There’s Something Different In the Air

This week I went to the Cary Public Library post-book sale giveaway for non-profits. You may or may not know, but libraries are an integral part of our mission. Many area libraries have regular book sales from their collections to the public. Afterward, they invite not-for-profit organizations, homeschooling families, preschools, and the like to come and take anything they like from the leftovers. 

Like so many other times when I was browsing the children’s titles, other women and a few kids were there gathering as well. But this time, the spontaneous conversation was friendlier between the folks dropping books into their respective boxes. People inquired what organization I represented. They responded with kind, supportive words when they found out what A to Z Literacy Movement does. One woman wanted our contact information, as she may have some books to offer to us in the future. Later, when another patron accidentally started flipping through the first lady’s pile of books that she’d set aside to take home, the response from the former was kind and understanding rather than competitive, which I have seen at previous book giveaways. “We are in this world together,” said the first. “That is so true,” said the second. 

Another interaction I had with a woman and her child resulted in the woman asking if I could take a donation right then and there. I have never had this happen in my ten-plus years of gathering books for A to Z Literacy. Since I am the treasurer, I happily accepted the $20 bill the woman pulled from her purse because what I told her about our work giving books to children, “spoke to her heart.”

I’m not sure if it is a result of a post-Covid world, a world where Russia is actively attacking Ukraine bringing out our empathy, or if it is something else, but I received more than some fine books that we can pass along to the young generation at the giveaway at Cary Library. I received a reminder that we ARE in this world together. Helping others is something that everyone should do in some kind way at various points in their lives. And even showing an interest in other people’s passions is a stepping stone to greater conversations.

Blog Post by Pat Kelly, A to Z Literacy Movement Treasurer and Book Gatherer

5 Audiobooks for People Who Think They Have No Time To Read

In a world full of short-form content and an endless 24-hour news cycle, it’s no surprise that many of us are finding it difficult to make time for reading. I personally went through a long reading drought in 2021, when the novelty of quarantine had worn off, and I no longer set aside dedicated reading time as I had during the early days of staying in and distracting myself. Enter: audiobooks. 

Having previously snubbed the audio format (does listening to a book even count as reading?) I’m now a convert, and constantly have an audiobook on the go, even while simultaneously reading a physical book. The multitasker’s dream, audiobooks allow me the freedom to get on with other things while taking in books, squeezing it in during car journeys and household chores in a way that wasn’t possible when reading a paperback or ebook.

With that in mind, I’m here to share my audiobook picks for those among us who struggle to fit in reading, but would like to get back into it. Happy listening!

  1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

You’ve probably been told by at least one person when discussing favorite books, that The Alchemist changed their life. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been promising to get to it ever since.

Well, with the audiobook version, there’s now an easily digestible way to take in The Alchemist, even if you’re busy. Clocking in at around 4 hours, it’s on the shorter side and is a great way of getting your feet wet in the audiobook game. Warming and inspiring, this iconic coming-of-age story makes for a wonderful audio experience (bonus points for the velvety narration of Jeremy Irons in the most recent version).

With the help of the audiobook, you can tick off a classic over the course of one road trip — if only to let the book’s devotees know you have, in fact, read it.

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood

Although considerably longer than The Alchemist at 11 hours, what makes The Handmaid’s Tale so perfect as an option for the chronically busy among us is its bitesize chapters — 46 of them, to be precise, making for an average of about 15 minutes per chapter.

If dystopian literature with a feminist slant is your type of thing, the audiobook version provides the perfect companion to a commute, with the short chapters making it an ideal pick for pausing and restarting when you’re only able to squeeze in a little bit of listening each day.

  1. Everything’s Eventual by Stephen King

If you find it difficult to keep your attention on longer stories, why not try a short story anthology on for size? Stephen King’s iconic horror collection Everything’s Eventual is an excellent place to start. Consisting of 11 short stories and 3 novellas, the varying lengths of these twisted tales mean you can tailor your listening to whatever task you’re doing so that you’ll always have the perfect soundtrack for your day. 

