October 13, 2019
August 2, 2019
July 2, 2019
June 4, 2019
April 30, 2019
Last month I whined about not getting to go on all my planned trips this year (the Pollyanna in me thinks: HEY! When this is all over, I have MONDO e-credits with Delta and AirBnB! YIPPEE!)
I also asked YOU: while you’ve been semi- or fully-quarantined, what have you been reading? Where have you been going in your “book time”?
I invited you to submit your own mini-reviews of books you’ve read (for Learning Ally OR for pleasure)...and here are some that I’ve received since then.
If you’d like your book recommendations/reviews/pans to be posted next month, please include the following and email to me (Stacie) at sCourt@LearningAlly.org:
Redhead by the Side of the Road
submitted by volunteer Caren Snook
I enjoyed Anne Tyler’s latest, Redhead by the Side of the Road. If you're thinkin' that's a person, you'll be surprised! The story revolves around the adult life of the youngest child, and only son, of a haphazard family. For some reason, he just doesn't quite fit in.
Bellevue, Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital
Submitted by volunteer Beira Winter
I had already started Bellevue before the COVID-19 pandemic started. I chose it because Bellevue Hospital’s roots pre-date the American Revolution. The story of this public hospital presents US history through the lens of public health, sanitation, and medicine. As the extended title hints, there are plenty of personalities, politics, and prejudice; not just the challenges like distinguishing medical care from butchery and quackery, treating mental illness, training women as nurses, and that all people, not just the wealthy, should have access to good medical care.
Since Bellevue is a public hospital, it has been on the frontline of battles against everything from gruesome Civil War injuries, to addressing public health issues of Cholera and Typhoid, to the full spectrum of care for minorities and poor New Yorkers, as well as national epidemics including Spanish Flu, Polio, AIDS and SARS. The chapters addressing AIDS and SARS were haunting, as I adjusted to COVID 19 quarantine.
It’s a big book, but the pages fly by as the stories unfold. I found it very engaging and thought provoking.
Walk the Wire
I made myself plod through Walk the Wire, by David Baldacci, because the library had made it possible for me to put it on hold, download it, and read it on my tablet. Otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered. Baldacci was at his best when he wrote the Camel Club series, but his new characters are not very interesting.
submitted by volunteer Brian Hill
I'm not ALL the way through it yet, but I can report that I'm enjoying it greatly. I became interested in translations a couple of years ago (never really thought of it before) when I happened upon Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. To be honest I think I find translations easier to read (mostly) than earlier time period British writers, probably mostly because they have been often translated by modern scholars.
What I find enjoyable about the Russian writers is their almost microscopic look at ordinary interactions and relationships. We're all aware of all of the detailed nuances of interpersonal relationships, but having them described in such original and really, eye opening ways has been a real joy for me.
I AM going to have to double back though, and I know I'll enjoy it even more the second time (get all the multiple names and perhaps backgrounds of peripheral characters straight). I was so friggin animated last night just reading a seemingly simple description of our hero being walked to the front door by one of the hosts (albeit a somewhat special one) and the conversation they had.along the way. I was laughing, whooping, re-reading and eventually read the whole few pages over again, to my great delight. The guy will bring to the top of your mind things you probably are subconsciously aware of, but haven't put into words. He puts it into words and so makes you more aware of...the human condition I guess.
Nothing 'Idiotic' about this book, and better than hearing 'social distance' (isn't that an oxymoron) fifty thousand times!
John Sandford's latest, Masked Prey, is a page turner, of course. Lucas Davenport is in Washington, DC this time. Unfortunately, the plot is entirely believable, which makes it worrisome.
Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Kim Michele Richardson
I knew nothing about the depression-era Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project. It was a depression-era program that paid people, mostly women, to be traveling librarians, delivering free books and magazines to people in the isolated areas of the Appalachian Mountains.
