How to Write a Story–A Book Review

In a recent Horn Book article, Kate Messner offers five tips to get kids writing.  I’d like to offer a sixth: read aloud How to Write a Story by Kate Messner to a child. It will offer joy and excitement to the writing process. 

In this picture book beautifully illustrated by Mark Siegel, Kate offers step by step directions to write a story. She begins with searching for an idea.  As writers, we know ideas are everywhere.  We collect them in writing notebooks and save them for the moment we know we must write about them. Through the illustrations and words, Mark and Kate bring the process of collecting ideas to life.

In the remaining steps, Kate gives tips on how to develop setting, characters, and plot.  She delves into the introduction and organization of the story. She encourages writing a draft and returning for revision after the story has had time to “blossom and grow.” Kate concludes with what to do with a story when it is finished–– share it with friends.

If you’re looking for a way to spend an afternoon, read aloud How to Write a Story to a child.  Be sure to have a writing notebook and writing utensil on hand for you and the child. You won’t be able to resist the urge to write!

~Dr. Anastasia Gruper, A to Z Board Member & Contributing Writer

“A Pilgrim, True of Heart”

Master storytellers have the power to transport a reader to another time and place––to help readers lose themselves in the story and challenge their thinking long after the story ends.  During the “Stay at Home” orders my heart called for a master storyteller. Pam Muñoz Ryan answered the call. In her newest masterpiece Mañanaland, I was lost in the land of Santa Maria on a quest with Maximiliano Córdoba of “somewhere in the Americas, many years after once-upon-a-time and long before happily-ever-after.” 

In this beautifully crafted tale set in yesterday, today, and tomorrow, I was immediately drawn to Max–– the motherless boy seeking a birth certificate to play on the Santa Maria fútbol team.  When Papá leaves to resolve the issue, Buelo shares some insight. Max takes it upon himself to search for answers.  Through his quest, he uncovers the secrets of his family and reveals he is true of heart.  Even now (long after the story has ended) I am pondering how to be “A pilgrim, true of heart” who escorts people who are fleeing from danger to Mañanaland.

(Blog post written by A to Z board member Dr. Anastasia Gruper)

Another Summer School Book Fair

A to Z Literacy Movement had the privilege to host another local book fair this morning at Coventry Elementary School in Crystal Lake. Over one hundred students in grades first through fifth came to check out the selection of free books and then choose a few for their home libraries.

As we strive to meet our 2016 goals, A to Z will continue to provide books for children in McHenry County and other parts of Illinois in hopes in making a difference locally by promoting the love of reading and increasing literacy levels.

Crystal Lake Central Juniors Creating *Books in Bags*

A to Z Literacy Movement is grateful to Mrs. Welder’s English class of Crystal Lake Central juniors for once again taking on the wonderful project of *Books in Bags*. Each CLC student chooses a fiction or nonfiction picture book and practices reading and rereading the book aloud. The students then head to the school library to record their reading with Mrs. Nelson, Crystal Lake Central’s librarian.  Once the recording is complete, the students create a short comprehension check and discussion guide with questions and prompts to be answered or discussed by students in our Zambian partner schools. The *Books in Bags* are a fantastic asset to any classroom or library listening station, and we are really excited about this year’s selection of picture books. Thank you so much to the teachers and students involved in this literacy project!

A Few Words From Vineet Bhatnagar, Founder of Shine Zambia Reading Academy

“Having worked with A to Z Literacy since building our literacy school, Shine Zambia Reading Academy in 2009, I know personally how much their help has contributed to the success of our school.  Not just support through financial sponsorship of teachers’ allowances and pupil lunches, or through books donated and shipped to Zambia to stock our school library, but in the training provided to our teachers.  This training has been given by Mal and various volunteers who have sacrificed their time to work with our teachers for around a week almost every summer for the past 5 years.

I wanted to find out first hand how A to Z and its visits to our school over the years have impacted our teachers, so I asked them.  Upon my request, our teachers had a meeting to discuss it and wrote back to me with feedback.  The teachers unanimously agreed that they had all been greatly impacted by the A to Z training sessions and feel their teaching style has improved.  They specifically mentioned the strategies they were taught for reading with pupils, improving pupil writing skills and conducting group discussions in class.  Here’s a quote from our Head Teacher, David Mulenga, about writing strategies: “We were particularly astounded at how well our own Year 2 pupils were able to write, all by themselves. We learned this particularly from Dave. He would show them a picture card and ask them to say what they can see from it and he wrote those things on the blackboard. He would then ask the pupils to write their own stories about any of those things written on the board. Wow!  It was amazing to see the ideas that came from the children!”

