‘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.

Holiday Shopping Helps

If you’re anything like me, you’ve stepped up your online shopping this year. I’m avoiding stores with their numerous shoppers who are both being careful and not so careful with social distancing. That, coupled with the uncertainty of even being together with family later this month has me taking the non-traditional route of visiting Amazon a few times a week. 

If you are also picking up a few holiday gifts online, I want to remind you to shop through smile.amazon.com when you hop onto Amazon. Log in as you regularly do and in your account settings you can select A to Z Literacy Movement as your supported charity. It costs you nothing extra and a portion of what you spend on most purchases is donated to A to Z Literacy Movement

Every day we get notice of all the tremendous gift ideas which are on Amazon. Anytime year-round that you purchase, please remember A to Z Literacy so in giving, you give doubly. 

What Inspires Us to Become Educators?

What Inspires Us to Become Educators?

By Betty Trummel

I can recall the year that I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up…a teacher.  Third grade.  Miss Barbara McCloskey.  A compassionate, sweet, encouraging teacher who took me under her wing and gave me confidence.  I felt safe and enjoyed school, feeling more relaxed than I had in my earlier years.  I started to “play school” at home and from there my love of learning took off with a succession of great educators there to inspire me!  I was lucky to have fantastic elementary school educators, and I can happily recite every one of their names to this day.

As I mentor the wonderful teachers at Shine Zambia Reading Academy from afar each week, I encourage them to reflect on their teaching and learning, and on why they have become teachers.  On a recent Zoom call (yes, we are using Zoom with some level of success, IF the power stays on!) I gave the staff a homework assignment:  be ready to step up at the next week’s call and talk about what has inspired them to become a teacher.  WHY do they want to work with children?

A staff photo from my visit to Shine in 2018.

I was so pleased by their response and willingness to share life experiences that put them on this path, and I’d like to share them with you.  It’s amazing because there are little bits and pieces from all of their comments that apply to my own path…and I realize that no matter where we live in this big world, we can have similar experiences.

Teacher Younus started off by talking about his passion for the kids…a theme that was repeated all through the call that day.  He talked about the fact that we must keep learning and we talked about the importance of this for all educators.

Many of the teachers at Shine started out by teaching Sunday School and found that they loved teaching children. This was certainly true for Teacher Stella.  The most important comment Stella made was that she learns from the children.  This was a great opportunity for me to reinforce to Shine teachers that our job as educators really IS a two-way street.

Teacher Josephine struggled with reading as a child.  Her comments about “what I went through as a child” were directly linked to her saying she wanted to be a better teacher.  She wants children to learn without fear, to be able to ask questions, and she wanted to replace the not-so-good teachers of her youth by being a dedicated teacher herself.  She said, “I have fallen in love with teaching!”

Front row left to right:  Teachers Stella and Younus; back row Teachers Josephine, Mercy, Martha, and Chafela

A new teacher I haven’t yet met in person, Teacher Esnart, discussed the admiration she felt for her teachers while growing up.  They were encouraging, which was the polar opposite of Josephine’s experiences.  Esnart says, “It’s all about the love and passion for children.”

Imparting knowledge to learners through a good academic program and teaching morals are two key points stressed by Teacher Catherine.  Although she says it’s an occupation to earn money, she loves teaching children.

Teacher Catherine, teaching a lesson to her students.

Teacher Florence comes from a large family and was shy at first.  She developed a passion when she was a Sunday School teacher (which she still does today).  She remarked that teaching children who can’t read is rewarding and she sees that she’s impacting a lot of kids.  Knowing that we are all making an impact is so important!

Teacher Florence, preparing a lesson.

“Teaching is in me!” was the most powerful comment made by Teacher Ruth.  Personally, I have always felt this way, and can totally relate to Ruth’s strong enthusiasm.  She says she grew up with the passion, and when she was a teenager she would “play teacher” after school. Again, striking similarity to my own pathway.  Ruth would help other children who were struggling and teach them what she had learned.  How awesome!      

Continued education was also a common theme.  Teacher Mercy loves teaching because she loves being in a learning environment.  “I think I was just born to teach!”  She’s currently attending Hope College to earn a degree. Teacher Martha started off as Shine Zambia’s librarian and from there gained an interest in teaching and children. Others at Shine encouraged her and gave her confidence to take on her own classroom. Martha’s getting a degree in teaching by taking online classes.  I remember the days of my Master’s Degree program…while teaching during the day, and going to classes at night.  It’s not easy and it’s clear to see the commitment of Shine teachers to continuing education.

Teacher Chafela, working with his students.

Acting Head Teacher, Chafela, earned a university degree, but not in teaching.  Due to lack of other employment in Zambia he shifted to teaching.  One of the most important things to Chafela is “seeing someone start to know how to read and write…it drives me to continue.”  Seeing the success of students motivates him a LOT!

The teachers wrapped me up in a beautiful chitenge in the colors and patterns of the Zambian flag. It was such a special gift.