A word of warning: while it’s the multitasker’s dream, I wouldn’t recommend bringing this spine-chiller along on your late-night dog walks. You’ll probably strain your neck from having to check over your shoulder, just one more time, just to be safe.

  1. A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin

If I were a betting woman, I’d guess that you watched Game of Thrones while it was on TV. And, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, if you had time to watch it on TV, you probably have time to listen to the audiobook, too.

It’s a lengthy book (33 hours, all told), but packs into those hours a lifetime’s worth of intrigue, action, and mystery. Next time you’re tempted to binge-watch that other HBO show, why not get this audiobook out instead? 

  1. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

This final pick is on the list not for the length of its chapters nor the manageable length, although both apply, but because it is simply an excellent listening experience. 

If I had to prioritize recommending a single audiobook to the unconvinced listener, this would be the one. Gut-wrenchingly honest and beautiful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a masterpiece of the memoir genre, and listening to the incomparable Maya Angelou narrate her own words brings this essential reading to life even further than the written word on the page. You won’t regret parting with a few hours of your time to take this one in.
Audio is the fastest growing book format in the world, and that means that both traditional and indie publishers have been dedicating a lot more time and resources to producing them. The upside for readers is that the quality and quantity of audiobooks available have grown massively over the past few years. That means now’s the perfect time to check out one of my picks, or discover one of your own — a whole world of beautiful stories awaits!

Rose Atkinson-Carter is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the world’s best self-publishing resources and professionals like editors, designers, and ghostwriters. She lives in London.

Why A to Z?

(It is a pleasure to welcome Jalisa Cruz to the A to Z Literacy Movement team and hope you enjoy her first blog post.)

I have been blessed to watch A to Z Literacy Movement strive for the past decade from behind the scenes. This organization began when I was in middle school and I can vividly remember Mal Keenan coming into my classroom to share her experiences in Zambia, Africa. I was in awe of the organization’s selflessness, their passion to give back, and their determination as educators to provide literacy for students across the world. Fast-forwarding to my junior year of high school, I got the privilege to be able to work with A to Z Literacy as part of a semester-long project. As a class: we raised money for the organization, reached out to local elementary schools to donate books, made friendship bracelets and Christmas cards to students in Zambia, and lastly, we created engaging lesson plans for teachers to use with leveled books to support their students.

From the time A to Z began, it was a dream of mine to give back and make an impact. My junior year of high school fueled that passion and dream. Now, I am a junior at Oakland University studying Elementary Education, and witnessing more than ever the importance of literacy and supporting the learning needs of students. As I am approaching the end of my college education, I want to use my blessings and my education to make an impact. Education is a priceless gift –– a gift that I hope to be able to give kids across the world. I am humbled to be part of the next generation of educators providing an equitable education for students, supporting the needs of each student, and ensuring that each student has the opportunity to succeed both inside and outside the classroom. So, why A to Z? A to Z is a movement that fights to provide literacy and education for students in Zambia, Africa, and across the world. I am blessed to have been able to see A to Z from behind the scenes for so many years, and now I have the opportunity to fight alongside them in this movement. A to Z is supporting my passions, my dreams, and helping me be the best educator I can be inside and outside of the classroom.

Wait! No A to Z February FUNdraiser?!

Dear A to Z Friend,

Over the past 12 years, A to Z has hosted our annual FUNdraiser during the month of February. This event has generated the funds needed to meet our yearly literacy goals and continue our work in promoting the love of reading. You have played a major role in this event and have come out on cold winter nights to support us – year in and year out. You have been generous and you have helped us to continue to make a difference. Thank you! Unfortunately, we will not be able to host our fundraiser for the second year in a row due to COVID.  

Moving into 2022, we want to keep the momentum of our nonprofit moving forward. You may remember Jonathan Mwale, our informal case study student. We have known Jonathan since 2010 and have been part of his academic and personal life, helping with tuition in secondary school, supporting him and his family after his father was killed, and connecting him with a few wonderful Zambian mentors. In his pursuit to become a medical officer/physician’s assistant, he is currently attending the University of Lusaka studying to receive his Bachelor of Medicine degree in 2026. We are committed to Jonathan’s academic success because his degree will not only impact his family, but his community, and the greater good of Zambia.

