The Bond of Books

Over the past 12 months, I have spent time reflecting on relationship bonds–personal, professional, new, and old. While we have all felt the challenge of isolation to varying degrees throughout quarantine, I am sure we have also found new and unique ways to bond safely with others. Maybe it was Zoom, maybe prolonged FaceTime calls, or maybe even a socially distanced walk with a pal. Something I have enjoyed over the past year has been indulging in books and the bonds that different books have provided me with others. 

Some books have helped me bond with my son and my husband. Since having our son in July, my husband and I have spent almost every evening together reading Miles a bedtime story. It’s a ritual that we have fallen into which provides us quiet moments to bond together, just the three of us. Not only have we bonded during this time, but books have provided Miles an opportunity to bond with his extended family–everyone loves dropping off new books, sending them in the mail, or reading over a fun FaceTime call. 

Some books have helped me bond with my friends. This past year has been unlike any other–and passing along books and sharing recommendations has kept me attuned with my various friendships. Even if it was just to reach out and share a recommendation, or perhaps it was a surprise in the mail with a kind note, books have helped me to appreciate the things I already knew I loved about my friends–their passions, interests, etc. 

Some books have helped me bond with my colleagues. From the online professional development to graduate courses, books have guided my studies and allowed me to share ideas as an educator with my peers and fellow students. Not only have I gotten to know more about the content I teach (and how best to teach it), but these bonds have expanded into casual book clubs–exchanging books “just for fun” outside of our studies. 

Some books have helped me bond with online communities. This past year has been fraught with social unrest, and so many leaders and activists have recommended phenomenal books to learn (and unlearn) in order to improve myself and better contribute to improving my school, community, and country. I have found book clubs on Twitter, Instagram, etc., and been able to “connect” with other like-minded people. 

What all of these bonds have in common is that they’ve provided ways to ameliorate the challenges of the past year–whether it was indulging in a good book to transport me from the realities of Covid, or a book that enabled me to become a better person, or even the daily growth I watch my son making as my husband and I read to him.

By Alia Bluemlein

Take a Listen

Do you ever find it challenging to get into a book because you are unable to visualize the setting
and the characters and then you keep rereading the same paragraph over and over again? SAME!
I have found that listening to the audiobook while following along with the text version is a great

I had this epiphany while reading Becoming by Michelle Obama, thinking: “How great would it
be for Michelle Obama herself to be reading this to me?” Well, thank you, Audible. The audio
made reading so much more enjoyable because she was telling me her life story.
Another book I enjoyed listening to the audio with was The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead,
which A to Z members read while participating in the National African American Read-In last
month. The audiobook was read by JD Jackson who did an amazing job of bringing emotion and
life to each character and I felt as if I had an easier time with painting scenes while listening.
I highly recommend checking out an audiobook because you may be pleasantly surprised!

Tip: if you have a library card, there are multiple apps like OverDrive, Libby, and Hoopla where you can borrow the audiobook
version without having to go to your library or having to pay for Audible!

(Thanks to Taylor Crandall for writing this week’s blog for A to Z.)

School of Hope – Part II

When reflecting on the trials and tribulations of the past year, something that stands out time and time again is the impact teachers have on their students. It is no different for our friends in Zambia. Despite the challenges Covid has presented for educators around the world, Hope College of Education, one of The School of Hope’s most recent endeavors, has continued to flourish and provide future educators with the tools and resources to continue making a difference in the lives of students in Zambia. 

Established in 2018, Hope College’s mission is “to provide a new paradigm of innovative, holistic teacher education that contributes positively to the development of the local and wider community.” There is an overwhelming need for teachers in Zambia-Unicef reports that over 60% of rural and 30% of urban orphans are not enrolled in school. Some classrooms have a 50:1 ratio. Not only are our friends inspiring future generations through “a college where the teaching approaches taught and modeled reflect student centered teaching,” they continue to help support current teachers in Zambia through their development of teacher training videos on YouTube. 

