‘Tis the Season For Books

By Dr. Anastasia Gruper

To receive a book is a gift and an invitation. This season, I was blessed to receive several books that invited me to engage in meaningful reflection and several conversations. Perhaps, many of you did as well. Below are a few from my stack that made me wonder and brought moments of awe.  

Self-reflecting on eighty-seven emotions is a journey. Every chapter gave me moments (sometimes days) of pause. Throughout the journey,  I shared bits and pieces with Emma, my twenty-two-year-old daughter. I discussed thoughts with colleagues at the office and with friends on walks.  It is the most I have talked about and actually had the language to articulate emotion.  During this time in our world, there is no better way to open dialogue.

For seventy-five years, Highlights magazine has been answering letters they receive from children. This curated collection of letters gave me insights into the thoughts of children around topics such as family & friends, hopes & dreams, biases & exclusions, COVID-19 and so much more. Taking a lesson from HIghlights, I need to listen a little more to what the children are telling me and what I can learn from them. 

Reviewing a well-curated stack sparks wonder for me. From the multicultural classics to current day titles, the legends and the newcomers are represented in these stacks–expanding my “must-read” list. Beyond the titles, this gem offered me suggestions of independent books stores to visit; Semicolon in Chicago will be the first one! And Michael’s wish to visit Washington D.C. may have gotten a little more likely as Loyalty Bookstore has been added to my list. Mike will also be happy to hear about my renovation ideas after reading about the writing rooms of authors. This is one I will refer back to again and again.  

Lisa Aisato’s collection of illustrations took me on an emotional ride from my childhood to adulthood (and all the moments in between). I’ve reflected on the ones I love as well. Mike is riding the “A Grown-Up’s Life” with me. At twenty-two, Emma is seeking “A Life of One’s Own.” At thirteen, Michael is living “A Teenager’s Life.” And at 66, my mother is entering “A Long Life.” At each stage, I hope they felt they were loved; I know I have. Lisa’s ability to capture human experience has me in awe every time I open the book. 

In school, when we ask children to tell their stories, we are inviting them to learn about the generations that have come before them.  We are also inviting them to understand the world around them.  In this beautifully illustrated picture book, a student struggles to write about her family’s ancestry until her grandma tells the story of her family’s journey from West Africa. This book reminds me we must invite people’s stories into our conversations–we have so much to learn.

May these books and the ones in your stack this season spark wonder and give you moments of awe. Happy New Year, everyone!

Story Time…Reading for Life!

Story Time…Reading for Life!

By Betty Trummel

Start them young and keep on reading to them, with them, and around them. Model a lifelong love of reading to nurture this in children and in others.

Our 4 month-old grandson…he already has two or more stories/books read to him a night!

I’ve loved reading throughout my whole life; books, magazines, and anything I could get my hands on. I loved reading with and to my students during my 35 years of classroom teaching. I enjoyed watching them read on their own or to each other as well.  I always read with our kids at home and have continued now with our grandchildren.

I look back on the journal that lists the books I’ve read in 2021 and recall the stories, histories, facts, and mysteries that have enthralled me in the past year!  I started this personal reading journal in 2005, and wish that I had done that much earlier.  It’s awesome to look back and see the hundreds of books I’ve completed through the years! 

Auntie Julie, getting in on the fun!

Don’t forget about audio books! It’s the ultimate joy of being read to! Whatever the reading activity…enjoy and have a Happy New Year of reading!  I’ll be starting to read a new book soon!

Some of my book picks for early 2022 reading!

And Now…a Few Words from Isaac Phiri

I met Isaac on my first trip to Zambia with A to Z Literacy Movement, in 2010.  At that point he was a beginning student at the age of 13, just learning to read as a pupil of Shine Zambia Reading Academy.  Isaac had already lost both parents at a young age, and on all fronts, life was very difficult and many challenges had come his way.  Things were definitely not stacking up for success.