We are also striving to meet the needs of families here in McHenry county. We have partnered with the Crystal Lake Food Pantry and the Northern IL Food Bank to not only nourish children’s bodies but to nourish their minds with children’s books. Our global outreach continues with children’s books making their way to schools in Africa. In 2021, we were able to send 1,800 books (24 boxes) of beautiful books for boys and girls to Malawi. Each month, we receive requests from nonprofits, churches, and schools in Africa asking for books for children. While we wish we could fulfill all of the requests, we do our best to serve a few worthy groups.

So with things looking and feeling a little bit different this year, we are asking for your help via email. With a few quick clicks, you can head to our website ( to make a small donation and keep us moving forward in 2022. Please know 100% of your donation goes to supporting our mission in promoting literacy development and academic support of underserved children. With your help, we can transform the lives of children locally and globally by promoting literacy, academic achievement, and the love of reading.  

Thank you for joining us and for making an impact on the lives of children. 

With Appreciation,

Mal Keenan, Dave Keenan, Betty Trummel, Stasia Gruper, Pat Kelly, Wendy Lasswell, Alia Bluemlein, Kate Hatfield, Taylor Crandall, and Tiffanie Jeffrey

A to Z Literacy Movement Team

‘Tis the Season For Books

By Dr. Anastasia Gruper

To receive a book is a gift and an invitation. This season, I was blessed to receive several books that invited me to engage in meaningful reflection and several conversations. Perhaps, many of you did as well. Below are a few from my stack that made me wonder and brought moments of awe.  

Self-reflecting on eighty-seven emotions is a journey. Every chapter gave me moments (sometimes days) of pause. Throughout the journey,  I shared bits and pieces with Emma, my twenty-two-year-old daughter. I discussed thoughts with colleagues at the office and with friends on walks.  It is the most I have talked about and actually had the language to articulate emotion.  During this time in our world, there is no better way to open dialogue.

For seventy-five years, Highlights magazine has been answering letters they receive from children. This curated collection of letters gave me insights into the thoughts of children around topics such as family & friends, hopes & dreams, biases & exclusions, COVID-19 and so much more. Taking a lesson from HIghlights, I need to listen a little more to what the children are telling me and what I can learn from them. 

Reviewing a well-curated stack sparks wonder for me. From the multicultural classics to current day titles, the legends and the newcomers are represented in these stacks–expanding my “must-read” list. Beyond the titles, this gem offered me suggestions of independent books stores to visit; Semicolon in Chicago will be the first one! And Michael’s wish to visit Washington D.C. may have gotten a little more likely as Loyalty Bookstore has been added to my list. Mike will also be happy to hear about my renovation ideas after reading about the writing rooms of authors. This is one I will refer back to again and again.  

Lisa Aisato’s collection of illustrations took me on an emotional ride from my childhood to adulthood (and all the moments in between). I’ve reflected on the ones I love as well. Mike is riding the “A Grown-Up’s Life” with me. At twenty-two, Emma is seeking “A Life of One’s Own.” At thirteen, Michael is living “A Teenager’s Life.” And at 66, my mother is entering “A Long Life.” At each stage, I hope they felt they were loved; I know I have. Lisa’s ability to capture human experience has me in awe every time I open the book. 

In school, when we ask children to tell their stories, we are inviting them to learn about the generations that have come before them.  We are also inviting them to understand the world around them.  In this beautifully illustrated picture book, a student struggles to write about her family’s ancestry until her grandma tells the story of her family’s journey from West Africa. This book reminds me we must invite people’s stories into our conversations–we have so much to learn.

May these books and the ones in your stack this season spark wonder and give you moments of awe. Happy New Year, everyone!

Story Time…Reading for Life!

Story Time…Reading for Life!

By Betty Trummel

Start them young and keep on reading to them, with them, and around them. Model a lifelong love of reading to nurture this in children and in others.

Our 4 month-old grandson…he already has two or more stories/books read to him a night!

I’ve loved reading throughout my whole life; books, magazines, and anything I could get my hands on. I loved reading with and to my students during my 35 years of classroom teaching. I enjoyed watching them read on their own or to each other as well.  I always read with our kids at home and have continued now with our grandchildren.

