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 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: 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? 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:

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.

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.)