Celebrate Independent Bookstore Day, Today!

Independent bookstores have been a staple in my life and in the life of so many people I know.  Are they a staple in your life?

For the past twenty years, I have lived in Crystal Lake, IL. When I first moved to Crystal Lake, I found myself driving to Naperville to visit Anderson’s Book Shop. It was a joyous Saturday trip for me and my young daughter, Emma.  As Emma grew, we enjoyed many events at Anderson’s.  One I will always remember was meeting Suzanne Collins.  Emma was a huge fan of The Hunger Games series and Suzanne was her idol.  Over the years, Emma wasn’t the only one to enjoy Anderson’s with me.  My son, Michael, and I have also made the trek. Of course, my friends and I have also ventured to Anderson’s for events. Most recently, I enjoyed my visit with my friends to celebrate John Schu’s This is a School. It brought such joy to our hearts. 

When Read Between the Lynes opened in Woodstock, my access to a local independent bookstore increased and my ability to visit became more frequent.  Just like Becky Anderson, Arlene Lynes brought events to the bookstore that will forever remain a sacred memory for me.  You can only imagine my delight when Abalabix Books opened in Crystal Lake last year.  It has been a joy to visit Diane Sterverson on such a frequent basis and my library is expanding daily!

I don’t only visit independent bookstores near home. I’ve also found myself drawn to independent bookstores while I am vacationing.  My husband, Mike, has grown to accept this habit.  Today, on Independent Bookstore Day, I am on vacation at our cabin in Wisconsin.  I won’t be able to visit Becky, Arlene, or Diane today, but I will make my way to The Shade Tree in Minocqua–my favorite local bookstore up north. 

What are your plans for the day?  Consider finding a local bookstore near you!

Thanks to Anastasia Gruper for today’s blog post.

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.

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!

Is a Book Club Really Just About Books?

A group of ladies, a monthly meeting and books. Established during the spring of 2010 when we realized that the only time we seemed to see each other was at kids’ sporting events and the ladies of FRG wanted more. We sat on the bleachers watching our kids games and started talking to each other about what we were reading. Baseball was the best game, 10-year old boys just learning to pitch. Those were long games, but at least we could talk about books. From those bleachers the book club was born.

It has certainly grown over time. From eight women to more than 30 now as new families moved in and heard about “book club”. The invite went out once a month, the host choosing the book. Back in 2010, we easily passed around the jar containing the questions about the book. We all knew that tangents would happen and there was a good chance we would stray from the topic which is why everyone was welcomed whether you had read the book or not. Conversation flowed easily and we always returned to the book. Now the same jar of questions is passed but there are reading glasses “cheaters” included. 🙂 Life moves forward. 

The December book club was always the one everyone moved heaven and earth to get to. A lighter read for that month as we would need time for the book exchange. The book exchange was an opportunity to get a book but there were rules. All the books were placed in a pile, numbers were pulled from a jar and that was the order people picked a book from the pile. But there was a catch. You could “steal” a book that had already been picked by a member. If that happened then the person whose book was stolen could pick from the wrapped pile again. Books were carefully watched during the exchange, difficult decisions were made because a book could only be stolen 3 times. Third steal was final. Although being a small town there was a good chance that when the book that you wanted but was no longer available for stealing was going to end up on your porch in another week. That’s just the way things worked

For over 10 years now the members of this book club have met, talked, and  laughed. We’ve read books that were far too relatable and created conversations that stayed with you for days. We’ve read books that we still talk about today. When going through family hardships, you could always count on book club. You could count on a good book, great conversation and support. Through the past 10 years the ladies of the book club have supported each other through childhood cancer, divorce, new jobs, moves, cancer diagnosis and deaths of husbands all by meeting once a month to talk about a book.