While we are so excited to resume our traditional fundraising efforts, in the meantime, we would like to continue to pass along opportunities for our friends here at home to support our friends in Zambia in a variety of ways. You can learn more about the innovative and inspiring things Hope College is doing by visiting their website, Facebook, and ways you can support the College here

School of Hope – Part I

This past year has highlighted so many challenges for so many, both at the micro and macro levels. Collectively, we have seen the tremendous difficulties that Covid has brought to our community here at home and the same can be said for our partners in Zambia. The School of Hope, which provides outstanding education for 660 students in grades K-12, has also been impacted by the pandemic. Over the next few weeks, we would like to highlight a few of their success stories and share more information about their important education work.

School of Hope has been a pillar of success in the Zambian community for the past 12 years. In fact, School of Hope came out #1 on the 2019 Grade 12 results out of 283 secondary schools in Central Province. (Grade 12 students finished the 2020 exams in December, and are waiting for the results.) The School has been generous with scholarships and financial assistance, and through this generosity, students who would otherwise not be able to attend receive an excellent education. Often, their #1 graduates have been those students receiving such assistance. Additionally, School of Hope has created a Pre-Vocational Program for those at the secondary level who struggle academically. Right now, students in this program have a period of English, a period of Consumer Math, and 2 periods of woodworking (learning how to build things in the school’s workshop). Each term, students will be working in different vocational areas. Unfortunately, school expenditures sometimes exceed the income due to the desire and generosity in making a difference in the lives of youth and young adults in Zambia. 

While A to Z Literacy Movement hasn’t been able to host our traditional silent auction fundraiser, we would love to pass along opportunities for our local community of supporters to directly help our friends at School of Hope in Zambia. Please consider checking out their website, Facebook page, and Instagram site for more details and we hope you would consider making a donation to support their amazing nonprofit charity. We will share more information next week!

A to Z Joins African American Read-In

The A to Z Literacy board consists of a passionate group of people who congregate regularly to fulfill the mission of the organization: to improve the lives of children through literacy development. Currently, our activities are primarily focused in Zambia, Africa and McHenry County, Illinois.  

Because our mission is to improve lives through literacy development, we are also committed to improving our own lives through literacy development.  Striving to learn and grow from each other, we end every board meeting sharing what we are currently reading. We are a team of readers. 

In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to take an opportunity to learn and grow in new ways. This year, we decided to  join the National Council of the Teachers of English in their Annual African American Read-In. As a team, we made the commitment to read and discuss literature written by an African American author. 

Our first task in joining this Read-In was to choose which author and which book.  This was not an easy task! In the end, we generated a list and voted.  After selecting a book, we set our meeting dates and reading goals.

The first February weekend in Illinois was as expected: frigid. Wrapped in a down blanket with a freshly brewed cup of coffee clutched in one hand and the book in the other, I realized quickly that we made a great choice.

Colson Whitehead’s ability to draw in the reader is unparalleled. In the first chapter, Elwood Curtis stole my heart: competing in a dish-drying contest for a set of encyclopedias.  There’s no need to worry about meeting the reading goal before our first meeting date.  I’ve finished the book.  Now I have time to digest and think about what we really need to discuss. Can’t wait for the conversations to begin!

What Our Team is Reading

As an organization that promotes the love of reading for children, we are also a group of adults who love to read. In fact, each month, we close out our board meeting with team members sharing titles of their current reading selection. Here’s how our February meeting wrapped up:

  • Stasia – Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Brown
  • Pat – Things I Want My Daughter to Know by Alexandra Stoddard
  • Alia – The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Kate – The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  • Dave – The Practice by Seth Godin
  • Betty – Sky Time in Gray’s River by Robert Michael Pyle
  • Mal – Dearly by Margaret Atwood
  • Wendy – The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Is a Book Club Really Just About Books?

A group of ladies, a monthly meeting and books. Established during the spring of 2010 when we realized that the only time we seemed to see each other was at kids’ sporting events and the ladies of FRG wanted more. We sat on the bleachers watching our kids games and started talking to each other about what we were reading. Baseball was the best game, 10-year old boys just learning to pitch. Those were long games, but at least we could talk about books. From those bleachers the book club was born.

It has certainly grown over time. From eight women to more than 30 now as new families moved in and heard about “book club”. The invite went out once a month, the host choosing the book. Back in 2010, we easily passed around the jar containing the questions about the book. We all knew that tangents would happen and there was a good chance we would stray from the topic which is why everyone was welcomed whether you had read the book or not. Conversation flowed easily and we always returned to the book. Now the same jar of questions is passed but there are reading glasses “cheaters” included. 🙂 Life moves forward. 

