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!

Meet Wren: Guest Blogger and Girl Scout

Hello! My name is Wren Raviolo. I’m a sophomore at Cary Grove High School and a member of Girl Scout Troop 968. I’ve been in Girl Scouts since kindergarten and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every step of the way. I’ve earned my Bronze, Silver, Service to Girl Scouts, Community Service, and Presidential awards; all of which are the highest a Scout at my age can earn, other than Gold. I’ve done so many amazing, cool, and crazy things that I wouldn’t have been able to without Girl Scouts. I’ve learned so many essential life skills and I truly wouldn’t be the same without them.

When I was a middle school student, I was often known by my peers and teachers for being incredibly passionate about English, poetry, and literature. I’ve always had a love for reading, and I want to spread that positivity to anyone I can. My mom is good family friends with Mrs. Hatfield, one of the volunteers for the A to Z Literacy Movement and she told me all about it. Of course I wanted to get involved,
and I did just that. Mrs. Hatfield had dozens upon dozens of children’s books waiting to be distributed locally or shipped to Zambia where A to Z sends books most often. Due to the worldwide pandemic, the Movement was unable to send books to underserved children, so that’s where my job came in.

I volunteered to spread the word of A to Z and donate as many books as possible in our local McHenry County area. First, we had to load up the books into boxes to be brought to my house. Then, I had to design stickers with A to Z’s logo, website, and their story on them, to be placed on the books’ covers. Once the books all had stickers on them, my mom and I loaded them into our car and started to drive. We planned to go to every Little Free Library within 10 miles of our hometown and leave one book in each. We did this so that people will see the stickers, get a free book, know where the books came from and spread the word of A to Z’s mission.

Would You Consider Donating a Book?

As summer begins, we are excited about opportunities to participate in several local outreach events and we need your help! Would you consider donating a like-new or gently-used book (or two) to help ensure we have enough books? Specifically, we need books that boys (and girls) will enjoy.

Here’s what kids are asking for when we host an event:

  1. Big Nate series
  2. Dog Man series
  3. Diary of Wimpy Kid series
  4. I Survived series
  5. InkHeart series
  6. Ranger’s Apprentice series
  7. Gordon Korman Everest or Island series
  8. Harry Potter series
  9. Secret Agent Jack Stalwart
  10. New Kid by Jerry Craft

If you have a book (or two) to donate, please contact Mal at mal@atozliteracy.org. We can pick your books up or you can drop them off. Thanks so much for your support!

Excited About Local Reading Outreach

We have been waiting. Patiently waiting. Sifting and sorting. Boxing and bagging. Thankfully, as COVID cases have dropped and vaccinations have become available, our A to Z team has finally been able to get out into the community to promote the love of reading and get books into kids’ hands this spring!

To be safe and socially distanced, we created A to Z Books in Bags. With several baby board books in one bag and intermediate boy books in another, we loaded up a variety of bags with children’s books to give away at a local food pantry and family health clinic. There were primary book bags, middle school book bags, and intermediate book bags. Sure, we wish kids could have self selected their books at these two events, but the books in bags were a hit!

We also had the opportunity to host a Ready For Summer Reading free book fair at a small school in Elgin. Each student was able to self select two books to jump start their summer reading. Watching kids browse the book selection brought me true joy, and even better, was to listen to the conversations among students as they made their decisions: I love that guy! He’s so funny…It’s so hard to choose…This was one of my favorites from my childhood (said by a 4th grader)…Did you see any books about cicadas?

As an organization, we believe in supporting the reading lives of kids, helping to build their at-home libraries, and promoting the love of reading with these small local outreach events. If you have like-new or gently-used children’s books that you would be willing to donate, please reach out to me (mal@atozliteracy.org). We are currently accepting preschool through middle school books for summer literacy events.

The Bond of Books

Over the past 12 months, I have spent time reflecting on relationship bonds–personal, professional, new, and old. While we have all felt the challenge of isolation to varying degrees throughout quarantine, I am sure we have also found new and unique ways to bond safely with others. Maybe it was Zoom, maybe prolonged FaceTime calls, or maybe even a socially distanced walk with a pal. Something I have enjoyed over the past year has been indulging in books and the bonds that different books have provided me with others. 

Some books have helped me bond with my son and my husband. Since having our son in July, my husband and I have spent almost every evening together reading Miles a bedtime story. It’s a ritual that we have fallen into which provides us quiet moments to bond together, just the three of us. Not only have we bonded during this time, but books have provided Miles an opportunity to bond with his extended family–everyone loves dropping off new books, sending them in the mail, or reading over a fun FaceTime call. 

Some books have helped me bond with my friends. This past year has been unlike any other–and passing along books and sharing recommendations has kept me attuned with my various friendships. Even if it was just to reach out and share a recommendation, or perhaps it was a surprise in the mail with a kind note, books have helped me to appreciate the things I already knew I loved about my friends–their passions, interests, etc. 

Some books have helped me bond with my colleagues. From the online professional development to graduate courses, books have guided my studies and allowed me to share ideas as an educator with my peers and fellow students. Not only have I gotten to know more about the content I teach (and how best to teach it), but these bonds have expanded into casual book clubs–exchanging books “just for fun” outside of our studies. 

