What Have You Been Reading?

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

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

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

A Few Highlights from 2019

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


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


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

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

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

The Gift of Education

The Gift of Education

By Betty Trummel

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

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

Isaac sharing his exam results with me in 2018

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

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

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

“Dear Brian and Linda,

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

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

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

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

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


Isaac Phiri”

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

Making a Difference

The holidays always bring a myriad of “to dos” and a flurry of activities to accomplish, and each year seems more and more hectic than the year before. Black Friday seems to begin earlier and earlier- and this year was no exception. Despite all of this, I find myself reflecting on how to be more mindful of prioritizing things. 

Today is a great opportunity to prioritize the importance of literacy development and education in the lives of children locally and abroad with #GivingTuesday. Giving Tuesday is global generosity initiative started in 2012 as a day to encourage people to do good things. Our mission, to provide literacy development and improve the lives of children globally, is something we couldn’t do without the support and generosity of people like you. We welcome your donations this #GivingTuesday in order to continue to support programs locally as well as abroad- from McHenry County to School of Hope in Zambia. A to Z is a 501(c)(3) and your donations are 100% deductible.

If you would prefer to send a check, please complete form and send it to:

A to Z Literacy Movement

PO Box 2483

Crystal Lake, IL  60039

As always, we thank you for your continued support and generosity. We hope you enjoy the holidays and look forward to seeing you all in the new year!

Another Successful Book Fair is in the Books!

By Taylor Crandall

girl choosing books

Another successful summer book fair is in the books! Last Thursday, we had the opportunity to hand out picture books and chapter books to 300 summer school students at Glacier Ridge Elementary School which is part of Crystal Lake Elementary District 47. Each student was able to pick three books which gave us a total of 900 books delivered to some very happy readers.

It felt so special to watch these students peruse through the assortment of books and find ones that sparked their interest. It felt even better when students then planted themselves in chairs (in the middle of the book fair) to start reading.

Happy summer reading!

Reflecting on the Zambia Trip

Our 2019 Zambia trip was a huge success! It’s been a day since touching back down in the States on Monday afternoon.  As the trip is freshly in my mind, I wanted to take some time to share my reflections.

Thoughts from a 30,000 ft. view

Looking at schooling in the big picture, there is very little difference from country to country. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. It seems as though we each follow a specific system, with some wiggle room on each side. Here are the core similarities…for the most part, we both have national bureaucratic challenges that get in the way of kids learning and teachers providing quality instruction. Initiatives. Forms. Laws. Tests. Funding. All major turbulence creators. Secondly, there are so many truly dedicated teachers in both Zambia and the U.S. I believe deeply in my heart that I have never met a teacher who did not first join the teaching ranks without having children’s best interest in their minds The majority of these teachers are digging in each and every day, giving their kids their whole heart. They walk out of their classrooms each afternoon knowing that they’ve given their best.

Finally, to the core, the amazing children. Each and every child naturally begins their life with a full tank of curiosity, wonder, and dreams. The words of “Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?” are constantly being asked, in an effort to fill the voids of understanding, connect the dots of the world around them, and build bridges between the unknown and the known.

Thoughts from the ground view

School is changing. There is a major movement happening at School of Hope. A shift in dynamics from passive learning to active learning. It’s happening in Crystal Lake as well. As technology permeates every corner of our world, even in the villages of Zambia, teachers have realized that they can no longer be the “keeper of knowledge”, “sage on the stage” or the “filler of vessels”. Information is a click or swipe away.

Knowing this, we readjust our focus onto the learning pyramid. My work this past week was to build the staff’s capacity in providing deeper learning opportunities for the students. To sit briefly at the top of the learning pyramid during a lesson so that the majority of the class time students are active in group discussions, practice and teaching each other. When students are in the lower half of the pyramid the levels of student collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skyrocket. I’ve experienced this happening for students and teachers in both Zambia and the U.S. Understand however, that this change is hard. Not all teachers and students like this change in dynamics because it’s not the way they’ve always done it. But, we’re doing it. Slowly. One teacher at a time. One child at a time. One classroom at a time. One school at a time. One village or town at a time. With your continued help and support, A to Z is making a difference in the lives of children. From America to Zambia.


Two Teen Perspectives


While A to Z team member Dave Keenan is teaching at School of Hope in Zambia this week, Dave and Mal Keenan’s son, Cole, has also been volunteering with Village of Hope and School of Hope. Additionally, many of our supporters know of Jonathan Mwale, the young man being sponsored by our organization, who will be attending Mulungushi University in August.  Cole and Jonathan sat down with Dave this afternoon and shared a few of their thoughts as teens from two different places. 

