Open Books: Children, Literacy, and Books—Oh My!

By MAWP student Tracey Zdravkovic

I never thought my mere presence in a classroom could cause a group of second and third grade students to go crazy with joy—especially as an MAWP student—but it is definitely something that I look forward to every week.

Every Thursday, I trek to Jahn Elementary School (my alma mater, coincidentally) for Open Books Buddies, where I receive twenty hugs from twenty second and third graders, all dying to be better readers.

“You’re very popular here,” their teacher often tells me. We try to hush the students into a low rumble, so that I can collect the ones I need for the first 30 minutes of the hour. I, and ten other volunteers, will spend this time with them reading.

Not to gush, but as far as internships go, my time spent at Open Books as a Literacy Intern has been the most enjoyable and fulfilling experience I have ever had.

I landed at Open Books one year ago by an odd twist of fate (the hardware store where I work donated paint to their new offices!). Last February, I began volunteering as a creative writing coach, and I was hooked. Since the start of my internship in August, I have met and gotten to know more students than I can count, and I have broadened my experience both as a writer and as a lover of literacy.

Open Books is a non-profit literacy organization located at 213 W. Institute Place. We operate an incredible bookstore that is stocked with upwards of 50,000 books, all acquired through donations from the greatest of souls: book lovers. Our bookstore, along with special events and generous donations, funds our literacy programs that help thousands of youth throughout Chicago learn to love literacy.

Our programs include:

  • Open Books Buddies: weekly one-on-one reading help with elementary school students at public schools across Chicago;
  • Adventures in Creative Writing Field Trips: two-hour nonfiction poetry, slam poetry, and prose writing workshops for fourth-twelfth graders;
  • VWrite: one-on-one college and career mentoring for high school juniors; 
  • ReadThenWrite: our newest program, an immersive reading, writing, and publishing experience for at-risk teenage authors.

At Open Books, I don’t spend my time fetching coffee or running errands. I create my own curriculum and teach my own writing workshops. How many of us have been in workshops and thought, “I would do this so much differently?” I know I have. When I lead creative writing field trips I get to teach poems that I love and give students writing prompts that have worked for me. Each week at these trips I learn the superhero aspirations of rooms full of eager students and I get to listen to poems and stories about their ups, downs, and all-arounds. It really feeds my 13-year-old soul to hear haikus about sadness and it’s always nice to realize that life could be worse: I could be 13 again!

Open Books has the most amazing volunteers, who donate their time, energy and resources to the advancement of literacy. They fuel our programs and bookstore. We have a network of three thousand volunteers with around five hundred active at any given point; but trust me—we always need more volunteers! Volunteers work as writing coaches during field trips, big buddy mentors during Buddies, and high school mentors during VWrite and ReadThenWrite. Volunteers can donate as much time as they are able, and Open Books is always willing to work with people’s schedules and commitments.

Each day, I sit at my desk and I see one of my favorite post-field trip comments from an 8th grade student: “This field trip was very fun. I learned that writing poems can be very exciting.” Reading this every day reminds me that I was the student who needed to find a creative outlet, who needed a way to convince people to listen to her, who needed to be good at something. Many of the students we encounter at Open Books are those students, and luckily, we can give them their outlet, we can listen to them, we can show them they are good at something.

Do you want to share your love of reading and writing?

Want to see what we’re all about?

How about stocking up on great, affordable books that help fuel knowledge?

Come on by March 5th & 6th for our Open Boxes Sale. See the flyer below.

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One comment on “Open Books: Children, Literacy, and Books—Oh My!

  1. Jennifer Finstrom says:

    What a wonderful organization! I’m so glad you posted this.

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