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.)

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.

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

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)

Reading During Difficult Seasons

Looking back and reflecting on the past, I think I appreciate reading more now than I did years ago. After my husband Tim died, I just could not focus my thoughts. I couldn’t read a novel or write in my journal…at least not the way I did before. I might have been able to focus for 10 minutes…and that was on a good day. That season of my life lasted for almost two and half years. I know now through grief counseling that these distracted days, weeks, months, and years are very normal. It it was rough, but with time, I continued to heal. These days, as we all continue to stay at home to stay safe, I have found myself sitting around reading, enjoying the time with authors like Brene Brown and Daniel Pink. I’m also looking forward to reading Profiles in Courage in the coming weeks outside in the warmer spring weather. While our reading lives may shift, depending on the season we are living in, reading does promote resilience and healing in all of us.

(Thanks so much, Kate, for writing the blog post this week.)