Feeding the Mind and Soul

There’s something about living through a pandemic that brings about reflection–especially about places we frequent (or used to be able to frequent more often).  Book stores are one of those places. They are the places we routinely frequent to feed the mind and the soul–they hold memories in our hearts.

When I began teaching twenty years ago, I was fortunate to become a member of the  Illinois Reading Council. Through the support of my principal and the curriculum department, I was able to attend the yearly conference in Springfield, IL.  It was there that I developed a love of book talks.  Becky Anderson, from Anderson’s Bookshop, continues to deliver book talks at the annual conference.  She also hauls a plethora of books to the conference hall for us all to indulge. Over the years, I have collected several of my favorite books and had them signed by the authors at the conference. They were the gifts I brought back to my children, my students, and my colleagues. They were gifts that opened us up to the world and brought a dialogue into our homes and community. The authors were also the ones we invited to visit the schools to talk to the children: Ben Mikaelsen, Neal Shusterman, and Jordan Sonnenblick were a few of my favorites.  

Upon returning from Springfield the first year, I started my long treks to Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville.  My love of the store and all it has to offer began. The events they offer are off the charts: from small author talks to full day conferences.  I’ve attended several over the years with my children and my friends. One of my favorite memories is Emma meeting Suzanne Collins during her middle school years: she was infatuated with the Hunger Games.  Because of these experiences, you can imagine my excitement when Anderson’s opened in LaGrange, just a few miles from my mother’s home.

While I truly love Anderson’s Bookshop, the time it takes to do the round trip is difficult to fit into my schedule. During my early years of teaching, independent book stores in McHenry County were hard to find.  It was a true celebration when Read Between the Lynes opened on the Woodstock Square. It became my new favorite place to routinely stop.  Arlene, the owner,  has been a wonderful support to our schools: helping us arrange author talks, offering author visits at the store, giving educator discounts, and ordering books for our students.  

Bookstores aren’t just part of my routine at home. My home away from home is our family cabin in Northern Wisconsin: a place I have frequented since birth. The closest town to our cabin for shopping is Minocqua. Growing up, Book World filled our summer reading lives.  Of course, the tradition of the trips to the cabin continued, and I brought my children to Book World. You can imagine my devastation when Book World closed in 2018. 

Our traditions of traveling to the cabin as adults has changed a bit. We began a new tradition of traveling to the cabin for Thanksgiving with our children. To kick off the holiday season, we attend the Boulder Junction Christmas Walk on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The walk through The Shade Tree is always my favorite. You can imagine the joy I felt when The Shade Tree moved to Minocqua to fill the void of Book World. With that, the selection of books has changed (and my spending budget increased!). 

I’ve come to realize that book stores are part of my reading life. I’m drawn to them wherever I go.  On my last vacation to Key West, FL, I wasn’t disappointed. After a stop at Hemmingway’s, Mike and I headed to Books & Books @ The Studios of Key West.  I purchased Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm, the sequel to the book my dear friend, Terry, gifted me to read as I traveled to Key West.  After reading it while lounging in the ocean, I found myself in need of another book the next day.  And so my routine of heading to the bookstore every morning while on vacation began . . .

As I reflect on the independent bookstores I have frequented, memories with my family and friends flood my mind. Each bookstore is curated by a local expert, and each one offers us an opportunity to indulge in books that offer us windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors into the world around us. Each independent bookstore opens a dialogue and experience to fill our minds and our hearts.  

Special thanks to Dr. A. Gruper for this week’s blog post.

Hanging Out at the Library!

Hanging Out at the Library!

By Betty Trummel

Are you missing opportunities to hang out at your local library due to the pandemic?  Many libraries have been closed for months, but working hard to offer books and many other resources to their patrons.  In a recent Zoom chat with my library book group, we had a great discussion about WHY people hang out at libraries AND what libraries have to offer us.  I hadn’t thought much about this in a while, so this conversation was extremely interesting. 