But, Isaac was determined to do well in school and work hard.  He rapidly became literate, and continued to learn and grow through his teen years.  His extended family supported him in his efforts to become more educated. 

Fast forward to 2021.  Our family has helped sponsor Isaac’s college education in Lusaka, Zambia, and he is in his final year of the Environmental Health program at Evelyn Hone College.  We couldn’t be prouder of him because he’s not only done well in his classes, but he is taking steps to learn and grow outside of his college setting.  He’s becoming a young leader and mentor to others.

Here’s a message I recently received from Isaac:

“I attended the Africa Must Think conference held in the Heroes Stadium in Lusaka.  It was really amazing, learning from people who have made it in life.  It was full of inspiration and there was so much to learn.

A certain farmer donated 20 gold tickets at our college, and I happened to be one of the people who got tickets.  The program was focusing much on transforming our thinking as Africans, where we learnt about personal branding, investments, and being found with the right team /friends.

We learnt how we as Africans are contributing to the poverty of our continent.  We learnt how we as young people can contribute positively to the development of our economy and how we can help others be better people.

We learnt how to use opportunities and how to add value to our lives, the importance of education, and why we should continue learning and read more books.

About 10,000 young people attended.  Very important, I got a notebook for note taking.  I am looking forward to more of such educational events.”

Much of Isaac’s success can be attributed to his hard work, determination, and motivation to learn.  He’s a bright shining star in a place where it’s not always easy to be one.  Young men and women like Isaac are needed to help lift Zambia up and move forward.  With his leadership and mentoring younger pupils and peers, I have no doubt that he will inspire young Zambians to step up for their country.

Vacation Reading

Vacation Reading

By Betty Trummel

Packing for this vacation was easy…a few warm weather clothes and lots of books!  I’ve been waiting for this opportunity to read, uninterrupted, for months!  Seems silly to some that I’d load my suitcases with books, instead of just carrying an e-reader (which I also have with me, by the way).  But, I just love the feel of holding a real book…turning those pages, and seeing my progress add up with each hour of reading.

As an avid reader, educator, and life-long learner, I know the value of reading.  For most of my life I’ve encouraged others to read anything and everything they can.  It’s been a huge joy to travel with A to Z Literacy to Zambia, to put books in the hands of learners, to promote the fundamentals of literacy, and spread the joy of reading.  At every opportunity I strive to motivate others to read, to talk about their reading, and to always keep learning!

As you can see from my large stack of books, I have an ambitious agenda for this vacation!  I enjoy many genres…a good mystery, historical fiction, nonfiction, an action/thriller, and sometimes just a good fictional story will do.  I’ve got my local library’s book club selection for December with me, too!  I try to vary my reading, often adding magazine articles and shorter texts as well. 

Of course, I don’t have to go on a vacation to find time to read, but it helps to have this time to relax and really dig into some great books.  

What are you reading?  What books will you take along on your next vacation or tuck away to read during some quiet time at home? 

What Counts as Reading?

What do you consider reading? Is it still reading if you are just escaping and not learning something new? Does it count if you are reading for work? Should fiction and nonfiction be rated *equally*? Judging by the answers to the question “What are you reading?” at the end of our A to Z’s monthly team meeting, the answer is clearly “Yes” to all! 

  • Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – a 4-star book on Goodreads for those who keep track of books using that app
  • The Bridgerton Series by Julia Quinn – Always fun to be able to compare and contrast with a TV show
  • Alias Anna by Susan Hood – a novel in verse – Yes, this is for the middle grades but some books are great for all ages
  • No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh – A wonderful book to help guide us through the times we are living in today
  • Becoming Literate by Marie Clay – A great book on the changes children go through when learning to read

And a few team members chimed in about not reading an actual book…

  • Reading how to do my job – learning as I go.  Lessonly. Just proving the point that reading is essential in all aspects of our lives.
  • When your books are still packed in boxes due to moving and COVID protocols continually change. What can one read? Why everything on COVID guidance!