From Jonathan: I have noticed that each time we receive visitors from the states, they all have the same positive impression about our culture. We get credits of being respectful to one another regardless of age, skin color, tribe, etc. I feel like they experience a whole different lifestyle here which is very natural to me. Every time when visitors leave this place, they are not the same. It’s like they realize that there’s more to life than what they expected or have heard. I am thrilled to be in a position of being looked at as a model each and every time I speak to visitors. I have also realized that they challenge me to bring out the best of me. Recently, I was told to do my best and whatever happens next happens! It’s probably the best lesson of the month for me. I look forward to talking to more visitors.

From Cole: At School of Hope, the students are extremely respectful to all of the adults and have a lot of obedience to their teachers. Everyone is very kind and cares about the relationships they have with each other.  When students say “hello” to you, they ask how you are doing as well. I have learned so much about the culture and the way of life. I’m having a great time whether I’m in the classroom learning about chemistry with other 11th grade students, in the field picking maize with college kids home for holiday break, or working around the village in general. Traveling to Zambia has been quite an experience for me.


Back in Zambia

Kenyan Proverb

By Dave Keenan

Hello From Village of Hope!

I arrived in Zambia over the weekend and spent time conferring with School of Hope director, Kathleen, on Sunday about the upcoming week of professional learning. As we have done in years past, A to Z Literacy Movement strives to support partners with what is needed in terms of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. This year our focus will be around math in grades 6 through 12 and how to best meet the needs of students.

Both the Village of Hope and the School of Hope are growing! The impact of the organization is mind-blowing. The school is a full Pre School through 12 along with Hope College of Education. As a member of a small nonprofit, I feel privileged to partner with this amazing ministry.

On a personal note, it was an interesting experience traveling here. As I traveled farther away from the States, I noticed the slower pace of life. It takes a few days to adjust, but the change in pace is so needed and beneficial for me.


Local Summer Volunteer Opportunity

Garden Quarter book

Good news! Summer Story Boost is back! This summer A to Z is partnering with Youth and Family Center of McHenry County. We are really excited for this once a week opportunity to read with kids and promote the love of literacy in a local setting.


The summer dates include Tuesday, June 11th, Tuesday, June 18th, Wednesday, July 10th, Wednesday, July 17th, Wednesday, July 24th, and Wednesday, August 7th from 3:00–4:00. We will be sharing a story or two with small groups of boys and girls while connecting to the weekly themes of the YFC summer program. If you would like more information about this volunteer opportunity, please email me at mal@atozliteracy.org.  And feel free to check out Youth and Family Center of McHenry County’s website to learn more about the organization.


A Final Reflection – Remembering A Decade In The Books

By Betty Trummel

Last year, 2018, as we started to look back at a decade of A to Z Literacy Movement we realized just how much of an impact we had had both locally and globally.  It’s often important to look “back to the future.”  Looking back gives us perspective and focus on how to move forward.  The future of A to Z Literacy looks very bright indeed!

Our Board, local students and supporters and volunteers have become woven into the fabric of our mighty little nonprofit!  Annual events are established, and so many people have FUN while raising money to get books into the hands of vulnerable children in McHenry County, other local areas, and around the world.



Whether it’s fundraisers such as “Libations for Literacy,” dodgeball tournaments at the District #47 local middle schools OR fiction/nonfiction “books in a bag” created by Crystal Lake AVID students or those at Monomoy High School in Harwich, Massachusetts, or the Christmas book drive at Good Shepherd Hospital…so many people help us reach our goals.  It takes a village…and thankfully our “village” continues to expand each year.



Maybe you can become a part of our village by volunteering to gather and sort books, help with a fundraiser, assist in giving away books at the free book fair at “The Clinic” at Immanuel Lutheran Church or District #47 Summer School book fair we host each year.  Maybe YOU have a great idea for our next successful fundraiser!  We can always use your help.



This year our five shipments of books (remember each shipment has SIX boxes of books!) were sent to Zambian schools in both the northern and southern provinces of the country, a first time shipment to a small library in Pakistan, and to two different Peace Corps volunteers working in Zambia…one from Crystal Lake (the home base of A to Z Literacy).




One of the highlights for me personally was traveling to Zambia for the fourth time to work with our partner schools – Shine Zambia Reading Academy, where I spent the majority of my time in central Lusaka, the capital of Zambia; and School of Hope, where Mal and fellow teaching colleague Ali Hammerstone concentrated their efforts in a more rural area where we have a deep connection to both the School of Hope and Village of Hope (an orphan village).



The three of us helped to provide professional development sessions at School of Hope’s inservice/workshop day with over 200 Zambian educators present.  What a powerful way to make a difference…truly inspirational to be a part of and witness.



We have been blessed with the opportunity to help others, but gain so much for ourselves…an appreciation for education around the world, the compassion of teachers in challenging circumstances, and the commitment to students and also their own professional learning.  WOW!


As we’ve already moved into 2019 … the wheels are spinning.  New projects are forming.  Your donations matter and go directly toward our mission.  We appreciate YOU, our supporters, our sponsors, and our friends in literacy.  Thank you so very much for choosing to walk this path with us!