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)


When I told my family I was expecting, the first thing my mom did was go out and purchase a stack of children’s books- from classics I enjoyed (all things Dr. Seuss) to new favorites (Baby Kiss). Sharing a love of reading is something my family has done for as long as I can remember. We were read to encouraged to read and had shared ideas about the books we were reading in a sort of informal, ongoing book club. Now that I am pregnant, I am enjoying both stocking up on childhood classics for my son as well as swapping books with my husband as we delve into pregnancy and parenting books, sharing thoughts and ideas as we go. 

I am reminded how fortunate I am to have the luxury of time and resources to read right now. I am also reminded of my commitment to A to Z Literacy Movement- and how important getting books into the hands of children both locally and globally is. I can’t wait to continue to work with such an amazing organization and seek ways to pursue our goals, even in the midst of this unique and challenging time.

(Special thanks to Alia for the blog post this week.)

Distance Learning … Grandma Style!

by Betty Trummel

For the past two months of self-isolation, I’ve enjoyed sharing the joy of reading with others. Whether it’s Zoom book club meetings with my local library or book discussions with friends (“Hey, tell me about what you’re reading!”), it’s been a great time to re-focus on reading and find that quiet time to curl up with a good book. 

My greatest joy, though, has been the opportunity to read with my grandchildren each and every school day! Early on during stay-at-home orders, I wanted to reach out to our grandson (4th grade… the grade I taught for SO many years), and granddaughter (1st) grade and see what I could contribute to make home schooling/learning FUN!

The results have been a daily delight…lifting my spirits and providing a deeper connection to grandkids I can’t see very often because they live in the Las Vegas area. We’ve literally “seen” each other every day… while doing something fun and educational!

I’ve used stuffed toys and puppets to enhance various picture books for Ella…

…and Jackson and I have shared two chapter books which were perennial favorites when I taught fourth grade! 

Both children have been able to watch and listen to me read either “live” or through video recordings. But, the real bonus has been listening to them read aloud to me! Jackson always begs for “one more chapter, Grandma!” and most days Ella shares several books and I can barely get her to stop! I sent the kids an atlas (I have the same one at home) and we’ve enjoyed sharing geography knowledge together!  There are SO many ways to share the love of books and learning…even from afar!

What a joy it is to encourage these young readers and cement the bond of “reading = Grandma time” with these precious kiddos.  Who can you reach out to and read with today?  How can you share your love of reading with others?

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.)

The Gift of Time

We all have a little more time for reading these days. Whether it’s on your phone (I’m guilty of way too much of that), an e-reader, or a book, the absence of the many activities that take us outside of our homes gives us the gift of time. 

With the temporary shutdown of public libraries, people have gotten creative in finding reading material. Swapping books with friends, visiting Little Free Libraries, and gleaning long forgotten books from our own bookcases are some of my methods. Additionally, the stimulus checks may fund some online book or magazine purchases. 

To encourage reading, why not send a few books to children you know who are stuck at home?  These little gifts will for sure bring some smiles and you can use the less expensive USPS Media Mail to ship. Or perhaps buy a magazine to send to a senior citizen who is sheltering in place. Time and reading material are two things that we can take enjoyment from despite the worries of the world.

(Thanks to A to Z team member Pat for this post.)

What Have You Been Reading? (Part 2)

How’s everyone doing? Are you getting outside for some fresh air and sunshine as spring begins to settle in? A to Z team member Betty has been trying to get outside and explore a few remote natural areas in between the rainy days. (No crowds – just water, rocks, and sand) Check out Betty’s book recommendations and reasons why she loves to read.

Books to Enjoy

  • The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys
  • A Minute to Midnight by David Baldacci
  • Voices of the Bulge: Untold Stories From Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge by Michael Collins and Martin King

Why I Love to Read

  • To be entertained
  • To relax
  • To keep learning
  • To stay connected to others around the globe

We will check back in again next week with a few more book recommendations for you to enjoy! Take care and be well!

What Have You Been Reading?

The A to Z Literacy team did not host their monthly meeting this week but members instead shared a few favorite titles of books they have been reading while staying safe at home. This extended time at home is truly a reader’s paradise. Here are a few recommendations from Wendy P:

  • Recipe for the Perfect Housewife by Karma Brown
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean
  • The Night Circus by Morgan Morgenstern
  • The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Stay tuned for more book recommendations in the coming weeks and take care of each other.

A Few Highlights from 2019

As we prepare to host our 11th Annual FUNdraiser, Literacy at the Lake, A to Z team members are proud to share a few highlights from 2019.