So, if the first questions were put in multiple-choice format, there would have to be the final answer of – all of the above!

Helping Hands

As the season of giving and thankfulness drifts in this autumn, our non-profit team members reflect on all of the help we have received from people near and far. Truth be told, “It takes many hands to make light work.” And there have been many offering a helping hand.

We have had book donations and drives from clubs, schools and families wanting to assist in getting reading materials to children. We’ve received monetary donations which help to provide college classes for Jonathan Mwale, our sponsored student, and shipping of books overseas. We have people volunteering to help distribute books, donate books they have finished enjoying, host walkathons and CrAtoZy Sock Days just to name a few opportunities.

There have been so many selfless acts of kindness which have spread out like ripples in a pond. We thank the multitudes and welcome you if you are reading this and wondering where you, your organization, or your family might fit in. Visit our website and click on the “Donate” tab. You will find all kinds of suggestions for easily making a difference in a child’s life.

Meet Wren: Guest Blogger and Girl Scout

Hello! My name is Wren Raviolo. I’m a sophomore at Cary Grove High School and a member of Girl Scout Troop 968. I’ve been in Girl Scouts since kindergarten and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every step of the way. I’ve earned my Bronze, Silver, Service to Girl Scouts, Community Service, and Presidential awards; all of which are the highest a Scout at my age can earn, other than Gold. I’ve done so many amazing, cool, and crazy things that I wouldn’t have been able to without Girl Scouts. I’ve learned so many essential life skills and I truly wouldn’t be the same without them.

When I was a middle school student, I was often known by my peers and teachers for being incredibly passionate about English, poetry, and literature. I’ve always had a love for reading, and I want to spread that positivity to anyone I can. My mom is good family friends with Mrs. Hatfield, one of the volunteers for the A to Z Literacy Movement and she told me all about it. Of course I wanted to get involved,
and I did just that. Mrs. Hatfield had dozens upon dozens of children’s books waiting to be distributed locally or shipped to Zambia where A to Z sends books most often. Due to the worldwide pandemic, the Movement was unable to send books to underserved children, so that’s where my job came in.

I volunteered to spread the word of A to Z and donate as many books as possible in our local McHenry County area. First, we had to load up the books into boxes to be brought to my house. Then, I had to design stickers with A to Z’s logo, website, and their story on them, to be placed on the books’ covers. Once the books all had stickers on them, my mom and I loaded them into our car and started to drive. We planned to go to every Little Free Library within 10 miles of our hometown and leave one book in each. We did this so that people will see the stickers, get a free book, know where the books came from and spread the word of A to Z’s mission.

“The Girl with the Louding Voice”

By Betty Trummel

I love a book that makes me think…that challenges me to make a connection with my own life.  I recently finished “The Girl with the Louding Voice,” by Abi Daré.  It is a work of fiction, written about a Nigerian girl whose goals are to become educated, escape the life of poverty she was born into, and to help other girls do the same. 

Adunni’s life is not so different than so many other girls (and boys) around the world struggling to get an education.  This book made me think about some of the students in Zambia that A to Z Literacy has touched and whose lives have touched our very own.  The parallels between Adunni’s life and our Zambian students was unmistakable.   One female student came to my mind immediately…Dianna Zulu.

I met Diana on my first trip to Zambia with A to Z, in 2010. In 2010 she was just emerging as a reader at Shine Zambia Reading Academy…and certainly didn’t have very well-developed literacy skills.  Fast forward eleven years to 2021, and Diana has graduated from nursing school!  This is such exciting news indeed! 

With support from Mr. Vineet Bhatnagar, Chair of the Board of Trustees and Founder of Shine, Diana continued her schooling after graduating from Shine and went on to nursing school a few years ago.  A few weeks ago, she wrote me to tell me, “I’m no longer that Diana you were teaching phonics and sight words to in 2010.  I’m a qualified nurse.” 