A library can provide a safe, quiet space.  Unless you are a totally unruly customer, you’re not likely to be kicked out…you can “loiter” for hours in a place with a myriad of resources at your fingertips.  For some it might even be a refuge from the cold (or heat) and inclement weather.  A library is a place for an inquisitive mind, a venue for learning, a point for inspiration and motivation.  It’s relaxing, or exhilarating, maybe both at the same time!  It’s a location for all ages, from infants to centenarians. 

I know how much I’m missing my local library at the moment.  It’s the coolest place.  The Brooks Free Library was the first free public library in Harwich, established in 1880 and has been operated by the town of Harwich since 1910.  Great care has been taken with upkeep of this historic building and its collections inside.  They’ve done a fabulous job of keeping things going since March when they had to close their doors to the public and adapt to new ways to distribute their materials.

In doing some research on other libraries, I found two amazing resources that I wanted to share with you.  The first is the Alaska Resources Library & Information Services (ARLIS), located in Anchorage.  ARLIS offers many services but one of the most unique is their loan of hundreds of furs and skulls, and about 50 bird mounts…talk about learning first-hand about Alaska’s wildlife!  Check out:  https://www.arlis.org to learn more! Just browsing their website will lead to acquiring facts and information!  And, as an educator, I can’t imagine checking out a set of moose antlers, an animal fur, or skull to share with my class…if only I was teaching in Alaska!

How many of you know that YOUR library, The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. is the biggest library in the world? https://www.loc.gov/ It houses 160 million items, has 70 specific collections, 15 million prints and photographs to start with.  In addition, it is home to:

  • 5.5 million maps, 80,000 atlases, and 5,000 globes
  • Its geography and map collections include Lewis and Clark’s maps, artifacts and cartographic evidence over time
  • A music collection that has 24 million items including sheet music (both original and printed), instruments and recordings
  • A rare books and special collections area that has over 800,000 items including the Gutenberg Bible, Thomas Jefferson’s library, and Medieval manuscripts
  • The Serial and Government Publications collections that include 800,000 rolls of microfilm, 7.2 million loose issues of newspapers, 42,000 volumes of bound newspaper pages, and 140,000 issues of comic books!

Remember, this is YOUR library as a U.S. citizen!  It’s a library that is SO much more than just books!  As we continue battling this pandemic, these resources can keep us learning, and can help us stay connected with the world. 

How can you connect with the public library in your own community or with another great library online?  Don’t forget about the Little Free Libraries that might by in your community, too!

Check out this video on the world’s most magnificent libraries:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeLoyrDqL_A

Dear Local Library

Dear Crystal Lake Public Library,

Growing up, I lived only a block away from you and one of my favorite summer activities was walking over and participating in your summer reading program. My siblings and I would check out bags of books, put blankets down on our porch, grab some snacks, and read. As I grew older, my visits became less and less frequent, and then, I no longer had a library card. 

When the pandemic started, like most people, I found myself with extra time on my hands. I was using all this extra spare time to browse social media and binge watch Netflix shows (yes, like “Tiger King”). After too much screen time, I decided to shut down all of my social media and use my free time to start reading again. So I went to your website to see how I might access some of the books I had been hearing rave reviews about. I have to say, YOU have done a WONDERFUL job at helping the community gain access to reading material using your curbside pick-up. I browsed your catalog on the library website, placed holds for the books I wanted to read, and when they were ready, one of your helpful librarians called me to set up a pick-up time.

On pick-up day, I pulled into a designated parking spot, gave my name, and one of your kind circulation clerks put the bag of books in my trunk. What’s more, inside my bag of books was a summer reading program pamphlet so that I could mark off my reading minutes! You brought me back to a time when I was 8 years old again participating in the summer reading program! What a gift. The process was so simple and I found my love for reading again. So, THANK YOU Crystal Lake Public Library for coming up with a way to give community members access to resources in an organized and safe way. 

Thanks to Taylor Crandall for this week’s blog post.

What We’re Reading

At the end of our board meeting last night (via Zoom), A to Z team members shared a book (or two) that they are currently reading or have just recently finished. It was a fun way to wrap up our monthly gathering and sparked a great blog post.