Richardson brings the program to life by creating an isolated mountain community and a “Blue” woman, Cussie May Carter, as her central character. Through Cussie and other traveling librarians, Richardson presents the dedication of the mule-riding librarians and the challenges they faced. She also introduces readers to the prejudices and real dangers faced by an overlooked minority, “Blues,” white people born with a genetic mutation that produces blue-tinged skin.
Richardson waits until the end of the book to address the realities of misguided medical attempts to “cure” Blues like Cussie of their skin color. It was easy to identify with Cussie’s passion for books and her determination to bring the world to her isolated neighbors through the books in her saddlebags.
If It Bleeds
Stephen King's latest, If It Bleeds, is a collection of short fiction. The title novella features PI Holly, who is a main character in several of King's recent books. My favorite was "The Life of Chuck", an amazing short story.
The Library Book
Submitted by staff member Stacie Court
On April 29, 1986, I was teaching French I and Introduction to Foreign Languages at two public middle schools in Newport News, Virginia. I came from a military family, I had met my husband in AFROTC, he was stationed at Langley AFB, and most of the children I taught were either Navy, Air Force, or Army dependents. Most of the stories focused on by area news stations and print outlets focused on military-related stories, so I rarely knew of much else going on across the country.
I had no idea that while I was teaching seventh and eighth graders to conjugate verbs, the Central Library in Los Angeles, California, was burning...and so many lives were changing.
Susan Orlean’s book is not only a real eye-opener about the event, but it is very interesting to read during this time rampant with so many things seemingly beyond our control. Orlean talks about everything--EVERYTHING--she can think of related to the burning and its aftermath. At one point she even describes her own experience of burning a book while researching this event: she felt compelled to experience the burning of a book, but couldn’t bring herself to burn any that she thought of--the idea was total anathema. Then, she found the perfect book, and burned it.
This is a story of many details, many books, and many people, but Orlean is able to weave it into an easy narrative, bringing us into the heartbreak and desolation experienced by the Los Angeles librarians (and the mourning of librarians the world over), as well as the hard work of the thousands of volunteers who helped bring the library back to life. She also helps us feel just a little bit of that debt we all owe to libraries and their patrons everywhere (including Athens, Georgia, where I borrowed this book from the public library).
If you’re like me, you’ve spent some of the past few months mourning the loss of various activities and freedoms thanks to the international COVID-19 emergency. It’s been a rough time for everyone, and no one has been untouched by it. We’re all feeling a little off-kilter, topsy-turvy, crowded and cramped, and even just plain crabby.
But then, here comes that Pollyanna of poetry, Emily Dickinson:
There is no frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry--
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll--
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.
So, my question: where is your reading taking you this summer? And what do you think of it? We’d like you to send us your own (BRIEF) book reviews--let us know what you’ve been reading, what you recommend, what you don’t. It’s a great way to learn about new reading opportunities and learn from each other’s experiences, too.
Please include the following and email to me (Stacie) at sCourt@LearningAlly.org:
All reviews received by July 20th will be considered for inclusion in the following week’s blog post (basically, we’ll print them all but reserve the right to edit to keep them appropriate for our audience). Any book you've read/started to read since locking down is eligible for inclusion. We will also print multiple reviews of the same book if received.
To get you started, here are a couple of sample book reviews:
Funny Girl: A Novel Nick Hornby
I love Nick Hornby’s writing! (in case you’re not familiar with him, among many others he also wrote High Fidelity and About a Boy) In this book, Barbara leaves her working-class home in Blackpool, England, to follow her dream of becoming Britain’s version of Lucille Ball. The writing is superb and the story is great, combining Hornby’s tongue-in-cheek comic sense with a nostalgic view of 1960s TV. I kept David awake with my giggling while reading this wonderful little book.
Billy Budd Herman Melville
This was the shortest book I was assigned to read in high school...and the only assigned reading I did not finish. I have since read Moby Dick and loved it, so I determined to give Billy another try this summer. Guess what? I’m still not finishing it. I find it dreary and deadly boring. I cannot stay awake. I did some research and discovered that even Melville himself got bored with it and never completed the book. If he didn’t feel the need to finish it, neither do I. Goodbye, Billy Budd.
