‘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!

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!

Helping Hands

As the season of giving and thankfulness drifts in this autumn, our non-profit team members reflect on all of the help we have received from people near and far. Truth be told, “It takes many hands to make light work.” And there have been many offering a helping hand.

We have had book donations and drives from clubs, schools and families wanting to assist in getting reading materials to children. We’ve received monetary donations which help to provide college classes for Jonathan Mwale, our sponsored student, and shipping of books overseas. We have people volunteering to help distribute books, donate books they have finished enjoying, host walkathons and CrAtoZy Sock Days just to name a few opportunities.

There have been so many selfless acts of kindness which have spread out like ripples in a pond. We thank the multitudes and welcome you if you are reading this and wondering where you, your organization, or your family might fit in. Visit our website and click on the “Donate” tab. You will find all kinds of suggestions for easily making a difference in a child’s life.

One Child Big Impact

For many of our supporters, Jonathan Mwale is a familiar name within our nonprofit. A to Z Literacy Movement has been financially supporting and mentoring Jonathan’s academic career since 2013. Over the years, Jonathan has continued to demonstrate high academic commitment and achievement. Equally important, he has exhibited incredible responsibility as the head of his family’s household after his father was tragically killed in 2017.  

As a college student in Zambia, Jonathan continues to progress in his studies at the University of Lusaka. Some of you may remember that he started his college career at Mulengushi University, but after careful consideration of courses within his major, he made the decision to transfer. This fall, his course load includes Medical Ethics, Biochemistry, and Medical History. 

When he is not studying, Jonathan works a part-time job at a takeaway restaurant outside of Lusaka. He enjoys his job, but more importantly, supports his mother, sister, and brother providing money for food, electricity, and other necessities.

A to Z has made the commitment to support Jonathan and see one child all the way through college. We have also made the commitment to support his family with their $150 monthly rent expense because as the oldest male in the house, this cost is Jonathan’s responsibility. 

Your support has propelled our work forward and we thank you for your generosity over the last 12 years. Now, as we prepare to send Jonathan back to college, we ask that you consider making a small donation on behalf of his college fund and family expenses. Please head to our website to donate. Thank you for not only helping us to change the course of this young man’s life but the lives of his family and community as well. 

Reflecting on Professional Learning in Zambia

As the 2016-17 school year began last week, I spent some time reflecting on the summer months along with A to Z’s work in Zambia this past June. A wonderful memory that continues to linger in my mind is our day of professional development with 150 Zambian teachers at School of Hope.

Teachers from all over the area came together to learn and grow; men and women wanting to make a difference in the lives of their students. Dave, Betty and I provided teachers with opportunities to attend sessions on reading, writing, asking questions, and literacy in content areas. There was something for everyone.

Without a doubt, I am confident that A to Z is continuing to impact the lives of Zambian students and teachers. Although our nonprofit is small, our educational impact is large.  By providing valuable support, we have increased literacy levels and the love of reading within schools and communities.

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.

Faces of Zambia

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As the A to Z team has been reflecting on our recent visits to Shine Zambia Reading Academy and School of Hope, I thought a blog of photos would be fun to share. We are extremely grateful to you, our supporters, and without you, our work in Zambia would not be possible. Thank you for believing in our mission and thank you for your continued support of helping to increase literacy levels in impoverished communities.

 

 

 

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.

And the Answer Is…Trivia Night!

Cabin Fever is settling in. It’s February and we all need a night out with friends.
Sure, we love our Midwestern winters, but we also recognize that shut-in feeling of not having seen many folks due to the colder temps.
It’s time to do something. Something fun.
It’s time to laugh, gather together, and support a fantastic non-profit.
It’s time for A to Z Trivia Night.
Head to the website for tickets – www.atozliteracy.org

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