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 16- Reading: An Enchanting Hour with Meghan Cox Gurdon

Episode 16- Reading: An Enchanting Hour with Meghan Cox Gurdon

We had heard of some of the benefits of reading aloud to kids, but we were blown away by The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction.

This week we are joined by a writer extraordinaire- Meghan Cox Gurdon. Her writing gigs include a weekly column and children’s book reviews for the Wall Street Journal, which she has been doing for the past fifteen years, as well as her first book, The Enchanted Hour, which is all about kids and reading. She has read to her five children since the day she brought her first-born home from the hospital and now that her kids are almost all grown, she finds herself reading aloud with her husband during those hours that used to be filled with reading to their children. 

In Reading: An Enchanting Hour we talk about

1. Reading aloud is an inexpensive, yet powerful way to give children what they need to develop their little brains when they are young.

2. Scientific evidence is now showing what parents have seen in their children for years- reading aloud creates conditions for optimal brain development, social skills, impulse control and more. Meghan connected with a research team that showed her their results from MRI scans of the brains of 3-5 year olds and the results they are finding are  “everything that anecdote has suggested to us it would be.”

3. Meghan had some great thoughts about where digital books fall in the range of book vs screen-time scale. We all agreed to the many great benefits technology brings to our lives, but when it comes to reading with our kids, by using digital devices both us and our kids know that a distraction is just a finger swipe away, which can diminish the benefits of the experience for us and them.

4. One benefit of reading aloud with kids (especially those physical books) that we hadn’t talked about on our podcast yet that Meghan brought up was how it can build children’s attention spans. It allows them to “focus and concentrate and build their powers of attention.” Being able to focus on things and make sense of what is being said to them are absolutely necessary life skills that are strengthened by being read to.

5. While Megan’s book mainly focuses on young children, she is passionate about the benefits of reading to kids of all ages- and beyond! If your kids are middle schoolers and you’ve never read to them, that’s okay! Start now! Start today! Just give it a go- even if it feels odd at first. Stick with it and you will feel the magic!

6. While the benefits of reading aloud to older children and adults are different, they are still very real. There are studies that are starting to look into what it does for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, as they hear poems and stories they are familiar with. It can be a way to communicate with someone with whom communication is difficult, such as one suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, or even just a teenager with whom you are struggling to connect with.

7. Another idea to expand your reading aloud world is to read with your spouse. That idea might comfort those of us (coughJillcough) who are sad to think of the day when our kids get older and aren’t around to be read to!

Meghan left us with a great idea of how to get started on putting these great ideas into practice this week. She invited us to take the leap if we haven’t already and read out loud to someone we love- read whatever appeals to you, be it poetry or an article from the paper, but just do it! And after hearing of all the amazing benefits that come from it this week, we wholeheartedly agree with Meghan and echo her challenge.

We are so grateful to Meghan for taking the time to talk with us about the benefits of reading aloud and her book, The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction! More information about her, her book, and the amazing benefits of reading aloud to one another can be found in the following places:

In this episode we mention




Meghan Cox Gurdon

Meghan on Wall Street Journal


The Enchanted Hour – Meghan Cox Gurdon

Ash Road – Ivan Southall

Don’t miss our previous episode, Episode 15: “Holy Script!” Sacred Text in the Home

Honoring your personal sacred text

Honoring your personal sacred text

Have you ever written down your spiritual beliefs and shared it with those close to you? Dr. David Dollahite and Jill Berrett Given relate their experiences with honoring personal sacred texts, both from the author’s perspective and from the receiving side.

Jill here! As you might be able to tell from the length of our episode with Drs. David Dollahite and Loren Marks, we had a fabulous conversation with them that we just did not want to stop. For the sake of our listeners’ ears, however, we had to edit it down a touch, losing some of the wisdom they shared with us. One story, shared by Dr. Dollahite and transcribed below, really resonated with me, however. 