You’re reading along, either as a Narrator/Reader or a Listener/Checker, and suddenly you run into something you’re not sure about, something that doesn’t seem to be covered in your Project Guidelines. It’s 10:00 Saturday night and you’re pretty sure all the staff are off-duty. What should you do?
Write a long rant in the Hangout or Google Group, complaining about the ridiculous state of education in our country.
Just make a guess; you’re pretty smart, anyway.
Check out the Resources Tab at the Volunteer Portal.
Quit and never respond to any communications from staff ever again.
Well, you probably ARE pretty smart...but if you are, you will choose C. The Resources Tab at the Volunteer Portal can be your best friend in tricky situations. So, let’s take a look at it together; we’ll give a brief overview of each section. NOTE: you do not need to be a member of any specific community to explore that community’s links. You never know what useful information you’ll find!
The Textbook Community section includes a variety of very useful documents, ranging from conventions and helpful guides to forms:
Computer and Code Guidelines: directions for computer-related items like reading code, how to announce various symbols within code, etc.
Conventions Wiki: the general guidelines for Textbook Community projects
Famous Names and Places: great tips on how to research the pronunciations of famous names and places; this document includes all kinds of helpful links to sites specific to occupations and locations around the world.
Figure Description Crib Sheets: instructions for reading all those pesky non-text items like tables, vo-tech figures, and the dreaded infographic.
Foreign Language Wiki: TWO SECTIONS: (1) conventions for the Foreign Language Community; and (2) resources for pronunciations of words in many different foreign languages, ranging from Amharic and Punjabi to Lithuanian and Lang Belta, as well as a section on science terminology (because science is a language of its own).
Law Links: hints for learning how to say all those convoluted abbreviations used in legalese.
Math Reading Guidelines: does your history book suddenly, bizarrely, have a math equation in it? Try this document to learn how to read that unholy aberration.
Science Terms and Conventions: Did the authors of the writing style guide you’re reading use examples from a science text? Go to this document for help with that situation.
Writing/Style Guide Conventions: all we have on reading those crazy writing and style guides.
Checking Instructions: examples of good versus bad wave forms and instructions for leaving kind yet informative notes to Narrators/Readers.
Project Guidelines Help Sheet: help for learning what is meant by the various terminology used in your Project Guidelines.
Recommended Equipment list: equipment recommendations from Textbook Community staff
Upcoming Absence form: form to let staff know when you’ll be absent for more than a day or two.
The Literature Community also has some useful links:
Audition Reminders: directions for submitting an audition for a Lit project
Book Trailer Request form: application to have staff create a trailer from your completed Lit project
Literature Conventions: general reading conventions for Lit projects
Literature Fast-track Summary & FAQ: information for Narrators working outside of EasyBooks
Narrators: instructions for Narrators
Listeners: instructions for Listeners
Recommended Equipment list: equipment recommendations from the Lit Community staff
Software & Apps: just what you think it would be
Welcome to webEB!: gives EasyBook users a look at the differences between the two
webEB Reference Guide: place to go to access directions and links for using our new web-based software: no more worry about what type of computer you use, or all the files building up on your device!
EasyBooks for PC Reference Guide: guide to all things EasyBooks
EasyBooks (PC): instructions for EasyBooks for PC; includes link to latest version
Google Hangouts Extension install link: link to install Google Hangouts
Adobe Reader install link: link to install Adobe Reader
Chrome install link: link to install Chrome
General: a catch-all for some items that didn’t fit in the other categories:
Common Abbreviations: directions for reading a variety of abbreviations
Reference Links: links to online dictionaries, etc.
Try out LAABS!: directions for using the Learning Ally Audio Book Solution--check out the user experience on the books you’ve worked on
Volunteer Submitted photo album: a place for volunteers to share photos
Meet the Team: image and brief audio for each staff member
Hangouts: document with links to various Hangouts for meeting other volunteers and staff
Volunteer Nation Live! Events: links to the all the VNL webinars
Training Resources: Links to a variety of Mini-Lesson, Videos, and Documents; in the top paragraph there is a link to the Virtual Training Center
So, as you can see: even when staff are off-duty, you’re never far from a source of help! Dive into this tab full of great resources, and see what you find.
