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!
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
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.)
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.)
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 smile.amazon.com 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.
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?
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!”
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 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!
“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.
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!
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?
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.
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!
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.
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