  • Wendy is reading The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall.
  • Kate just completed American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins and is currently reading The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.
  • Alia is reading Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.
  • Pat is just finished Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and is currently reading Chris Cleave’s Little Bee.
  • Betty just finished Kristin Harmel’s The Book of Lost Name and is currently reading The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson.
  • Anastasia is reading Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson.
  • Mal is reading Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai and James Martin’s The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life.
  • Dave is currently reading Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh.

If you’re looking for a title (or two), our team hopes this quick list guides you to the right book. ~Mal Keenan

Pandemic Reading

One-third of the adult population reports that their reading of books has increased because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Magazine readership has shot up to a record high with people preferring print copies to the online versions. And it’s not just printed copies. Just walk down the street and notice how people are reading. Smartphones, as always, are an apparatus for reading, no matter what the subject. That’s encouraging.

E-book sales have increased due to the instant availability of titles. The convenience of books published in electronic form appeals to many. Heather, librarian and mother of two youngsters, has rediscovered the joy of audiobooks. “It’s been quite difficult to find alone time being home with two young children during this pandemic. But with audiobooks, I’ve been able to “read” while I multitask….making dinner, folding laundry, and cleaning up. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being read to and found it to be a marvelous escape during these trying times.”

Moreover, keeping up our connection with others while reflecting on the current worldwide health situation have become important pastimes. Liz, another avid reader, says: “I usually read history and biographies and history reminds me we will persevere.” Some folks have strayed from their usual genres, having to rely on what titles were available at their homes or borrowing from others in their circle. My brother, who lives in North Carolina, and is the most voracious lifelong reader that I know, said, “I think because there has been so much less going on, I have focused more on longer works. (I) also went back and reread favorite kid’s books for the comfort factor.”

Whatever the platform or topic and whether it’s the print or audi version, friends with A to Z Literacy Movement recommend reading as a way to escape even for a short while.

Thanks so much to Pat Kelly for the blog post this week.

How to Write a Story–A Book Review

In a recent Horn Book article, Kate Messner offers five tips to get kids writing.  I’d like to offer a sixth: read aloud How to Write a Story by Kate Messner to a child. It will offer joy and excitement to the writing process. 

In this picture book beautifully illustrated by Mark Siegel, Kate offers step by step directions to write a story. She begins with searching for an idea.  As writers, we know ideas are everywhere.  We collect them in writing notebooks and save them for the moment we know we must write about them. Through the illustrations and words, Mark and Kate bring the process of collecting ideas to life.

In the remaining steps, Kate gives tips on how to develop setting, characters, and plot.  She delves into the introduction and organization of the story. She encourages writing a draft and returning for revision after the story has had time to “blossom and grow.” Kate concludes with what to do with a story when it is finished–– share it with friends.

If you’re looking for a way to spend an afternoon, read aloud How to Write a Story to a child.  Be sure to have a writing notebook and writing utensil on hand for you and the child. You won’t be able to resist the urge to write!

~Dr. Anastasia Gruper, A to Z Board Member & Contributing Writer

Kindness Rocks!

Kindness Rocks!    By Betty Trummel    

Kindness ROCKS (noun):  a natural material, hard or soft, that has a distinctive mineral composition

Kindness ROCKS (verb):  is awesome

With all of the intense challenges this world has had in the past few months, I’ve been looking for ways to read uplifting books to my grandchildren, as well as myself.  Let’s face it, we all need more kindness in our lives…both on the giving and receiving end!  And, it’s important to pass this lesson on to children as well.

Recently, I stumbled upon a real winner of a book:  “Scribble Stones” by Diane Alber.

The story is about one small gray, round stone…happy, but waiting to find its purpose in life.  The pile of stones he’s hanging out with are all chosen for various projects, but not our main character…he’s lonely and a bit sad that he’s the last stone in the pile. 

He’s worried that he’s destined to become a boring paperweight, and won’t bring happiness to others as he had hoped.  BUT…as luck would have it, his purpose will be revealed as the stone is transformed into a colorful “scribble stone.”  All of the scribble stones in the story are traveling the globe to bring happiness and fun and smiles to all. 