Then the pandemic struck and book club was cancelled. At first we thought it would just be for the spring we could handle that, it would be fine. Then summer came and still no book club. It will still be ok we will meet again in the Fall. But then Fall came and still no book club. During this same time cancer and death appear; texts are sent with words of support and condolences. And one text stands out: we need book club

Books bring us together. Books can be shared in a way nothing else can. Books help us laugh together, cry together, and talk to each other in a way nothing else can. Books connect us to each other.

And now we have realized that book club like so many other gatherings can happen on Zoom.

(Thanks so much to Kate Hatfield for this week’s blog post.)

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.)

What Have You Been Reading? (Part 2)

How’s everyone doing? Are you getting outside for some fresh air and sunshine as spring begins to settle in? A to Z team member Betty has been trying to get outside and explore a few remote natural areas in between the rainy days. (No crowds – just water, rocks, and sand) Check out Betty’s book recommendations and reasons why she loves to read.

Books to Enjoy

  • The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys
  • A Minute to Midnight by David Baldacci
  • Voices of the Bulge: Untold Stories From Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge by Michael Collins and Martin King

Why I Love to Read

  • To be entertained
  • To relax
  • To keep learning
  • To stay connected to others around the globe

We will check back in again next week with a few more book recommendations for you to enjoy! Take care and be well!

Helping Kids Choose Books

By Anastasia Gruper

letter from summer school

We recently had the opportunity to chat with over 300 kids at District 47 summer school about our favorite topic––books.  The LMC was bustling with the buzz of book talks as each student chose two “just right” books for themselves or anyone they thought would like a book. Helping kids choose and then watching as they fell into the flow of reading was a joy for all.

We were excited to receive this thank you note from the students in Mrs. Widdowson, Ms. Lentine, and Mrs. T’s class.  Their shared writing experience was a true gift. Thank you, Mrs. White and Mr. Knoth for allowing us the opportunity to share the love of reading with so many excited readers. Happy Reading Everyone!

Local Summer Outreach & Shipping Success

On June 28th, A to Z Literacy Movement volunteers hosted their annual free book fair for 300 students attending summer school in Crystal Lake. Girls and boys in grades one through eight were able to self-select two books to take home . . . that’s 600 books to enjoy! Yeh!


In addition, we have shipped the last of our four shipments for 2018. One major celebration was sending children’s books to a small library in Pakistan – a new country for us to connect with and support young readers. And while the cost of shipping has increased, we are still deeply committed to getting books into the hands of children around the world.

On July 20th, Betty, Alia, and Mal will head back to Zambia to work with our partner schools, Shine Zambia Reading Academy and School of Hope. Be on the lookout for an email with details of their experiences.

And as always, thank you for continuing to support us and believing in our mission to increase the love of reading everywhere. We could not do this work without YOU!

A Shipment: From Start to Finish

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It all starts with a fundraiser – like dodgeball tournaments at Bernotas Middle School and Hannah Beardsley Middle School in Crystal Lake, Illinois. These fantastic schools hosted their annual A to Z Dodgeball Tournaments to raise funds for the shipping of books.

A to Z volunteers then hit the local libraries (post book sales) to gather free children’s books. (Library books are especially awesome as the sturdy hardcover selection provides a balanced assortment for our recipients.) Once the books are hand-picked, they are then boxed up, addressed, and bagged. Ready for the post office!

At the post office, the patient postal worker, Donna, methodically weighs each box, types in all of the shipping information, and ensures each M-Bag has a customs form attached to the M-Bag tag.   It’s a process . . .  and the line of people behind us usually grows as we work through each box . . . it takes between 30-40 minutes.

post office cart

Today we shipped six boxes of children’s books to a new country – Pakistan. So exciting! Shearyar Arif Jessani found our nonprofit via the internet and requested an A to Z shipment for a small community library.  The little library will serve as a reading room for children in the area and the boys and girls will be able to check library books out as well.

As always, we are so grateful for our supporters who continue to help us meet our goals and live out our mission to increase the love of reading and get books into children’s hands.