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.)

“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!