Calling All Readers!

by Betty Trummel

Do you ever sense that something is calling you to explore? I often get that feeling when I’m reading…whether it’s a nonfiction selection about a topic or place, or a historical fiction novel that draws me into a certain time in history. 

Then there are places you visit that pull you in further…inviting you in to take a closer look.

Yesterday, as we drove through the countryside of an area in England called the Cotswolds, charming little villages called my name. BUT, it was on a narrow country road where I found the best treasure of the day…a little free library!

Not just any little library though, rather one of the most clever and adorable adaptations to create a book space that I’ve ever seen. A “retired” iconic red British phone booth, perched on the side of the road, had become a tiny library…welcoming all who drive by to stop, take a look, grab a book or leave one for others. 

A fabulous selection of books awaited, and as I browsed I found a couple of books that caught my eye…I usually do! Now I can grab a cuppa (a cup of tea) and enjoy a *new* book. 

How about you? Found any great literacy treasures recently? Remember to promote literacy whenever and however you can!

5 Great Children’s Holiday Books to Read This Season

I don’t know about you, but as soon as we get past Halloween I’m ready to get into the winter-holiday spirit! And if you ask me, there’s no better way to do this than by cozying up with a good book.

If you’re looking for some holiday book ideas to read with your little ones this year, you’ve come to the right place. This list of five children’s holiday books goes beyond Santa and Rudolph to highlight some more diverse holiday stories, each with its own special message to share.

1. Snicker’s Wish by L.B. Anne

First on my list is L.B. Anne’s Snicker’s Wish, which tells the story of a girl born on Christmas day. Snicker, nicknamed for her mother’s favorite cookie, is granted one extraordinary wish on her birthday each year — but it must reflect pure love and selflessness. This comes into play when a young boy named Jared realizes his sister is missing; will holiday magic be enough to reunite them?

Snicker’s Wish is a heartfelt tale of hope and love, demonstrating the miracles that can happen through simple acts of kindness. The unique concept along with the story’s twists and turns make this an exciting read, perfect as a Christmas stocking stuffer for kids aged 9-12.

2. Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa by Donna L. Washington, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

Kwanzaa, the African American celebration of community, family, and culture, takes place annually. In Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa, Donna Washington’s well-crafted story and Shane Evans’ vibrant illustrations beautifully capture this holiday’s spirit.

The story commences with our titular Li’l Rabbit struggling to find his place among the celebrations. Still determined to play his part, he decides to do everything he can to find exactly the right gift for Granna Rabbit. When his family and friends come together and offer a helping hand, Li’l Rabbit experiences the true meaning of Kwanzaa after all. 

With some characters who celebrate Kwanzaa and others who don’t, this book is a great way to introduce the holiday to any eager young reader! The bright, textured illustrations and explanations of potentially new concepts also make this children’s book an ideal classroom read for the holiday season. Bonus points for the author’s fabulous author bio, stating that she “uses vivid facial expressions, non-pedestrian movement, and vocal pyrotechnics to bring her stories to life. She has been called “a walking Disney movie” and told she was “better than television!

3. The Christmas Truck by J.B. Blankenship, illustrated by Cassandre Bolan

Dad, Papa, and their son hope to spread Christmas cheer to a child less-fortunate in The Christmas Truck, a touching picture book by J.B. Blankenship. It’s a story that marvelously embodies the generosity of the season, with beautiful illustrations by Cassandre Bolan that are sure to enthrall any young reader’s imagination. 

Diverse holiday books that aren’t completely based on their own diversity can be hard to come by — that’s what makes The Christmas Truck so refreshing. The “two dads” plot point is not at all what drives the story forward and isn’t treated as anything unusual or different; instead, it’s the entire family’s mission and actions that we’re eager to watch unfold. If you’re looking for a low-key way to introduce nuclear-family children to all the different types of families, this book could be the answer. 

4. Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas by Pamela Ehrenberg, illustrated by Anjan Sarkar

Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas celebrates the merging of two cultures that aren’t often pictured side-by-side in children’s books. Indeed, with an Indian mom and a Jewish dad, Sadie and her brother love their special holiday traditions — like tasty Indian dosas instead of latkes for Hanukkah. But when the family gets locked out of the house at the height of their celebration, will they be able to enjoy their dal-stuffed treats?

This funny, sweet children’s story not only covers the unique cultural ground but also sibling relationships and how families can work together to solve a problem. With illustrations by Anjan Sarkar that are bound to make your mouth water, this book is a lovely way to embrace new cultures this holiday season.

5. N Is for Navidad by Susan Middleton Elya and Merry Banks

Christmas traditions look different all over the world — from the Giant Lantern Festival in the Philippines to Krampus (the Christmas devil) in Austria. In N Is for Navidad, Susan Middleton Elya and Merry Banks introduce some Latino Christmas traditions with catchy rhymes and heartwarming illustrations. 

Don’t worry if you’re not a fluent Spanish speaker, either — the book comes with a handy pronunciation guide and translations for each alphabetical concept. Whether it’s read in the classroom or at home, this holiday book is sure to open children’s eyes to a culture outside of their own, or allow them to share their own family traditions with friends. 

Whatever holidays you’re celebrating this year, it’s always fascinating and fun to learn about other cultures and traditions — and hopefully, this list has given you a great place to start. Don’t forget that you can look these books up in your local independent bookstores, instead of Amazon, to support a small business. Happy holidays and happy reading!