David C Dollahite

“One of the things I did a few years ago was to write down my own spiritual experiences, my own spiritual journey from being a non religious teenager to a conversion experience and reading a sacred text and coming to God and becoming a religious person and then what that meant to me; the changes that meant to my life. So, I wrote this up and it happened to be published in a book called God’s Tender Mercies… I was very fortunate to be able to do an audiobook version of this book… that my daughter and son-in-law got… My grandkids used to listen to that audiobook for their bedtime stories- they requested it because it was their grandfather talking about his own childhood and his own spiritual and religious changes and experiences. For months they listened to that…and I can’t tell you the joy of hearing my grandkids bring up in various settings an experience that I had while reading sacred text. Many of those experiences that I shared in that book are spiritual experiences that had something to do with reading sacred text. To hear them…tell back to me these experiences that I had- they would share similar ideas or they would ask about that, would like me to tell that story again or tell more about that or more details about that… 

I think, in addition to reading sacred texts with your children, if you can write your own sacred texts, so to speak- that is, to write, or to audio-record if you don’t like to write, those meaningful religious and spiritual experiences that you have had and then find a way to share those with your children and, down the road, grandchildren, I think there is potential blessing and joy in that… Reading what people hundreds or thousands of years ago in another culture experienced in terms of their own religious experiences- that’s a deeply important thing to do. I believe that helping your children and grandchildren to know that you yourself have had those kinds of interactions with God…that you’ve sort of been to the mountaintop, so to speak, that you have received answers to your prayers, that you have had challenges in your life that were helped by reading sacred text or by prayer, and if you have had experiences, as anyone who is living a religious life will have- times when they feel God’s presence or God’s guidance or comfort or forgiveness or whatever- if those can be written down and then shared in whatever way makes sense with family members, [then] I believe that that can be a real blessing.”

Jill Berrett Given

Shortly after I married my husband, his father sent him and all his siblings a letter. In it, he shared with them the experiences that he and his wife, my husband’s mother, had gone through shortly after they themselves had been married that led them to the church that they now belong to and the peace and joy that it has brought to them and the family that they subsequently raised.

I was fascinated by this letter, as I come from a family who has been members of the same church going back for generation after generation after generation. I have read the stories of my ancestors having those types of spiritual experiences, but it had all happened so long ago that it was simply a nice story. This one had happened to people who, had they made different choices during that time, would have changed my own life. I never would have met and married my husband had they not had those spiritual experiences. I would not have the children I have. I would not have the life I have. 

We read that letter every so often in our home, both just between my husband and I as well as with our children. I hadn’t thought about it in these terms until hearing Dr. Dollahite talk about it, but it truly has become sacred text to us. I probably wasn’t even foremost in my father-in-law’s mind when he wrote his experiences down, as I was so newly married into their family, but his words have had a great impact on my life and so will yours on people you may not even realize if you simply write them down. Words are powerful and important, as we hope to tell the word with our podcast, and sacred words can be some of the most powerful ones out there.

12: How to tell the truth about Santa

12: How to tell the truth about Santa

with Martha Brockenbrough

How do you tell your child the beautiful truth about Santa? Martha Brockenbrough told her daughter, Lucy, via a heartfelt letter that she then turned into a book. We hear the story behind this beautiful way to help your child through this major life transition from a Santa-believer to a member of Santa’s team.

This week we are joined by Martha Brockenbrough, writer, teacher, musician and creator of Grammar Day (May 4th- mark your calendars!). She was an editor for MSN, written for NY Times, taught high school and, of course, written books in all genres and for all reading levels. She currently teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts and continues to write books that look for hard truths and help her readers see that, in her words, “uncomfortable doesn’t mean unfair.” She joined us to talk about one of her picture books, Love, Santa: the beautiful truth about Santa and gives us some amazing thoughts on Santa and helping our kids navigate their feelings about the big man.

Tell your child the beautiful truth about Santa:

1. Love, Santa is just one of the many picture books that Martha has written, but it’s the one we wanted to chat about (‘tis the season, after all!). She shared with us the background and development of the book, from the letter she wrote to her own daughter in that “questioning Santa” moment, to a blog post that spread like wildfire, to finally the beautifully designed picture book it is today.

