A Request For Books


Hello, my name is Christine. I am a friend of Sydney and a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia. My school has started to build a small library and starting to slowly gather some books, but I would love a more variety of books for my students to learn and engage themselves to their fullest abilities. I heard that you may be able to help me in starting to enlarge this library with donating books? This would really mean so much to me. Having the students stay after school and read can really improve their confidence in learning English. Thank you so much. Christine K.

Emails like this one from Christine arrive in my A to Z inbox often. Receiving requests for children’s books from Peace Corps volunteers in Zambia, librarians in Swaziland, and teachers in Ghana always makes me smile. It brings me hope. These hard-working individuals believe in the power of literacy. Along with our partners across oceans, parent groups in McHenry County, church volunteers in Lake County, and community center volunteers also email to request book donations for their programs. And again, I am filled with joy as I read and know people all over the local area care about literacy. They, like me, believe reading opens doors.

To ship Christine the six boxes of children’s books we usually send, it will cost A to Z about $1,200. Our nonprofit organization is hoping to send at least five separate shipments in 2018 with Christine being our first one in this “sending season”. Please consider attending our annual fundraiser, Libations For Literacy, on Saturday, Feb. 3rd from 7:00-10:00 at Park Place in Crystal Lake, IL. You can purchase tickets on the A to Z website or buy them at the door. With your generous support, we can get Christine her books and help this Peace Corps volunteer promote the love of reading in Zambia.



Libations For Literacy


Happy New Year everyone! We hope you had a wonderful holiday season with your family and friends. Moving into 2018, the A to Z team is excited to announce our upcoming FUNdraiser, Libations For Literacy, on Saturday, February 3rd from 7:00 – 10:00 at Park Place in Crystal Lake. Please come out and join us in tasting a few wines, sampling a few beers, and bidding on a few great silent auction items.

As you know, this annual event is critical for us to meet our organization’s 2018 goals.  Currently, sending one shipment of books (six boxes) costs us $1,200 and we want to send at least five shipments this year. The nonprofit also strives to help fund professional learning opportunities for impoverished schools and teachers and provide tuition support for secondary students in Zambia. Of course, the proposed 2018 goals all line up with A to Z Literacy Movement’s mission to increase literacy levels and promote the love of reading locally and globally.

Head to the A to Z website to purchase your tickets for the event and thank you so much for continuing to support our work.  (www.atozliteracy.org)


A to Z’s East Coast Connection

By Betty Trummel

Since I moved from Crystal Lake to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I’ve been thinking about ways to get involved with my “new” community.  What was I passionate about supporting back home in Illinois?  What can I do to better my community no matter where I live?  Of course, my involvement and connection with A to Z Literacy Movement has been extremely important to me since our organization began.  I felt there was no reason not to bring this important work with me when I moved to the East Coast.  In the brief time, I’ve lived on Cape Cod, I have been excited about creating new possibilities for literacy!

During this holiday season, a wonderful opportunity developed for A to Z Literacy to partner with my local school in Harwich, Massachusetts and the Family Pantry of Cape Cod on a successful book drive!

Over 1,200 books were donated by Harwich Elementary School! Over 300 NEW books went into holiday toy/gift bags given out on December 17th at the Family Pantry.

900+ books went right into the “boutique” at the Family Pantry, where folks can choose books when they come to get food and clothing.

bags and books

About 35 nonfiction books will be taken with me when I travel to Zambia next July…to be used in instruction and donated to the library at Shine Zambia Reading Academy.


I’m feeling great about the generosity of so many…thank you Harwich Elementary School for your fabulous effort with the book drive!  Thank you to the Family Pantry of Cape Cod for welcoming me and being open to creating this partnership.  Our nonprofit strives to get books into the hands of vulnerable children, whether it is through local or international projects.  Thank you A to Z Literacy, for having such a profound impact on my life both personally and as an educator.

No matter where we all live, it’s easy to find ways to support others, during the holiday season and all year long.  Happy Holidays, wherever you are!

Pen Pals

America to Zambia pic

Last week a group of high school students sent handwritten letters to secondary students at School of Hope in Zambia. The students are members of the International Girls Club at Cary Grove High School in Cary, Illinois. In years past, our team has hand-delivered short notes and homemade cards to kids when we have traveled to Zambia to work with our partner schools, but we’ve never attempted a pen pal project due to the turn around time and cost of shipping. However, when club sponsor Sonya Wadlington and I met to discuss the project, we decided scanning the letters and sending them via email to School of Hope would be best. We also chatted about possible topics and culturally sensitive content to include in the letters. The thoughtful teens got to work and hand wrote letters; many included little drawings in the margins to extend the information shared.