I look back on the journal that lists the books I’ve read in 2021 and recall the stories, histories, facts, and mysteries that have enthralled me in the past year!  I started this personal reading journal in 2005, and wish that I had done that much earlier.  It’s awesome to look back and see the hundreds of books I’ve completed through the years! 

Auntie Julie, getting in on the fun!

Don’t forget about audio books! It’s the ultimate joy of being read to! Whatever the reading activity…enjoy and have a Happy New Year of reading!  I’ll be starting to read a new book soon!

Some of my book picks for early 2022 reading!

And Now…a Few Words from Isaac Phiri

I met Isaac on my first trip to Zambia with A to Z Literacy Movement, in 2010.  At that point he was a beginning student at the age of 13, just learning to read as a pupil of Shine Zambia Reading Academy.  Isaac had already lost both parents at a young age, and on all fronts, life was very difficult and many challenges had come his way.  Things were definitely not stacking up for success.

But, Isaac was determined to do well in school and work hard.  He rapidly became literate, and continued to learn and grow through his teen years.  His extended family supported him in his efforts to become more educated. 

Fast forward to 2021.  Our family has helped sponsor Isaac’s college education in Lusaka, Zambia, and he is in his final year of the Environmental Health program at Evelyn Hone College.  We couldn’t be prouder of him because he’s not only done well in his classes, but he is taking steps to learn and grow outside of his college setting.  He’s becoming a young leader and mentor to others.

Here’s a message I recently received from Isaac:

“I attended the Africa Must Think conference held in the Heroes Stadium in Lusaka.  It was really amazing, learning from people who have made it in life.  It was full of inspiration and there was so much to learn.

A certain farmer donated 20 gold tickets at our college, and I happened to be one of the people who got tickets.  The program was focusing much on transforming our thinking as Africans, where we learnt about personal branding, investments, and being found with the right team /friends.

We learnt how we as Africans are contributing to the poverty of our continent.  We learnt how we as young people can contribute positively to the development of our economy and how we can help others be better people.

We learnt how to use opportunities and how to add value to our lives, the importance of education, and why we should continue learning and read more books.

About 10,000 young people attended.  Very important, I got a notebook for note taking.  I am looking forward to more of such educational events.”

Much of Isaac’s success can be attributed to his hard work, determination, and motivation to learn.  He’s a bright shining star in a place where it’s not always easy to be one.  Young men and women like Isaac are needed to help lift Zambia up and move forward.  With his leadership and mentoring younger pupils and peers, I have no doubt that he will inspire young Zambians to step up for their country.

Vacation Reading

Vacation Reading

By Betty Trummel

Packing for this vacation was easy…a few warm weather clothes and lots of books!  I’ve been waiting for this opportunity to read, uninterrupted, for months!  Seems silly to some that I’d load my suitcases with books, instead of just carrying an e-reader (which I also have with me, by the way).  But, I just love the feel of holding a real book…turning those pages, and seeing my progress add up with each hour of reading.

As an avid reader, educator, and life-long learner, I know the value of reading.  For most of my life I’ve encouraged others to read anything and everything they can.  It’s been a huge joy to travel with A to Z Literacy to Zambia, to put books in the hands of learners, to promote the fundamentals of literacy, and spread the joy of reading.  At every opportunity I strive to motivate others to read, to talk about their reading, and to always keep learning!

As you can see from my large stack of books, I have an ambitious agenda for this vacation!  I enjoy many genres…a good mystery, historical fiction, nonfiction, an action/thriller, and sometimes just a good fictional story will do.  I’ve got my local library’s book club selection for December with me, too!  I try to vary my reading, often adding magazine articles and shorter texts as well. 

Of course, I don’t have to go on a vacation to find time to read, but it helps to have this time to relax and really dig into some great books.  

What are you reading?  What books will you take along on your next vacation or tuck away to read during some quiet time at home? 

What Counts as Reading?