2. While the book is often used as a tool to help parents have what can be a hard conversation with their children, it is so full of love that it makes what could be a cold, hard truth become a warm, magical time that welcomes the child onto Santa’s “team,” where they get to help spread the magic for others. 

3. Once our kids are out in the world we cannot always control what they hear and what they learn, so being prepared for these kinds of conversations and thinking of them as “the greatest privilege of parenthood…loving our kids, even when they find out the world isn’t necessarily what they thought.”

4. Just like you always have granola bars in the glove box, to be ready for whatever parenthood throws at us, we can think ahead, have a plan and be ready for these moments. For instance, Martha knows that she won’t lie to her kids, so when asked point-blank about certain things (like Santa!), she knows what direction she would want to take the discussion.

5. She had some great thoughts on how to make the conversation about Santa a positive experience, including expanding her earlier, wonderful thoughts on welcoming the child to Santa’s team: “You’re on Santa’s team now. What do you want to give to the world? Is there someone who needs something? Is there something you have to offer? What is it? Let me help you do that. Give the kid the power! There is nothing that feels better than being generous and helping others.”

6. Martha’s daughter Lucy, whose question about Santa sparked the idea for the book in the first place, wrote a song called “Santa is Love” for her mother’s birthday one year. The song is Lucy’s interpretation of the experience she shared with her mother learning “the beautiful truth about Santa.” It is a wonderful companion to the book and a wonderful gift to her mother. If curious, the song can be found on iTunes and YouTube!

Martha left us with a great idea of how to get started on putting these great ideas into practice this week. She challenged us to get ourselves a book, maybe one that we wouldn’t otherwise have read, and ask why this person wrote it and why did it get loved enough to be published and see if we can expand the corners of our world just a bit.

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

Mentioned in this episode:

Martha’s website

Lucy Berliant’s song she surprised her mother with: Santa is Love

Books we mentioned:

Love, Santa

Cheerful Chick

Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary


The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy

Finding Bigfoot

Missed our last episode? Listen to some great ideas for seasonal books and more from Cathy Balfanz here.

Books for a Rainy Day

Books for a Rainy Day

Jill Given

It’s pretty rainy where I live. All the green trees and bright flowers are a pretty great reward for the rain, but it’s sometimes hard to accept that all of these rainy days are the price I have to pay for that beauty. I quite often let the rain get me down and I plow through my day, just a little grumpier than I probably should be. Recently, I was talking to a friend and she told me that she gets through rainy days by giving herself permission to do those lazy, cozy, feel-good things, like drink a fun drink or watch movies. As much as I would love to indulge like that to get me through the bad weather, if I did that on every rainy day, I would never get anything done! 

Instead, I have decided that the next time I am feeling down on a rainy day, I am going to turn it into a reading day! I want to stockpile some new and exciting books for me as well as my kids and give us something to get excited about the next time it pours!

Here’s the list I have so far. If any of you have some ideas to add, please send them our way! Like I said- it rains a lot here. I’m going to need all the rainy day books I can get!

Soup Day by Melissa Iwai. A mom and her daughter spend a snow day making soup for the family. Hopefully it can inspire my kids and I to make something delicious on our rainy days!

10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle. When I feel like I am drowning in all this rain, why not embrace the feeling and follow the adventures of these rubber duckies navigating the seas, inspired by a real shipment of rubber ducks that fell off a cargo ship and floated around the world!

Chalk by Bill Thomson. This wordless picture book will remind us that even a rainy day shouldn’t stop us from having playground adventures!

The Big Umbrella by Amy Jun Bates and Juniper Bates. No rainy day would be complete without an umbrella and no rainy day book list would be complete without a book about an umbrella! While the story of this umbrella big enough for everyone is a delight, it is the illustrations that really captured my heart. I read this one to myself while my kids played at the library a while back and knew it would be perfect to wait and read it again with the kiddos on our next rainy reading day!