There are many different ways to get to know someone. In-person communication works best in most cases, but isn’t always possible.
Another good way is through today’s many forums that imitate the old penpal and note-passing experiences: our online spaces that allow us to communicate immediately with people faraway. These places include social media like FaceBook, Instagram, and others. They also include private and public chats, like those found in Google Hangouts.
Learning Ally uses Google Hangouts to offer a number of options for getting to know staff and other volunteers. Besides your STAFF and project-specific Hangouts, we’ve created a number of Hangouts around specific topics (Foreign Languages, TOC Pre-Production, etc.) as well as locality-based Hangouts for volunteers living in the same general area.
The links to all of these Hangouts can be found at the Volunteer Portal; follow this pathway to find the document with all the links:
Or click on this link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JsS-XigskhVKSGI0NAV6zY58QNBF_VzjRIsVqI0jHYk/edit
You are welcome to join any of those Hangouts, and you don’t have to live in that area to join a locality-specific Hangout. If you’ll be traveling to Southern California, for example, and would like to try to meet up with staff and volunteers there, join the SoCal Volunteers Hangout and post a message about your upcoming trip.
If you’d like to try to get to know other volunteers in your area and don’t see a link for it, contact Stacie Court (sCourt@LearningAlly.org, or through your STAFF Hangout) and she’ll look into creating one for you.
Over the past few years several groups of volunteers have gotten together for meals and other events. It just takes one person to get the ball rolling--post in your Hangout and see what happens!
Images: (left) SoCal volunteers plus Don Sheetz get together for a casual lunch;
(right) Texas current and alumni volunteers get together for coffee
Image: Athens volunteers and staff meet for lunch at a local restaurant
No matter our background, most of us will very soon be celebrating New Year’s Day, even if it’s just the day we stop writing “2019” on checks (checks? how old-fashioned!). Have you ever wondered how January 1st became recognized as New Year’s Day throughout most of the modern world?
Image: Babylonian New Year’s festival of Akitu
According to multiple sources, the earliest recorded New Year’s celebration was a long time ago in Mesopotamia (c. 2000 BC). Then, the new year was recognized as beginning with the vernal equinox (mid-March for us today). Other cultures, such as the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians, celebrated the new year at the autumnal equinox (our mid-September).
Image: Roman Colosseum
The Romans originally celebrated New Year's on March 1st of their ten-month, 304-day calendar (side note: the reason our last four months are named “SEPTember”, “OCTober”, “NOVember”, and “DECember” is because they were the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months of the year). Somewhere around 700 BCE two new months, January and February, were added, but New Year’s was still celebrated on March 1st.
Around 153 BCE the Roman civil year began on January 1st, so many people started celebrating New Year’s on January 1st at that point. However, it was not an official change and many people continued celebrating New Year’s in March.
Image: Julius Caesar Image: Janus, God of Gates
The Julian Calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE, along with a decree that New Year’s would be celebrated on January 1st, to coincide with the civil year and the celebration of Janus, the god of gates. So, January 1st was THE date...for a while, anyway…
In 567 CE the Council of Tours abolished January 1st as the date for New Year’s. Until the institution of the Gregorian Calendar by the Council of Nicaea in 1582, New Year’s was celebrated on a number of days throughout medieval Europe, often coinciding with major Christian feasts, ranging from December 25th (Birth of Christ) to March 25th (Feast of the Annunciation).
Images: front page of Gregorian Calendar; Pope Gregory XIII
HOWEVER...Pope Gregory’s calendar still didn’t unify Europe under one New Year’s celebration. For example, the British (and their colonies) did not switch to the Gregorian calendar until 1752. Today, most of the world uses the Gregorian calendar, and observes January 1st as the beginning of the New Year.