The December book club was always the one everyone moved heaven and earth to get to. A lighter read for that month as we would need time for the book exchange. The book exchange was an opportunity to get a book but there were rules. All the books were placed in a pile, numbers were pulled from a jar and that was the order people picked a book from the pile. But there was a catch. You could “steal” a book that had already been picked by a member. If that happened then the person whose book was stolen could pick from the wrapped pile again. Books were carefully watched during the exchange, difficult decisions were made because a book could only be stolen 3 times. Third steal was final. Although being a small town there was a good chance that when the book that you wanted but was no longer available for stealing was going to end up on your porch in another week. That’s just the way things worked

For over 10 years now the members of this book club have met, talked, and  laughed. We’ve read books that were far too relatable and created conversations that stayed with you for days. We’ve read books that we still talk about today. When going through family hardships, you could always count on book club. You could count on a good book, great conversation and support. Through the past 10 years the ladies of the book club have supported each other through childhood cancer, divorce, new jobs, moves, cancer diagnosis and deaths of husbands all by meeting once a month to talk about a book.

Then the pandemic struck and book club was cancelled. At first we thought it would just be for the spring we could handle that, it would be fine. Then summer came and still no book club. It will still be ok we will meet again in the Fall. But then Fall came and still no book club. During this same time cancer and death appear; texts are sent with words of support and condolences. And one text stands out: we need book club

Books bring us together. Books can be shared in a way nothing else can. Books help us laugh together, cry together, and talk to each other in a way nothing else can. Books connect us to each other.

And now we have realized that book club like so many other gatherings can happen on Zoom.

(Thanks so much to Kate Hatfield for this week’s blog post.)

Two Sisters in Two States Promoting the Love of Reading

How can a conversation over Zoom about remote learning between sisters during a pandemic turn into helping kids gain access to books in another country? How can that happen when one sister lives in Illinois and the other lives in Texas? It happens over several months. 

In the beginning, my sister Mary, a children’s librarian, contacted me about how she could reach the kids in her small town in Texas. We began the discussion by using the local school’s platform–Seesaw. I taught my sister to use that platform and then more conversations occurred. She wanted to know more about how she could reach kids with even more books. As the children’s librarian, she does a great job reading books online in English and Spanish. The kids in town love it! And I learned my sister was fluent in Spanish. 

But as the pandemic continued, summer came, and she knew she needed to add to the program. What else could she use to reach kids who really just wanted to read? The library had a book pick up service but Mary wanted to make contact with these kiddos. More conversations ensued and I showed my sister how I teach reading online with an online reading program. She began using that program after completing grant paperwork in order to purchase the program for the library. Success with the kids! 

Mary and I continued to talk and she mentioned an orphanage across the border that people in town often helped.  One student and parent in particular loved the program Mary was doing. This parent was also in the curriculum department at the local university. At a department meeting, another professor mentioned the orphanage across the border. The parent of the student mentioned that his child was involved in a local reading online reading program and should contact Mary. Another conversation between sisters. Could this work? Could a pandemic bring online reading to a small orphanage across the border from a small Texas town. Could something good come out of something awful?

(Special thanks to Kate Hatfield for this week’s blog post.)

Holiday Shopping Helps

If you’re anything like me, you’ve stepped up your online shopping this year. I’m avoiding stores with their numerous shoppers who are both being careful and not so careful with social distancing. That, coupled with the uncertainty of even being together with family later this month has me taking the non-traditional route of visiting Amazon a few times a week. 

If you are also picking up a few holiday gifts online, I want to remind you to shop through when you hop onto Amazon. Log in as you regularly do and in your account settings you can select A to Z Literacy Movement as your supported charity. It costs you nothing extra and a portion of what you spend on most purchases is donated to A to Z Literacy Movement

Every day we get notice of all the tremendous gift ideas which are on Amazon. Anytime year-round that you purchase, please remember A to Z Literacy so in giving, you give doubly. 

What Inspires Us to Become Educators?

What Inspires Us to Become Educators?

By Betty Trummel

I can recall the year that I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up…a teacher.  Third grade.  Miss Barbara McCloskey.  A compassionate, sweet, encouraging teacher who took me under her wing and gave me confidence.  I felt safe and enjoyed school, feeling more relaxed than I had in my earlier years.  I started to “play school” at home and from there my love of learning took off with a succession of great educators there to inspire me!  I was lucky to have fantastic elementary school educators, and I can happily recite every one of their names to this day.