I’ve followed Diana through the years, and have seen her and her family each of the four times I’ve been to Zambia.  She was determined, she had that “louding voice” and didn’t give up.  Diana shared these thoughts with me a few weeks ago:

“My journey to become a nurse wasn’t an easy one, but thank God it all came to pass with the help from friends and prayers from my family.  There are times I failed but I could not give up, because all my future and my family depends on this gift of education that I was given. 

I believe that education is the only thing that God has given me through people who helped me achieve it to change my family’s life.  Having been born from a humble background, I had to work extra hard to change some things in my family and my community.  At the moment my fingers are crossed, waiting to be given an opportunity to make the difference and give back to my family and community.”  (July 2021)

These stories of success are not as common as I wish they were, but still…each person who gets an education can give back to their community and help it grow stronger.  Each person who uses their voice to speak up for education is critical to promote change for the future.  Each person who is educated can teach others.

The following powerful words were spoken to Adunni, and I think they ring true no matter where you live or how old you are.

“You can do it,” she say.  “God has given you all you need to be great, and it sits right there inside of you.”  She drop my hands, point a finger to my chest.  “Right inside your mind, in your heart.  You believe it, I know you do.  You just need to hold on to that belief and never let go.  When you get up every day, I want you to remind yourself that tomorrow will be better than today.  That you are a person of value.  That you are important.  You must believe this.” (Chapter 41)

Diana is poised to be an excellent role model at Shine, in her family, and in her community.  She has goals for her future.  “After some few years of practice, I’m upgrading to a degree.” 

I am so very proud of Diana Zulu and congratulate her on her nursing qualifications! Each time At to Z Literacy Movement donates books or supplies or supports and encourages a student, we can help work toward a better future, whether it’s Nigeria, Zambia, or any place around the world. Please consider a donation to further the work of A to Z Literacy Movement.

One Child Big Impact

For many of our supporters, Jonathan Mwale is a familiar name within our nonprofit. A to Z Literacy Movement has been financially supporting and mentoring Jonathan’s academic career since 2013. Over the years, Jonathan has continued to demonstrate high academic commitment and achievement. Equally important, he has exhibited incredible responsibility as the head of his family’s household after his father was tragically killed in 2017.  

As a college student in Zambia, Jonathan continues to progress in his studies at the University of Lusaka. Some of you may remember that he started his college career at Mulengushi University, but after careful consideration of courses within his major, he made the decision to transfer. This fall, his course load includes Medical Ethics, Biochemistry, and Medical History. 

When he is not studying, Jonathan works a part-time job at a takeaway restaurant outside of Lusaka. He enjoys his job, but more importantly, supports his mother, sister, and brother providing money for food, electricity, and other necessities.

A to Z has made the commitment to support Jonathan and see one child all the way through college. We have also made the commitment to support his family with their $150 monthly rent expense because as the oldest male in the house, this cost is Jonathan’s responsibility. 

Your support has propelled our work forward and we thank you for your generosity over the last 12 years. Now, as we prepare to send Jonathan back to college, we ask that you consider making a small donation on behalf of his college fund and family expenses. Please head to our website to donate. Thank you for not only helping us to change the course of this young man’s life but the lives of his family and community as well. 

Would You Consider Donating a Book?

As summer begins, we are excited about opportunities to participate in several local outreach events and we need your help! Would you consider donating a like-new or gently-used book (or two) to help ensure we have enough books? Specifically, we need books that boys (and girls) will enjoy.

Here’s what kids are asking for when we host an event:

  1. Big Nate series
  2. Dog Man series
  3. Diary of Wimpy Kid series
  4. I Survived series
  5. InkHeart series
  6. Ranger’s Apprentice series
  7. Gordon Korman Everest or Island series
  8. Harry Potter series
  9. Secret Agent Jack Stalwart
  10. New Kid by Jerry Craft

If you have a book (or two) to donate, please contact Mal at mal@atozliteracy.org. We can pick your books up or you can drop them off. Thanks so much for your support!