Modern countries that do not use the Gregorian calendar include Afghanistan, Iran, Ethiopia, and Nepal. Countries that use their own plus the Gregorian calendar include Bangladesh, India, and Israel. Countries that use modified versions of the Gregorian calendar include Taiwan, Thailand, North Korea, and Japan. China uses the Gregorian calendar for civil record-keeping but use the traditional Chinese calendar for the dates of festivals.
Image: polar bear plunge
All cultures that observe New Year’s have developed traditions around the celebrations. Some of these traditions include making resolutions for the New Year; dressing up for parties on New Year’s Eve, with a special toast and noisemakers at midnight; polar bear plunges into frigid water; eating special foods for luck such as black-eyed peas, lentils, soba noodles, or grapes; and singing “Auld Lang Syne” around a bonfire. Here in the U.S., it’s often a time to gather with friends and family to watch a bowl game on tv (or, if you plan ahead, attend one live).
Image: volunteer recording an audiobook for Learning Ally
Anyway you celebrate it, the New Year is always felt to be a time for new beginnings and fresh starts, a time for casting off the old and ringing in the new. What new and exciting things will you do this year? Maybe...help with more books for Learning Ally? Go through Reader Training and become a Reader/Narrator? Become a mentor to new volunteers? Maybe you’ll get some of your friends involved, and start your own local Learning Ally group? The sky’s the limit!
It’s going to be a wonderful year! Happy 2020, everyone!
Image: Eleanor Roosevelt with quotation, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
A Common New Volunteer Story
As a new volunteer excited to start helping our struggling students, you may start at our main website and fill out a registration form, but you then get sent to another site for training. You get an email response with the same links just in case you lose them, but maybe that email gets buried by others and although you logged into the training center and started a course, you're not sure how to get back to it, and what is this volunteer portal you've heard about as well and are you supposed to go there for training? And why can't you log in at LearningAlly.org to continue your training? How can you find your way?!
We know our various sites and resources can seem like a maze! Navigating our volunteer system can be challenging at times and producing audiobooks is not a simple task. We started weekly Training Office Hours meetings where new volunteers and recent graduates can tune in and ask questions and get answers right away. We are also available through our Training chat for quick questions, and both communities also use their own Google chat channels for communication too (Virtual Water Cooler, Literary Salon, Textbook Staff hangouts, etc.). And there's always email as well. Paula Restrepo and Lori Leland also reach out to volunteers via email and phone to ensure they have what they need to succeed as volunteers. We wish we could be there looking over your shoulder to help when you're stuck, but our virtual volunteering system doesn't allow us to be there with you physically.
What is virtual volunteering?
We use the term "virtual volunteering" sometimes to describe what you do since your volunteer activity is done online and from your own home. However, we do NOT consider you a "virtual volunteer"! You are very real and gracious folks who give your time and talents to help others succeed and we really, really appreciate you! We are here to help you navigate and figure out how you can help our students.
Try our new Volunteer Sitemap!
To alleviate some of this confusion, we created a Volunteer Sitemap mini-lesson that explains our various sites and what they do. New volunteers get a link to this in their initial emailed registration response, and it's also in our Virtual Training site dashboard and in the Volunteer Portal's Resources section at the bottom of the page. Traditionally, a sitemap is a map of a single Internet site, but out Volunteer Sitemap is designed to help you navigate all the sites you may encounter in our volunteer community. We hope this helps and feedback is always welcome!
Please reach out to us if you have any questions...we are here to help!
Remember that old Staple’s commercial, with the father gleefully purchasing back-to-school supplies to the soundtrack of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”? In the commercial, the children appear quite despondent, dismayed by the imminent arrival of the impending school year.
We adults all laughed at this commercial (for a bit of nostalgia, click here to view it again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CD1PffNbZls), but for many families back-to-school really is a terribly stressful time. For about 20% of students, school is pure torture, and it makes family life difficult as well. For those students who use Learning Ally, however, school can be more like it was for me: an exciting day filled with learning and fun. Thanks to the work of our many volunteers, these children’s sadness can be turned to joyful expectation! Instead of automatically expecting humiliation and failure, they can anticipate another year of personal growth and success in school.
