Episode 22: How We Read with Amanda Pilmer Roberts

Episode 22: How We Read with Amanda Pilmer Roberts

This week we are joined in a discussion of How We Read with Amanda Pilmer Roberts, a “semi-retired” librarian, as she describes it, who has a great love of (and talent for) music, dance and theater. She has degrees in Theater, Musicology and Library Science and has spent her varied career working in unique school libraries, singing in choirs, choreographing musicals and now, her latest adventure, raising her beautiful baby daughter. 

In this episode we talk about

1. Amanda’s unique career in equal parts theater and libraries. She gives some great insights into what goes into many librarians’ careers and gives us a sense of how many different types of libraries there are, which many people aren’t aware of!

2. How being a librarian has influenced Amanda’s approach to books with her family now that she has her daughter. Suffice it to say, she will never hesitate heading to a library and asking a librarian for help when they are in need of books or information!

3. What reading looks like with her baby, who is just younger than a year old. This is a hard stage for many people to read to their kids at, as they are active and mobile, yet not always engaged in book, and Amanda shares what works for her and her baby.

4. Both Amanda and her husband are actively involved in reading with their daughter and she talks about what the looks like in their family. They had talked about it and knew that books were going to be a part of their family’s life even before they were married and had kids and started their book collections for their future family long ago. 

5. We talk about tracking the books our kids read and Amanda makes a great point that she wishes she had kept track when she was younger, since there are books that she remembers and wishes she could find then again, but doesn’t remember enough about it (…the cover was blue…?).

6. Amanda wraps up by sharing with us a technique she used as a school librarian to help her students to pick books to read. She used a system from Scholastic called PICK (link to it below). It’s a great system helpful in a school as well as family setting!

In How We Read with Amanda Pilmer Roberts we mention:


The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease and Cyndi Giorgis

ABCs of Physics by Chris Ferrie

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood

If you enjoyed listening to Amanda Pilmer Roberts, try one of these other episodes:

Episode 17: How We Read with Rachel Lambourne

Episode 13: From Reluctant Reader to Librarian with Harold Hayes

Episode 11: How We Read with Cathy Balfanz

Episode 01: The More You Read the Better you Get with Cyndi Giorgis

Episode 19: How We Read with Lucia and JR Ratliff

Episode 19: How We Read with Lucia and JR Ratliff

Have you ever read with your spouse? Maybe listened to a book in the car together? We get lots of great ideas from Lucia and JR Ratliff on how they read together, and then Jill and Amanda talk about how it went with their husbands when they brought up the possibility of reading together.

This week we are joined by married couple Lucia and JR Ratliff. Natives of the US, they are currently experiencing life in host Amanda’s neck of the woods- the United Arab Emirates. She is a songwriter and teacher while he is a professor and they have four kids. They have been reading together since the early days of their relationship and now have years’ worth of experience and advice to share with us!

In this episode we talk about:

1. How did they get started? “Just a matter of, we only have one book, but we both want to read it, so we’ll just read it out loud!” As it went on, their voices couldn’t keep up with them, so they switched to audiobooks. They listen or read while doing other things- such as working out or playing tetris as well as in the car. Quite often it also happens when they are in bed at the end of the day, when they utilize the handy timer function on many audiobook players so as not to lose their place when they fall asleep!

2. How has reading together affected their relationship? It gives them something beyond their kids and everyday lives to joke about, relate about and talk about. “It definitely added another dimension to our relationship, because we were doing that together…”

3. How do they decide what books to read? Goodreads, recommendations from friends, Audible suggestions similar to books they have enjoyed, reading their way through the collections of authors they like. They take turns picking the books so that both of their tastes and interests are covered.

4. How and when do they talk about the books that they read together? It is usually mixed in with their everyday conversations. Their morning routines are a great time to chat about what they listen to the night before, while they are in the car or even as they are messaging each other throughout the day, when a thought occurs to them or something else they read connects to it.

5. Where are their kids during all this book listening? Sometimes the kids are around! Usually it is when they are all in the car and Lucia picks one that is appropriate for all of them (“Lucia is the audiobook CEO around here!”). They usually stick to children’s literature when they are all together, however, at times parts of the books they read as a couple stick out to them that they want to share with their kids and listen to it together.

6. Where could a couple start who have never read together? Start with what you already enjoy doing together. “I think couples already kind of know what they enjoy doing together and most things come in book form!” Taking turns is important as well, because it helps you get to know your partner in a new and different way, or gives you clues as to what is on their mind when you read what the other is into at the moment.

7. Audiobooks vs. reading out loud to each other will come down to each couple’s preference. The Ratliffs have their reasons for preferring audiobooks, but each couple will have to figure out what works best for them!

