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.

‘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.