Sometimes called kindness rocks or stones, these bring inspirational messages and smiles to people around the world.  We all know that a simple message of kindness can go a long way to spark joy, and brighten someone’s life.  Whether it’s a written message, happy face, or a gorgeous mandala pattern, it’s a fabulous feeling to bring joy to a family member, friend or a person who could use encouragement and a smile.

After reading this book with my grandchildren, we painted rocks and had a blast.  I love that we took this story to heart, and followed through with our own kindness rocks/scribble stones.  I hope that you might get the opportunity to read this book and paint some rocks of your own.

Summer Reading and Great Conversations

For kids everywhere, this past school year ended with virtual goodbyes and feelings of uncertainty around what will happen in August. Teachers and students tried their very best during the remote learning, but at times, it was challenging to stay motivated and engaged. So now with summer in full swing, I believe one great way to support kids, academically and emotionally, is through small neighborhood book clubs. 

With a selection of four different books to choose from, I invited my 4th-grade neighbor to join me in some fun summer reading outside on the patio. We are currently reading The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani which is a fantastic story of a girl traveling from Pakistan to India during the partition of 1947. Like any good book club, we have enjoyed snacks while reading favorite parts, and of course, have gotten off topic with conversations about getting your ears pierced, picking out the right cat from the local shelter, and discussing the importance of why people are protesting in the world right now. Sure, the book has supported Penelope’s reading comprehension, but more importantly, our conversations have generated connection which will elevate her social emotional skills and promote the love of reading. And more good news–my book club partner has invited two more neighbors to join us in our next book, Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed.

(Thanks to Dr. Mal Keenan for the blog post this week)

The One and Only Bob

Katherine Applegate won our hearts in the beautifully crafted Newbery Award winner The One and Only Ivan.  Ivan, a Silverback gorilla, was trapped off exit 8 at the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. As the story of Ivan’s journey to a zoo unfolded, we fell in love with him and all his friends.  In the sequel, Katherine steals our hearts again.  

Bob is a mutt of uncertain heritage.  Although, he believes to come from Chihuahua and Papillon descent.  Through his journey to rescue his friends and family in the wake of a devastating tornado, we learn how he becomes to be known as The One and Only Bob.

The character development of Bob is masterfully done through unique craft moves.   A canine glossary appears in the prologue.  We are introduced to terms such as crazy mutt, me-ball, and water bowl of power.  In the first chapter, the voice of Bob brings laughter from the first line, “Look, nobody’s ever accused me of being a good dog.”  It doesn’t stop there.  HIs obsession with food, his harassment of squirrels, and his desire to roll in garbage to enhance his aroma gives us a clear idea of the type of dog Bob is.  

As the story continues, we are reunited with Ivan and Ruby.  We also meet a few new characters: Snickers (Bob’s nemesis), Nutwit (a gray squirrel), Kimu (a grey wolf), Kinayani (a female gorilla), Kudzoo (a baby gorilla), Stretch (a giraffe), and so many more.  Each character brings depth and pivots to the story.  In the aftermath of a tornado, Bob searches his inner self to realize he does not look out for numero uno. With the help of his wise friend, Ivan, and his playful friend, Ruby, Bob finds out he is not as selfish as he proclaims. He is, in fact, a hero. 

(Special thanks to Dr. Stasia Gruper for this week’s blog post)


When I told my family I was expecting, the first thing my mom did was go out and purchase a stack of children’s books- from classics I enjoyed (all things Dr. Seuss) to new favorites (Baby Kiss). Sharing a love of reading is something my family has done for as long as I can remember. We were read to encouraged to read and had shared ideas about the books we were reading in a sort of informal, ongoing book club. Now that I am pregnant, I am enjoying both stocking up on childhood classics for my son as well as swapping books with my husband as we delve into pregnancy and parenting books, sharing thoughts and ideas as we go. 

I am reminded how fortunate I am to have the luxury of time and resources to read right now. I am also reminded of my commitment to A to Z Literacy Movement- and how important getting books into the hands of children both locally and globally is. I can’t wait to continue to work with such an amazing organization and seek ways to pursue our goals, even in the midst of this unique and challenging time.

(Special thanks to Alia for the blog post this week.)