We truly appreciate A to Z Literacy’s guidance over the years in making our literacy program even stronger and we hope to continue working in partnership for many years to come.” – Vineet Bhatnagar

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Without you, we would not be able to meet our goals of promoting literacy to students in Zambia and providing professional development to teachers where the need is substantial. Thank you for understanding the mission of global literacy and the importance of reading.

Yes, I wish to make a special year-end gift to help get books into the hands of children who want read. (click here)

A to Z Literacy Movement, Inc is a non-profit 501c3 organization. Your tax-deductible contribution will help promote literacy and increase the love of reading for children living in poverty-stricken areas.

Teens Making a Difference

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By Mal Keenan

What do you get when you take a group of high school juniors and the desire to do something for others? Treasured gifts…gifts for vulnerable children miles from their Crystal Lake Central English classroom.

Earlier this year, I shared the work of A to Z Literacy Movement with Angela Welder’s junior English class. The students were searching for a service learning project and decided to lend a helping hand to the nonprofit. They took on the challenge to create Book in Bags for Shine Zambia Reading Academy.

The teens gathered children’s books and began practicing their reading fluency, attending to speed and expression. Other Crystal Lake Central teachers like Kylene Gott became involved, coaching them along, until these inspiring juniors were ready to record their voices with library media center director Diana Nelson.

After the story recordings were complete, the students created a page to be paired with the book that included information about them, a picture of the reader, along with a few questions about the story to be considered.

On June 11th, I’ll head back to Zambia with all of the Books in Bags to share with the children at Shine. The students will listen to the stories and hear the kind and compassionate voices of Crystal Lake Central teens who are choosing to make a difference. What amazing gifts of service and literacy.

Woods Creek Cares

By: Julie Carson – Founder of Woods Creek Cares

A to Z Party A to Z Literacy Party 2

We don’t always know the whole story… but we are called to obey and pray.  That is where this story begins… 

On Sunday, May 3rd a group of us from Woods Creek Cares met with Mal & Betty from A to Z Literacy Movement.  A group of 15 total families who decided to sponsor a family and assist a school in Africa came together to share love across the world.  As we watched the videos and ate African inspired snacks, colored bookmarks and picked out books for the Zulu family, an ordinary Sunday afternoon became the beginning of an opportunity to open our eyes to the world and experience God’s transforming love and power.

So here we are— a group of families in the Chicago suburbs ready to share love, excited to see how the connections God brought together will serve Him across the globe.  We are eager to connect with the Zulu family and hear how God is working in their lives, and wondering how this will impact our own children’s hearts as we pray for them and share our lives together.  

An exciting new story, all for God’s Glory!

{Woods Creek Cares is a parent-initiated organization from Woods Creek Elementary in Crystal Lake that serves the community through service projects and lifts up the school, staff and students up in prayer.  To find out more about their events and meetings, e-mail woodscreekcares@gmail.com or find them on Facebook under “Woods Creek Cares”}.  

The Gift of Books and Reading

By Betty Trummel

As I took a look at my tiny class Christmas tree last week, I saw the gift of books and reading for my 30 students. Each package under the tree contained a bright, shiny, new chapter book.

I thought about so many children around the world who don’t have new books or any books at all. In many places literacy is not the reality of everyday life.

The work we do as part of A to Z Literacy Movement is on a small scale, but it is mighty. I’m thinking back to our trip to Zambia this past June, and how exciting it was to see gently used and new books in the hands of the children and teachers at the Village of Hope and at Shine Zambia Reading Academy.

We’ve given the gift of books and reading to so many, just as I have in my 36 years of teaching. How can you help give the gift of literacy this holiday season?

After the Storm

By Mal Keenan

Many of you have heard the news and seen the pictures of houses and buildings destroyed by the violent storms in central Illinois two weeks ago. As residents begin to rebuild their lives, monetary donations, food and clothing are being collected to help the communities move forward. Volunteers are working alongside victims to help gather personal items from the wreckage.

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But what else has been lost in the tornadoes? Books. Last week, the call for new books was sent out to organizations like the Illinois Reading Council. In keeping with our mission of getting books into children’s hands and helping those in need, A to Z Literacy Movement has prepared two boxes of new children’s books to be delivered to the Regional Superintendent of Tazewell County.

Even though the donation is small, we know every little act of kindness helps. Helping one family or one group of students is a good place to start.