As I mentor the wonderful teachers at Shine Zambia Reading Academy from afar each week, I encourage them to reflect on their teaching and learning, and on why they have become teachers.  On a recent Zoom call (yes, we are using Zoom with some level of success, IF the power stays on!) I gave the staff a homework assignment:  be ready to step up at the next week’s call and talk about what has inspired them to become a teacher.  WHY do they want to work with children?

A staff photo from my visit to Shine in 2018.

I was so pleased by their response and willingness to share life experiences that put them on this path, and I’d like to share them with you.  It’s amazing because there are little bits and pieces from all of their comments that apply to my own path…and I realize that no matter where we live in this big world, we can have similar experiences.

Teacher Younus started off by talking about his passion for the kids…a theme that was repeated all through the call that day.  He talked about the fact that we must keep learning and we talked about the importance of this for all educators.

Many of the teachers at Shine started out by teaching Sunday School and found that they loved teaching children. This was certainly true for Teacher Stella.  The most important comment Stella made was that she learns from the children.  This was a great opportunity for me to reinforce to Shine teachers that our job as educators really IS a two-way street.

Teacher Josephine struggled with reading as a child.  Her comments about “what I went through as a child” were directly linked to her saying she wanted to be a better teacher.  She wants children to learn without fear, to be able to ask questions, and she wanted to replace the not-so-good teachers of her youth by being a dedicated teacher herself.  She said, “I have fallen in love with teaching!”

Front row left to right:  Teachers Stella and Younus; back row Teachers Josephine, Mercy, Martha, and Chafela

A new teacher I haven’t yet met in person, Teacher Esnart, discussed the admiration she felt for her teachers while growing up.  They were encouraging, which was the polar opposite of Josephine’s experiences.  Esnart says, “It’s all about the love and passion for children.”

Imparting knowledge to learners through a good academic program and teaching morals are two key points stressed by Teacher Catherine.  Although she says it’s an occupation to earn money, she loves teaching children.

Teacher Catherine, teaching a lesson to her students.

Teacher Florence comes from a large family and was shy at first.  She developed a passion when she was a Sunday School teacher (which she still does today).  She remarked that teaching children who can’t read is rewarding and she sees that she’s impacting a lot of kids.  Knowing that we are all making an impact is so important!

Teacher Florence, preparing a lesson.

“Teaching is in me!” was the most powerful comment made by Teacher Ruth.  Personally, I have always felt this way, and can totally relate to Ruth’s strong enthusiasm.  She says she grew up with the passion, and when she was a teenager she would “play teacher” after school. Again, striking similarity to my own pathway.  Ruth would help other children who were struggling and teach them what she had learned.  How awesome!      

Continued education was also a common theme.  Teacher Mercy loves teaching because she loves being in a learning environment.  “I think I was just born to teach!”  She’s currently attending Hope College to earn a degree. Teacher Martha started off as Shine Zambia’s librarian and from there gained an interest in teaching and children. Others at Shine encouraged her and gave her confidence to take on her own classroom. Martha’s getting a degree in teaching by taking online classes.  I remember the days of my Master’s Degree program…while teaching during the day, and going to classes at night.  It’s not easy and it’s clear to see the commitment of Shine teachers to continuing education.

Teacher Chafela, working with his students.

Acting Head Teacher, Chafela, earned a university degree, but not in teaching.  Due to lack of other employment in Zambia he shifted to teaching.  One of the most important things to Chafela is “seeing someone start to know how to read and write…it drives me to continue.”  Seeing the success of students motivates him a LOT!

The teachers wrapped me up in a beautiful chitenge in the colors and patterns of the Zambian flag. It was such a special gift.

I honestly feel that each teacher from Shine mentioned at least one thing I could identify with.  When thinking of education around the world…sometimes we fail to realize that the same issues, joys, challenges, and inspirations are happening simultaneously around the globe.  Knowing that educators in diverse countries might have many similar goals and experiences was an excellent take-away from this Zoom meeting.  Stop to think today about what drives you to do what you do?  What is your passion?  Your life’s work?