A very special thank you to guest writer Rose Atkinson-Carter. Rose is a writer with Reedsy, where she advises authors on all things writing and publishing, from editing and finding a literary agent to figuring out standard book sizes. She lives in London.

Reflections on Thankfulness

Tis’ the season of thankfulness. Thankfulness is giving thanks to the people, things, or places that have brought happiness and joy to our lives. During this season of my life, I am thankful for my family, loved ones, education, happiness, and of course, A to Z Literacy Movement. My family has been my rock these past four years and I am beyond thankful for their continuous support in helping me achieve my dreams. I have been blessed to receive an amazing education through my university. As I approach the second semester of my senior year, more than ever, I am thankful for the high-quality education and how it is shaping me to be the educator I will be in the future. Last but certainly not least, I am beyond thankful for A to Z. This organization is near and dear to my heart because it combines both of my passions of teaching and giving back to the community. Life has given me so many opportunities to be thankful, all of which have contributed to my happiness. When I live a thankful life, I live a happy life. I look towards opportunities, people, and places that I am grateful for and it has led me to have a happy life and appreciate all the beauty around me.

On behalf of our A to Z Literacy Team, we are beyond thankful for your continuous support in helping us bring our mission to life. This past year, we had a strong community of supporters with donations of books, donations of time, and generous monetary donations at our annual fundraiser. We are thankful to all of you for the success we have had this year which includes giving over 1,000 children’s books away through our summer school outreach program. So many grateful families appreciated our holiday book giveaway at a local food pantry, gifting families with holiday-wrapped children’s books. In addition, we provided a scholarship to Jonathan Mwale to cover his tuition and expenses for his third year at the University of Lusaka in Zambia. We are thankful for your continuous support to be able to change the world one book and one student at a time.

(Thanks to Jalisa Cruz, our guest blogger and A to Z team member)

Toes in the Sand, Nose in a Book!

By Betty Trummel

It might be back to school time for some of you out there, but September here on Cape Cod is the best time to head to the beach!  There’s still time for long walks, swimming in the waves (the water has finally warmed up), building sandcastles, and most especially reading lots of great books!

While I often bring books from home, I also check out the Bank Street Little Free Library to see what’s been left behind by tourists or locals.  Or, as it happened the other day, a woman lounging in her beach chair near me commented that she saw me intently reading my most recent selection, and offered to trade books with me when I was finished.  We had a great discussion about what we were reading, and it was fun to swap books! We now call ourselves “beach book buddies” and have been not only passing books between us, but with other people at our favorite beach.

I see so many people reading while at the beach…and I’m always scoping out the titles of their books to see what’s popular and get ideas for future reading.  Kids often have books with them as well…and it’s a great break from swimming or digging in the sand. 

Whatever you’ve done this summer…I hope it included some time for reading!  This month you’ll find me at Bank Street Beach with my toes in the sand, and my nose in a book!

A to Z’s AmaZing Race

Get your traveling team together and please join us for our inaugural road rally and FUNdraiser.

What to Expect:

The road rally will start at Hickory Hall where you will be given your first clue. From there, you and your team (2-8 people) will travel to a different location in Crystal Lake to receive your next clue to figure out.

The quicker you can solve clues and travel to specific locations – the better chances you will have to win prizes! There will also be a few fun activities/roadblocks for your team to complete at some stops along the way.

What You Need:

Bring your sense of humor and love of Crystal Lake to finish the race and win fun prizes!

You can purchase tickets on our website for $50 per person or score a deal with $175 for a 4-pack. We will add your name to the list of road rally racers! 

You do not want to miss A to Z’s AmaZing Race!

This year we are trying something new for our annual FUNdraiser and hope you will join us on Saturday, August 27th from 6:30-10:00 PM for A to Z’s AmaZing Race road rally. Yep, this fundraiser is going to be one to remember with lots of laughs while benefitting a great cause!

The road rally will kick off at Hickory Hall where you will be given your first clue. From there, you and your team (2-8 people) will travel to a different location in Crystal Lake to receive your next clue to figure out and then travel on to another location in the race. The quicker you can solve clues and travel to specific locations – the better chances you will have to win prizes! There will also be a few fun activities/roadblocks for your team to complete at some stops along the way. Head to our website for tickets and ask a friend (or two) to join your team. We will add your name to the list of road rally racers.

Special Thanks: A to Z Literacy Movement is funded by individual donors like you and we are grateful for your continued support as we celebrate 13 years of promoting the love of reading by getting books into the hands of children.

Save the Date for A to Z’s AmaZing Race

Get your traveling team together and join us for our inaugural road rally and fundraiser on Saturday, Aug. 27th from 6:30 – 10:00. Yes, we decided to switch things up a bit after a two-year COVID delay and create a fun race around Crystal Lake paying homage to our city and some iconic locations. 

We invite you to start your engines and embark on a road rally with clues to solve, trivia to figure out, and roadblocks to get around. The AmaZing Race will be held at Hickory Hall where racers will be given their first clue to begin their adventure. Teams can range in size from two to six people and tickets will go on sale on August 1st via our website.

As always, all money donated will directly help us to forward our mission and meet our goals to strengthen and improve the literacy lives of students locally and globally.

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.