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.

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!

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!