We are so grateful to Lucia and JR for taking the time to talk with us and can’t wait to dive into this list of recommendations they gave! 

In How We Read with Lucia and JR Ratliff, we mention a lot of books:

The Twilight Saga (series) by Stephanie Meyer

Stephenie Meyer (author)

Brandon Sanderson (author)

Brandon Mull (author)

Brené Brown (author)

Anne Lamott (author)

Roald Dahl autobiography (There are two books)

Harry Potter (series) by J. K. Rowling

Beyonders (series) by Brandon Mull

The Lunar Chronicles (series) by Marissa Meyers

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Michael Kramer (narrator)

Shannon Hale (author)

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Fred Rogers Biography by Jennifer Warner

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bissel van der Kolk

The Paper Magician (series) Charlie N. Holmberg

Episode 11: How We Read with Cathy Balfanz

Episode 11: How We Read with Cathy Balfanz

This week we are excited to launch our How We Read series, where we talk with Cathy Balfanz. Cathy is a mother of four, has moved all around with her husband’s military career and with those moves has had the opportunity to try out all sorts of learning experiences and opportunities with her kids. Her children are in the pre-teen/teenage years now, and Cathy shares her knowledge and insight into what reading and a love of books looks like in older children in her home.

Listen to our interview with Cyndi Giorgis, of the Read Aloud Handbook

In How We Read with Cathy Balfanz we talk about:

1.The Balfanz family moves around – a lot. This means Cathy has had the opportunity to experience many different school systems, including a 2-year stint homeschooling her children.

1. With all of their moving and experience living in many different places, Cathy and her kids have encountered all different kinds of school systems and even did a 2-year stint of homeschooling. During those years, Cathy chose a literature-based curriculum and developed a new perspective an even deeper appreciation for the many ways to use literature in their lives. Even though her kids are in public schools now, they still use the skills and habits of using literature in all aspects of learning at home with them now..

2. Like many of us, Cathy loves The Read Aloud Handbook, and we were very interested to hear what reading aloud can look like as kids reach preteen and teenage years. She admits that it is not as straight-forward as it is when kids are younger, but even though it looks different, those bonding, reading aloud together experiences can still happen! Sometimes she just reads the first few chapters of a book together with her older daughters and then they take it from there. Sometimes they listen to an audiobook together. And sometimes she still even reads picture books with them! There is no limit to those amazing picture books out there, so grab one and read it with your teenager!

3. Another way Cathy incorporates books into all aspects of her family life is to keep books out in the house. She keeps “book baskets” in the main living areas that Cathy keeps stocked with books. She rotatest them, choosing a range of reading levels and subjects- ones that go along with the time of year, or holidays or about things her kids are particularly interested in. This keeps books in the forefront and it also keeps her teenagers exposed to those precious picture books even as they get older.

5. We chat about our feelings about audiobooks and, although a bit apprehensive at first, Cathy has learned the great value of audiobooks. They are a wonderful way to enjoy a book as a family, turning a simple car ride to the grocery store into a bonding experience! While it shouldn’t replace reading together with your kids, it is a great way to get more literature into your lives!

6. One thing Cathy has noticed as her children have gotten older is how reading, and the quality of books her kids are reading, has affected their writing and even speaking vocabulary levels.

7. One last thing that Cathy has learned in her journey of navigating the world of books with teenagers so far is that not all Young Adult books are created equal. She listened to an episode of Sarah Mackenzie’s Read Aloud Revival podcast where she heard the advice that Young Adult is a genre, not a reading level, which really struck a chord with her. She has definitely learned that for herself as she helps her teenagers find new books to read and she recommends spending some time and effort researching good books that will interest our kids. There are a lot of great resources and book lists out there to give you a start, many of which we will link to below.

Cathy left us with a great idea of how to get started on putting these great ideas into practice this week. She invited us to try to read out loud to our kids every day this week. Then, see if you can make it a 14-day streak and keep building on that habit.

We are so grateful to Cathy for taking the time to talk with us!

Cathy left us with a great idea of how to get started on putting these great ideas into practice this week. She invited us to try to read out loud to our kids every day this week. Then, see if you can make it a 14-day streak and keep building on that habit.

In this episode we mention:


Read Aloud Revival

The Good and the Beautiful

Book Shark

Five in a Row

Build your library

Beautiful feet


The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (latest edition co-authored by Cyndi Giorgis)

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry

Frindle by Andrew Clements

Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler

George Washington’s Breakfast by Jean Fritz

Phoebe the Spy by Judith Berry Griffin

George Washington’s Teeth by Deborah Chandra