award for a children’s book he wrote in elementary school. When his novelist mother asked him to team up on the first book in the Baxter Children’s Series, Best Family Ever, he was thrilled. “I’ve always respected her writing so much,” he says. Karen had by that time found the demand for more books was growing faster than her ability to keep pace, so the collaboration with Tyler was a welcome relief. “God has gifted Mom with the ability to write stories with Christ at the center, which teach lessons about how to live life,” Tyler explains.   

He describes how the process works for them: “We get our coffee, plan ahead, make an outline, then I write the first draft of the book.” Karen follows, adding her ideas, modifications, and expertise. “Sometimes there’s a lot of clean up, other times not,” Tyler laughs. Being closer in time to his own childhood has given Tyler a perspective that’s been very helpful, Karen says. In fact, they both admit that the Russell family (Kingsbury is Karen’s maiden name), has inspired many story ideas and details for the Baxter family. Karen says she has a sign in her kitchen which reads, “Careful what you say – it might end up in a novel.”  

Beyond the books, Karen has edited the scripts for three seasons of a television show about the Baxter Family, produced by Roma Downey’s Lightworks company. The distribution is still being negotiated, and Karen hopes it will come out this year. Ted McGinley and Roma Downey play parents John and Elizabeth Baxter, and Karen felt all the actors captured the heart of their characters beautifully.  

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