I honestly feel that each teacher from Shine mentioned at least one thing I could identify with.  When thinking of education around the world…sometimes we fail to realize that the same issues, joys, challenges, and inspirations are happening simultaneously around the globe.  Knowing that educators in diverse countries might have many similar goals and experiences was an excellent take-away from this Zoom meeting.  Stop to think today about what drives you to do what you do?  What is your passion?  Your life’s work?   

Hanging Out at the Library!

Hanging Out at the Library!

By Betty Trummel

Are you missing opportunities to hang out at your local library due to the pandemic?  Many libraries have been closed for months, but working hard to offer books and many other resources to their patrons.  In a recent Zoom chat with my library book group, we had a great discussion about WHY people hang out at libraries AND what libraries have to offer us.  I hadn’t thought much about this in a while, so this conversation was extremely interesting. 

A library can provide a safe, quiet space.  Unless you are a totally unruly customer, you’re not likely to be kicked out…you can “loiter” for hours in a place with a myriad of resources at your fingertips.  For some it might even be a refuge from the cold (or heat) and inclement weather.  A library is a place for an inquisitive mind, a venue for learning, a point for inspiration and motivation.  It’s relaxing, or exhilarating, maybe both at the same time!  It’s a location for all ages, from infants to centenarians. 

I know how much I’m missing my local library at the moment.  It’s the coolest place.  The Brooks Free Library was the first free public library in Harwich, established in 1880 and has been operated by the town of Harwich since 1910.  Great care has been taken with upkeep of this historic building and its collections inside.  They’ve done a fabulous job of keeping things going since March when they had to close their doors to the public and adapt to new ways to distribute their materials.

In doing some research on other libraries, I found two amazing resources that I wanted to share with you.  The first is the Alaska Resources Library & Information Services (ARLIS), located in Anchorage.  ARLIS offers many services but one of the most unique is their loan of hundreds of furs and skulls, and about 50 bird mounts…talk about learning first-hand about Alaska’s wildlife!  Check out:  https://www.arlis.org to learn more! Just browsing their website will lead to acquiring facts and information!  And, as an educator, I can’t imagine checking out a set of moose antlers, an animal fur, or skull to share with my class…if only I was teaching in Alaska!

How many of you know that YOUR library, The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. is the biggest library in the world? https://www.loc.gov/ It houses 160 million items, has 70 specific collections, 15 million prints and photographs to start with.  In addition, it is home to:

  • 5.5 million maps, 80,000 atlases, and 5,000 globes
  • Its geography and map collections include Lewis and Clark’s maps, artifacts and cartographic evidence over time
  • A music collection that has 24 million items including sheet music (both original and printed), instruments and recordings
  • A rare books and special collections area that has over 800,000 items including the Gutenberg Bible, Thomas Jefferson’s library, and Medieval manuscripts
  • The Serial and Government Publications collections that include 800,000 rolls of microfilm, 7.2 million loose issues of newspapers, 42,000 volumes of bound newspaper pages, and 140,000 issues of comic books!

Remember, this is YOUR library as a U.S. citizen!  It’s a library that is SO much more than just books!  As we continue battling this pandemic, these resources can keep us learning, and can help us stay connected with the world. 

How can you connect with the public library in your own community or with another great library online?  Don’t forget about the Little Free Libraries that might by in your community, too!

Check out this video on the world’s most magnificent libraries:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeLoyrDqL_A

Kindness Rocks!

Kindness Rocks!    By Betty Trummel    

Kindness ROCKS (noun):  a natural material, hard or soft, that has a distinctive mineral composition

Kindness ROCKS (verb):  is awesome

With all of the intense challenges this world has had in the past few months, I’ve been looking for ways to read uplifting books to my grandchildren, as well as myself.  Let’s face it, we all need more kindness in our lives…both on the giving and receiving end!  And, it’s important to pass this lesson on to children as well.

Recently, I stumbled upon a real winner of a book:  “Scribble Stones” by Diane Alber.

The story is about one small gray, round stone…happy, but waiting to find its purpose in life.  The pile of stones he’s hanging out with are all chosen for various projects, but not our main character…he’s lonely and a bit sad that he’s the last stone in the pile. 

He’s worried that he’s destined to become a boring paperweight, and won’t bring happiness to others as he had hoped.  BUT…as luck would have it, his purpose will be revealed as the stone is transformed into a colorful “scribble stone.”  All of the scribble stones in the story are traveling the globe to bring happiness and fun and smiles to all. 

Sometimes called kindness rocks or stones, these bring inspirational messages and smiles to people around the world.  We all know that a simple message of kindness can go a long way to spark joy, and brighten someone’s life.  Whether it’s a written message, happy face, or a gorgeous mandala pattern, it’s a fabulous feeling to bring joy to a family member, friend or a person who could use encouragement and a smile.

After reading this book with my grandchildren, we painted rocks and had a blast.  I love that we took this story to heart, and followed through with our own kindness rocks/scribble stones.  I hope that you might get the opportunity to read this book and paint some rocks of your own.