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.)

“A Pilgrim, True of Heart”

Master storytellers have the power to transport a reader to another time and place––to help readers lose themselves in the story and challenge their thinking long after the story ends.  During the “Stay at Home” orders my heart called for a master storyteller. Pam Muñoz Ryan answered the call. In her newest masterpiece Mañanaland, I was lost in the land of Santa Maria on a quest with Maximiliano Córdoba of “somewhere in the Americas, many years after once-upon-a-time and long before happily-ever-after.” 

In this beautifully crafted tale set in yesterday, today, and tomorrow, I was immediately drawn to Max–– the motherless boy seeking a birth certificate to play on the Santa Maria fútbol team.  When Papá leaves to resolve the issue, Buelo shares some insight. Max takes it upon himself to search for answers.  Through his quest, he uncovers the secrets of his family and reveals he is true of heart.  Even now (long after the story has ended) I am pondering how to be “A pilgrim, true of heart” who escorts people who are fleeing from danger to Mañanaland.

(Blog post written by A to Z board member Dr. Anastasia Gruper)

New Venue for February Fundraiser & Celebration

Smith's outside

By Pat Kelly

What do corrugated metal barn siding, reclaimed bleacher wood and A to Z Literacy Movement have in common? They are all pieces of our upcoming fundraiser “A Decade in the Books”, to be held at a hip new venue in McHenry called Smith’s Central Garage. Formerly a mechanic’s garage, Smith’s has brought a unique gathering place to the vibrant riverfront area north of Route 120. It is a well planned site with lots of industrial metal, concrete and wood. The bar inside is a casual, homey hangout constructed of vintage materials with a focus on Chevrolets. A fantastic space to hold a fundraiser!

So get out on Saturday, February 2nd and join us at Smith’s Central Garage from 5-8 p.m! Come on inside this cozy locale and sample wines and local beers, bid on some gift baskets and support A to Z as they celebrate their 10th anniversary. Afterward, other interesting spots such as Bimbo’s Italian Restaurant and McHenry Brewing Company are just around the block awaiting your visit.

Inside Smith's

 

Helping Kids Choose Books

By Anastasia Gruper

letter from summer school

We recently had the opportunity to chat with over 300 kids at District 47 summer school about our favorite topic––books.  The LMC was bustling with the buzz of book talks as each student chose two “just right” books for themselves or anyone they thought would like a book. Helping kids choose and then watching as they fell into the flow of reading was a joy for all.

We were excited to receive this thank you note from the students in Mrs. Widdowson, Ms. Lentine, and Mrs. T’s class.  Their shared writing experience was a true gift. Thank you, Mrs. White and Mr. Knoth for allowing us the opportunity to share the love of reading with so many excited readers. Happy Reading Everyone!

Local Summer Outreach & Shipping Success

On June 28th, A to Z Literacy Movement volunteers hosted their annual free book fair for 300 students attending summer school in Crystal Lake. Girls and boys in grades one through eight were able to self-select two books to take home . . . that’s 600 books to enjoy! Yeh!


In addition, we have shipped the last of our four shipments for 2018. One major celebration was sending children’s books to a small library in Pakistan – a new country for us to connect with and support young readers. And while the cost of shipping has increased, we are still deeply committed to getting books into the hands of children around the world.

On July 20th, Betty, Alia, and Mal will head back to Zambia to work with our partner schools, Shine Zambia Reading Academy and School of Hope. Be on the lookout for an email with details of their experiences.

And as always, thank you for continuing to support us and believing in our mission to increase the love of reading everywhere. We could not do this work without YOU!

Planning & Progress

By Alia Hammerstone

A typical A to Z meeting begins with a plethora of hugs and a few minutes of catching up in the Keenan’s kitchen. This particular Wednesday is no different, despite the chill and damp in the air outside, we are warmed with the greetings and small talk this monthly meeting affords us.

We then gather around the living room and watch Chimamanda Ngozi’s Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”. It is a thought-provoking story of the assumptions and stereotypes people give credence to; and how a single story (about people, places, etc.) often leads to misunderstandings.

After a brief discussion on the impact of the Ted Talk, and how it relates to our work, we move to the dining room and gather around some snacks and agendas. At this time, we talk a few moments to go around and celebrate one good thing to share – from weddings and travels to graduations and new professional developments. Our conversations are organic, driven by both the agenda and our own collaboration.

This month’s focus was on finalizing a new location to host our annual February fundraising event, summer plans and continuing to grow with our outreach. Mary worked hard on connecting with local event spaces, and A to Z is excited to announce our annual FUNdraiser event will be at Smith’s Central Garage in McHenry! We are thrilled at the opportunity to grow and host our event in such a unique space.

Another area A to Z Literacy is looking to expand is with more local outreach for organizations who help marginalized teens struggling with mental health. Our goal is to increase outreach with young adults and continue to promote literacy within the community.

Mal, Betty, and Alia will be traveling to Zambia this July and shared their tentative plans for the workshop they will help facilitate at School of Hope. Part of what makes A to Z so successful is the continuous brainstorming and feedback of the members; everyone comes bearing a wealth of knowledge and experiences that help to guide our events and efforts.

The meeting tends to wrap up much the same as it started, with embraces around and well-wishes for the weeks ahead until our next meeting. We leave with a purpose and set of ideas to investigate- be it for local/global outreach, book drives, donations, etc. Our organization is thrilled to be continuing work this summer, both locally- with our book drive at D47’s Glacier Ridge, and abroad- with our continuing work in Zambia.

A Shipment: From Start to Finish

Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 9.30.00 AM

It all starts with a fundraiser – like dodgeball tournaments at Bernotas Middle School and Hannah Beardsley Middle School in Crystal Lake, Illinois. These fantastic schools hosted their annual A to Z Dodgeball Tournaments to raise funds for the shipping of books.

A to Z volunteers then hit the local libraries (post book sales) to gather free children’s books. (Library books are especially awesome as the sturdy hardcover selection provides a balanced assortment for our recipients.) Once the books are hand-picked, they are then boxed up, addressed, and bagged. Ready for the post office!

At the post office, the patient postal worker, Donna, methodically weighs each box, types in all of the shipping information, and ensures each M-Bag has a customs form attached to the M-Bag tag.   It’s a process . . .  and the line of people behind us usually grows as we work through each box . . . it takes between 30-40 minutes.

post office cart

Today we shipped six boxes of children’s books to a new country – Pakistan. So exciting! Shearyar Arif Jessani found our nonprofit via the internet and requested an A to Z shipment for a small community library.  The little library will serve as a reading room for children in the area and the boys and girls will be able to check library books out as well.

As always, we are so grateful for our supporters who continue to help us meet our goals and live out our mission to increase the love of reading and get books into children’s hands.

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.

books

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!