Some books have helped me bond with online communities. This past year has been fraught with social unrest, and so many leaders and activists have recommended phenomenal books to learn (and unlearn) in order to improve myself and better contribute to improving my school, community, and country. I have found book clubs on Twitter, Instagram, etc., and been able to “connect” with other like-minded people. 

What all of these bonds have in common is that they’ve provided ways to ameliorate the challenges of the past year–whether it was indulging in a good book to transport me from the realities of Covid, or a book that enabled me to become a better person, or even the daily growth I watch my son making as my husband and I read to him.

By Alia Bluemlein

Take a Listen

Do you ever find it challenging to get into a book because you are unable to visualize the setting
and the characters and then you keep rereading the same paragraph over and over again? SAME!
I have found that listening to the audiobook while following along with the text version is a great
solution.


I had this epiphany while reading Becoming by Michelle Obama, thinking: “How great would it
be for Michelle Obama herself to be reading this to me?” Well, thank you, Audible. The audio
made reading so much more enjoyable because she was telling me her life story.
Another book I enjoyed listening to the audio with was The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead,
which A to Z members read while participating in the National African American Read-In last
month. The audiobook was read by JD Jackson who did an amazing job of bringing emotion and
life to each character and I felt as if I had an easier time with painting scenes while listening.
I highly recommend checking out an audiobook because you may be pleasantly surprised!

Tip: if you have a library card, there are multiple apps like OverDrive, Libby, and Hoopla where you can borrow the audiobook
version without having to go to your library or having to pay for Audible!

(Thanks to Taylor Crandall for writing this week’s blog for A to Z.)

A to Z Joins African American Read-In

The A to Z Literacy board consists of a passionate group of people who congregate regularly to fulfill the mission of the organization: to improve the lives of children through literacy development. Currently, our activities are primarily focused in Zambia, Africa and McHenry County, Illinois.  

Because our mission is to improve lives through literacy development, we are also committed to improving our own lives through literacy development.  Striving to learn and grow from each other, we end every board meeting sharing what we are currently reading. We are a team of readers. 

In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to take an opportunity to learn and grow in new ways. This year, we decided to  join the National Council of the Teachers of English in their Annual African American Read-In. As a team, we made the commitment to read and discuss literature written by an African American author. 

Our first task in joining this Read-In was to choose which author and which book.  This was not an easy task! In the end, we generated a list and voted.  After selecting a book, we set our meeting dates and reading goals.

The first February weekend in Illinois was as expected: frigid. Wrapped in a down blanket with a freshly brewed cup of coffee clutched in one hand and the book in the other, I realized quickly that we made a great choice.

Colson Whitehead’s ability to draw in the reader is unparalleled. In the first chapter, Elwood Curtis stole my heart: competing in a dish-drying contest for a set of encyclopedias.  There’s no need to worry about meeting the reading goal before our first meeting date.  I’ve finished the book.  Now I have time to digest and think about what we really need to discuss. Can’t wait for the conversations to begin!

What Our Team is Reading

As an organization that promotes the love of reading for children, we are also a group of adults who love to read. In fact, each month, we close out our board meeting with team members sharing titles of their current reading selection. Here’s how our February meeting wrapped up:

  • Stasia – Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Brown
  • Pat – Things I Want My Daughter to Know by Alexandra Stoddard
  • Alia – The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Kate – The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  • Dave – The Practice by Seth Godin
  • Betty – Sky Time in Gray’s River by Robert Michael Pyle
  • Mal – Dearly by Margaret Atwood
  • Wendy – The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

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.)

Two Sisters in Two States Promoting the Love of Reading

How can a conversation over Zoom about remote learning between sisters during a pandemic turn into helping kids gain access to books in another country? How can that happen when one sister lives in Illinois and the other lives in Texas? It happens over several months. 

In the beginning, my sister Mary, a children’s librarian, contacted me about how she could reach the kids in her small town in Texas. We began the discussion by using the local school’s platform–Seesaw. I taught my sister to use that platform and then more conversations occurred. She wanted to know more about how she could reach kids with even more books. As the children’s librarian, she does a great job reading books online in English and Spanish. The kids in town love it! And I learned my sister was fluent in Spanish. 

But as the pandemic continued, summer came, and she knew she needed to add to the program. What else could she use to reach kids who really just wanted to read? The library had a book pick up service but Mary wanted to make contact with these kiddos. More conversations ensued and I showed my sister how I teach reading online with an online reading program. She began using that program after completing grant paperwork in order to purchase the program for the library. Success with the kids! 

Mary and I continued to talk and she mentioned an orphanage across the border that people in town often helped.  One student and parent in particular loved the program Mary was doing. This parent was also in the curriculum department at the local university. At a department meeting, another professor mentioned the orphanage across the border. The parent of the student mentioned that his child was involved in a local reading online reading program and should contact Mary. Another conversation between sisters. Could this work? Could a pandemic bring online reading to a small orphanage across the border from a small Texas town. Could something good come out of something awful?

(Special thanks to Kate Hatfield for this week’s blog post.)