What do you consider reading? Is it still reading if you are just escaping and not learning something new? Does it count if you are reading for work? Should fiction and nonfiction be rated *equally*? Judging by the answers to the question “What are you reading?” at the end of our A to Z’s monthly team meeting, the answer is clearly “Yes” to all! 

  • Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – a 4-star book on Goodreads for those who keep track of books using that app
  • The Bridgerton Series by Julia Quinn – Always fun to be able to compare and contrast with a TV show
  • Alias Anna by Susan Hood – a novel in verse – Yes, this is for the middle grades but some books are great for all ages
  • No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh – A wonderful book to help guide us through the times we are living in today
  • Becoming Literate by Marie Clay – A great book on the changes children go through when learning to read

And a few team members chimed in about not reading an actual book…

  • Reading how to do my job – learning as I go.  Lessonly. Just proving the point that reading is essential in all aspects of our lives.
  • When your books are still packed in boxes due to moving and COVID protocols continually change. What can one read? Why everything on COVID guidance!

So, if the first questions were put in multiple-choice format, there would have to be the final answer of – all of the above!

“The Girl with the Louding Voice”

By Betty Trummel

I love a book that makes me think…that challenges me to make a connection with my own life.  I recently finished “The Girl with the Louding Voice,” by Abi Daré.  It is a work of fiction, written about a Nigerian girl whose goals are to become educated, escape the life of poverty she was born into, and to help other girls do the same. 

Adunni’s life is not so different than so many other girls (and boys) around the world struggling to get an education.  This book made me think about some of the students in Zambia that A to Z Literacy has touched and whose lives have touched our very own.  The parallels between Adunni’s life and our Zambian students was unmistakable.   One female student came to my mind immediately…Dianna Zulu.

I met Diana on my first trip to Zambia with A to Z, in 2010. In 2010 she was just emerging as a reader at Shine Zambia Reading Academy…and certainly didn’t have very well-developed literacy skills.  Fast forward eleven years to 2021, and Diana has graduated from nursing school!  This is such exciting news indeed! 

With support from Mr. Vineet Bhatnagar, Chair of the Board of Trustees and Founder of Shine, Diana continued her schooling after graduating from Shine and went on to nursing school a few years ago.  A few weeks ago, she wrote me to tell me, “I’m no longer that Diana you were teaching phonics and sight words to in 2010.  I’m a qualified nurse.” 

I’ve followed Diana through the years, and have seen her and her family each of the four times I’ve been to Zambia.  She was determined, she had that “louding voice” and didn’t give up.  Diana shared these thoughts with me a few weeks ago:

“My journey to become a nurse wasn’t an easy one, but thank God it all came to pass with the help from friends and prayers from my family.  There are times I failed but I could not give up, because all my future and my family depends on this gift of education that I was given. 

I believe that education is the only thing that God has given me through people who helped me achieve it to change my family’s life.  Having been born from a humble background, I had to work extra hard to change some things in my family and my community.  At the moment my fingers are crossed, waiting to be given an opportunity to make the difference and give back to my family and community.”  (July 2021)

These stories of success are not as common as I wish they were, but still…each person who gets an education can give back to their community and help it grow stronger.  Each person who uses their voice to speak up for education is critical to promote change for the future.  Each person who is educated can teach others.

The following powerful words were spoken to Adunni, and I think they ring true no matter where you live or how old you are.

“You can do it,” she say.  “God has given you all you need to be great, and it sits right there inside of you.”  She drop my hands, point a finger to my chest.  “Right inside your mind, in your heart.  You believe it, I know you do.  You just need to hold on to that belief and never let go.  When you get up every day, I want you to remind yourself that tomorrow will be better than today.  That you are a person of value.  That you are important.  You must believe this.” (Chapter 41)

Diana is poised to be an excellent role model at Shine, in her family, and in her community.  She has goals for her future.  “After some few years of practice, I’m upgrading to a degree.” 

I am so very proud of Diana Zulu and congratulate her on her nursing qualifications! Each time At to Z Literacy Movement donates books or supplies or supports and encourages a student, we can help work toward a better future, whether it’s Nigeria, Zambia, or any place around the world. Please consider a donation to further the work of A to Z Literacy Movement.