Here are a few favorite lines from the pen pal letters explaining high school life at Cary Grove:

  • I take 5 classes/subjects and go to them every day.
  • My favorite subject this year is either English or physics!
  • Art lets me express my creativity.
  • I really like science and I hope to become a doctor when I’m older.
  • I would like to tell you about my family because family means a lot to me.
  • That is my true goal for my time at school. To become a better thinker in order to eventually pursue my true passion.
  • I’m also planning on going to a university after high school.
  • In my eyes, to achieve happiness, you must do what you love, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
  • One of my favorite foods to eat is ice cream.
  • I’m really looking forward to exchanging letters because learning about other cultures has always been an interest of mine.
  • I’m so glad we get to write to each other from halfway across the world.
  • What does your schedule look like each day?
  • Do you know multiple languages?
  • What types of food do you like to eat?
  • Does your school have uniforms?

School of Hope director Kathleen Schwartz will share the letters this week, and hopefully, the International Girls Club will receive letters back from their Zambian pen pals in December.

Little letter pics

Where Would We Be Without Donna?

By Pat Kelly

We ship a lot of books. So naturally, the U.S. Postal Service plays a big part in getting the bulk of our books to their destination. Over the last eight years, I’ve been involved in schlepping boxes of these children’s titles to the post office in Crystal Lake. On a few occasions and where it seems like the majority of the time, our postal clerk Donna is on the processing end of the affair.

Now let me tell you about Donna. She is polite, efficient and strong. If she has ever had a bad day, I am completely unaware of it. With the pleasantness of a saint, she hefts numerous boxes, each weighing 20-30 pounds onto her scale and then sticks printed labels on each box. When we ship overseas, each box is placed into a slippery M-bag and there are M bag tags along with customs forms to work with. It’s a tedious process in which Donna works through with ease.

Recently, I had a load of ten heavy boxes of children’s books on a cart behind the counter at the Crystal Lake Post Office and Donna was working through them getting postage applied to each one. When she was working on the ninth parcel, she asked me if I had more books in my car to bring in. A simple question, but it almost seemed like she welcomed additional boxes. And it reminded me of the drive and devotion Donna possesses to be sure each and every interaction with a customer is a positive one.

Hats off to Donna and all her colleagues at our Crystal Lake Post Office!

Sharing Stories

“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the things we need most in the world.”~Philip Pullman

girl title 1

“What do you have that’s scary? I don’t mean like walking scarecrows at night. I mean really scary,” inquired a blonde-haired friend. “I’m not sure. Does R.L. Stine work for you?” I asked. “I don’t know.  Let me see,” he replied quickly.  After scoping out the R. L. Stine section, he wandered around every other table to check out possibilities.

“Do you have three funny books?” inquired a little fourth-grade girl with two sparkling smiles standing behind her. “Do you mean three copies of the same book?” I questioned.  “Yes, we are three best friends and we really want to read the same funny book,” the girls replied. “Have you tried Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing? Peter and Fudge are a stitch,” I suggested while handing them the books. The girls all opened to the first page and started to read together.

Boys Title 1

“I’m looking for a comic book,” a second-grader announced to Mal. “Comic book? Follow me, let’s see what we can find,” Mal replied. “Mal this guy over here is looking for Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” I called out. “There may be some on that table over there,” Mal said pointing to the long table in the corner of the room.

As kids asked Wendy, Alia, Dave, Mal, Koriann, and I to help them select books, we chatted with each other about our favorites. “Didn’t Thank You, Mr. Falker make you cry?” Koriann asked as she held it in the air. “Yeah, I can’t wait for Patricia Polacco to visit Glacier Ridge this year,” I replied.  “What? When? That’s so exciting. I may have to be sick that day,” Koriann laughed.  

The morning passed quickly as we shared stories with each other.  At the end of the day, each child left with three books they had personally chosen.  Some chose books for themselves while others chose books for others.  It was a true gift to spend the time talking about books with friends today. Happy reading everyone!

~Anastasia Gruper

So, Did You Always Want to be a Teacher?

After being in a variety of classrooms earlier in the week, I decided to circle back to a few teachers and ask for their stories in becoming educators. As each one shared her narrative, what struck me the most was the fact none of the them aspired to be a teacher growing up. Nope. Not one. In fact, Oliness, talked about she “sacrificed” herself at church and worked with the little ones in Sunday school. Sadly, her parents died when she was in grade twelve, so her plans changed dramatically. After waiting two long years to get into a dental school program, Mrs. Gwanu was told by her mother to head to Livingstone and begin working on her teaching certificate. As luck would have it, her acceptance to dental school came a year later . . . but Mom forced her to stay in the teaching program. Third grade teacher Tina had always wanted to become a nurse. However, her older sister was helping to cover the cost of schooling and insisted she pursue a teaching career. Nursing school was out of the question.

As I walked home later that day, I thought a lot about plans—plans for the future, plans for children, and God’s plan for our lives. It’s true, we often invest a great deal of time (and money) in creating big plans. We believe our plans are set in stone when actually our well crafted plans could change in an instant. And what I find so interesting is that these women are three of the strongest educators at School of Hope. They are leaders in their field who inspire their students and continue to learn themselves. They are proud of their students’ progress and joyful in their careers . . . even if teaching wasn’t their first choice.