As we move into the new school year (yes, schools in the South have started already!), here at Learning Ally we reset all our counters that measure the schools’ and students’ activity over the year. So, here’s where we are:
2,965,350 books on student bookshelves were set back to zero
697,280 students had their reading data set back to zero
17,583 schools had their reading data set back to zero
41,129 new school year emails sent out on August 1st, with an additional 82,258 going out in the days to come
How do you want students to feel on the first day of school? Here are some of the answers staff came up with at a Back-to-School Pep Rally last week:
And it’s all possible--VERY possible--because of all the hard work staff and volunteers (YOU!) put into helping these families. Thank you!
Bryanna Marbury is a success, and Learning Ally volunteers made the difference for her. Watch this video and hear what her mother, Barbara, has to say about Learning Ally’s impact on the community.
To hear what Bryanna herself has to say, click here: https://youtu.be/-t9vT54-Ufo
Since these videos were made, Bryanna has gone on to a career in early education, working with children through Grade 5. Because you made a difference, Bryanna is making a difference!
Metrics Update for this week:
Our readers increased to 211,289
We had 47,029 reading at frequency*
Pages read by school readers increased by 64% over this time last year!
Happy Summer, and Happy Reading, everyone!
*at frequency = students are reading books multiple times during the school year, with a general target of thirty times (more for lower grades, less for upper grades). Our data shows that most of these students read for at least 20 minutes each time.
This past year Learning Ally Education Solutions GM Tim Wilson approved a special project where we provided a license to the Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School (affectionately known as BUGS) in return for the opportunity to study their experience with Learning Ally solutions. It was a truly fruitful year for the students and teachers, and yielded results even we did not expect.
During their introduction to Learning Ally in November, teachers were thrilled by the variety and quality of our solutions, with teacher Betsy McGowan, the school’s reading specialist, exclaiming, “It looks like Christmas came early this year!” By January all of Betsy’s students with reading deficits were registered with our program.
BUG’s eighth-graders were all assigned a dystopian novel, one which was available through our audiobook solution. More than a few students told Betsy that this was the first time they had read an entire book--Learning Ally made it possible for them.
The next assigned book, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, was in our queue but unavailable when assigned. Encouraged by their success with their first book, many of the students were inspired to work really hard and read the print version! It took longer and they had to work much, much harder to keep up, but they liked the feeling of understanding and participating in the class discussions.
The final book for the school year was George Orwell’s classic, Animal Farm, already available through Learning Ally. One student told Betsy she had been able to learn so much more vocabulary using Learning Ally’s audiobook solution.
A few weeks ago we received a surprise at our Princeton office: a huge card thanking the Learning Ally team (that includes YOU, volunteers!). Each student signed their name and gave us the number of pages they read, all of them (and their teachers) so proud of their progress.
This kind of success is possible because of all the great people we have working on our solutions. This is just one example of how our volunteers make a difference in people’s lives every day--a difference that supports them through a lifetime of learning. Thank you all for the gifts of your time, talent, and treasure. Our friends at BUGS are just one small group that is grateful every day for your presence in their lives.
Our readers increased to 211,197
We had 46,753 reading at frequency*
Learning Ally’s Summer Reading Together program is already helping thousands of students avoid summer slide! Just since June 1st:
More than 3,000 students reading
More than 500,000 pages read
More than 500,000 minutes read
Students are having a great time exploring fun lit and even LEARNING over the summer. Click here to watch the video recommendation posted by one of our enthusiastic participants:
Look for more exciting news from our students as the summer goes on! To learn more about the program (and share the information with teachers and families who may want to join in the fun), click on this link:
Our readers increased to 209,389
We’ve had over 141 million pages read--an increase of 65% over last year for school readers!
We had 46,058 reading at frequency*
*at frequency = students are reading books multiple times during the school year, with a general target of thirty times (more for lower grades, less for upper grades). Our data shows that most of these students read for at least 20 minutes each time.