  • Purchased new books as gifts for students participating in an after-school reading program
  • Gave away 900 children’s books to 300 summer school students 
  • Spent time reading with 30 students at McHenry Youth and Family Services in June & July each week
  • Gave 500 children’s books away to local families at the Community Clinic Outreach 


  • Supported college student Jonathan Mwale at Mulengushi University covering the cost of his tuition and housing
  • Provided professional learning opportunities at School of Hope to support student engagement and methods of instruction
  • Provided long-distance professional development and curriculum work via phone conferences for Shine Zambia Reading Academy teachers 
  • Shipped 4 boxes to a women and children’s organization in Zambia
  • Shipped 6 boxes of books to a nonprofit in Malawi 
  • Shipped 4 boxes to a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia

As we celebrate our 2019 accomplishments, we know that none of our work could be done without amazing supporters like YOU! Your belief in our mission and your commitment to our organization continues to help us promote the love of reading and support the literacy lives of children locally and globally. Thanks to you, we have been able to get books into kids’ hands and support their social and academic reading habits. Thank you!

We hope to see you Saturday, Feb. 1st from 5:00-8:00 at Main Beach Pavillon.

The Gift of Education

The Gift of Education

By Betty Trummel

Being a part of A to Z Literacy Movement for the past 11 years, and as a veteran educator with 40 years of experience, I know the value of literacy and education.  What a gift it is to have books, supplies, and the money to continue learning at any age, but particularly after high school.  When our daughter and her fiancé (now husband) were planning their wedding a couple of years ago, they decided to forgo the usual table favors and instead pay for someone’s education for the first semester of college. Linda and Brian asked me to search for one of my Zambian students who would be the right person to receive this scholarship. 

Isaac Phiri, a former student of Shine Zambia Reading Academy, (one of the places that I love doing the work of A to Z Literacy Movement), had very successful results from his grade 12 exams and wanted to further his studies. When I was in Zambia in July of 2018 Isaac and I sat and talked about what he wanted to pursue.  He shared his dream of studying environmental health and helping his country in new ways.  A connection was formed and Isaac soon had the funds to begin his college life at Evelyn Hone University in Lusaka, Zambia.

Isaac sharing his exam results with me in 2018

Fast forward a year, and Isaac has completed a full year of college; he is learning and growing his knowledge every single day!  Linda and Brian felt so fulfilled and inspired by his commitment and excitement for learning, that they decided to “go the distance” and fund all three years of his time at Evelyn Hone.  My husband and I help Isaac with living expenses beyond tuition and books, providing a monthly allowance for food.  You see, the gift of education for Isaac is also a gift back to Linda and Brian, Chris and myself.  The gift is the joy we get from helping others, providing education where none would have been possible for Isaac. 

Linda and Brian Benck have sponsored Isaac’s scholarship for college.

Isaac is just one of the many people I’ve met on my four trips to Zambia as part of A to Z Literacy.  It is incredible how we are touched by others in our lives, and how they help us see what is truly important…education is at the top of the list! Please read Isaac’s recent thank you to Linda and Brian.  It certainly reaches right out and grabs my heart, as I hope it will do the same for you.

“Dear Brian and Linda,

I wish to thank you for the support and help you are providing, for your dedication, attention and your readiness to help.

With your generosity my college education has become a reality.  Your generous donations will help me to accomplish my goals of obtaining a diploma in environmental health at Evelyn Hone College, a three-year course at one of the biggest colleges in Zambia.  Your help has given me the ability to focus on my coursework without any negative concern or lacking in school needs. 

Thank you for opening this door of an opportunity, it is a huge step for me. In January of 2019, I started my college, as a first-year student doing environmental health.  With your help everything went smoothly during my first year.  Nothing could have been as simple as they are today. My two semesters in college has been successful, for I never lacked.  I was successful because I have been learning new things, things I never knew before college. It’s been helping me to reach my goals, not just in doing environmental health, but also in other areas of life.

Thank you once again for making my career start to become true. Through you I have a huge hope of becoming a better person in my country. With this sponsorship I understand that without generous people like you, a college education would not be possible for students like me.  Knowing that someone elsewhere cares about my education motivates me to strive hard.

Let me also use this opportunity to wish you a happy and prosperous new year.  May God continue blessing and protecting you together with your family. In 2020 I will be in second year of my college.  I promise to work hard not to disappoint you.


Isaac Phiri”

Isaac and I…from my visit to Zambia in 2018.