Open Books

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Volunteer Tutors Dramatically Impact Literacy Growth

Citing research from studies that track successes in Reading Partners and Minnesota Reading Corps (programs that send volunteers into schools to work individually with students, just like our very own Open Books Buddies!), a recent New York Times Article showcases the power of volunteer tutors

One study found that weekly sessions with volunteers added up to two months of literacy growth each year for elementary school students, a huge jump for children who may lack adult reading support in their lives. This growth—and the belief in the power volunteers bring to classrooms —is why Open Books Buddies is about to send a brand-new cohort of dedicated, enthusiastic volunteer “Big Buddies” into schools across Chicago.

We know that skills are critical, and a tenet of Open Books Buddies is to build our students’ confidence and love of reading, too. So we decided to conduct a little “study” of our own to see how our students felt about reading in the Buddies program. We combed all of our survey data to create this word map of the most common words associated with students’ feelings about reading in Buddies:


We know – our hearts were warmed, too!

 There is no magic bullet when teaching children how to read, but one-on-one support and a lot of practice are two key ingredients. We are fortunate to send the best volunteers to work with our students. Now, let’s get reading!

Filed under literacy Volunteer Opportunities open books

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"A Love Letter to Me" Launches at Open Books On October 5th!

Chicago entrepreneur and author Petula V. Sankarsingh will launch “A Love Letter to Me” at Open Books River North (213 W. Institute Place) on Sunday, October 5, 2014 with a hosted event from 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm.


“A Love Letter to Me” is Sankarsingh’s first publication, a compilation of letters from 40 modern women to their younger selves, paired with inspiring guidance and wisdom from Sankarsingh.

Sankarsingh’s belief that women can help each other triumph over their unique challenges through sharing stories and using their voices is the backbone of this book, as well as this gathering. Join us at Open Books River North for food and conversation about “A Love Letter to Me.”

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Open Books Program Provides Books for Illinois Day Reporting Centers

This past summer, Open Books donated books to the Cook County Day Reporting Center's Library. We're so proud to have received this note from the Sheriff thanking us for the books.

Dear Open Books,

I’m happy to report that all of the children’s books and about a third of the adult books have been circulated in the library corner that we were able to set up through your donation of books to our program.

We have encouraged participants to keep books if they find them useful, and we went through all of the children’s books that you gave us within the first 2 weeks of making them available, which we see as a great success.  We’ve had many requests for more children’s books; many of the men are into reading to their children.  Thank you very much for enabling us to provide Day Reporting participants with the opportunity to explore reading and to improve their parenting through reading with their children.  It’s been very meaningful for them and for the staff here to see it happening.

Approximately 70 -80% of the DRC population is under age 25 and, in general, I think books that appeal to an exclusively male population  with functional reading levels ranging from grades 6 -12 would be the most taken up & used.   

Thank you again for the books you have provided.  They have made a difference to many participnats in the DRC program.

Filed under day reporting center open books book grants

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Meet our new ReadThenWrite Fellow Jaya!

The school year is upon us, and we’re so excited to welcome Jaya Mukherjee as our new ReadThenWrite fellow! Jaya will help oversee our amazing volunteers and coaches as they work in schools across the city. Want to know more about Jaya? Read on!


It was the summer after college when I discovered One Hundred Years of Solitude tucked away in the boxes I had brought back. I found a doctor’s note stuck in the middle of the book—proof that I had tried and failed to complete it many times.

At last committed to finishing, I sat down to read, pushing past the plateaus that had stopped me before. When I finally set it down, an irrevocable change had taken place. I was a different person now. Marquez had changed me.  

I realized then what I may have lost had I never finished the book and I considered what others who did not or could not read were losing by neglecting a literary education.

I joined Teach for America in 2010 in Los Angeles where, in the most basic sense, I taught students with special needs how to read and write. At a deeper level, they learned how to use language as a tool to express themselves. I learned that students with special needs have the thickest walls and I tried to be the radical devotee that believed in them well beyond what seems logical, feasible, or measurable. Watching my students evolve past their insecurities changed me yet again.

I am so excited to join the Open Books team as the new ReadThenWrite fellow. I hope to continue to grow as a reader, writer, and educator as I work with students in Chicago. 

Filed under open books ReadThenWrite

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Join us for the launch of Facehooked by Dr. Suzana Flores

Open Books River North (213 W. Institute Place) is pleased to host the launch of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives by Dr. Suzana Flores on Saturday October 18th at 7 pm!


The number of Facebook users worldwide exceeded one billion in August of 2012. With the increase in Facebook users, psychologists have seen an alarming increase in the number of Facebook-related complaints from their clients. Dr. Suzana Flores, clinical psychologist, has interviewed Facebook users of all ages for three years exploring the positive and negative features of Facebook and evaluating the effect it has on our lives.

Facehooked explores the eight problems most-commonly found on Facebook, including controversial topics such as self-esteem, privacy, peer pressure, emotional manipulation, and stalking. Once these problems have been identified, readers are not only provided with the practical tools and activities to help identify and avoid unhealthy behaviors, but also suggestions for healthier interactions on Facebook in the future. 

Dr. Suzana E. Flores is a licensed clinical psychologist with over ten years of experience. A social-media expert and commentator, she is sought after as a speaker and author on national and international newscasts, podcasts, radio shows, and talk shows. She is a regular blog contributor and is frequently featured on The Ron Kelly Show. Dr. Flores holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Argosy University and a Master in Counseling Psychology from Loyola University Chicago.

Filed under open books facehooked

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Meet our fall intern Sierra Witham!

 It’s September, which means Open Books has welcomed brand-new interns to our colorful offices! Read on to learn more about Sierra Witham, one of our amazing new fall interns!

The teacher who converted me into a grammarian once declared “laugh” an inaccurate word to describe the sound my mouth so frequently makes. Apparently I don’t laugh. I “cackle.”

That teacher, Mrs. Swank, taught English at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis, the school from which I graduated in June of 2014. In August of 2015, I will begin studying at Kenyon College. If you don’t eschew math like I do, you might be a tad confused. I opted to take a gap year between high school and college.

It’s not that I want a break from school; I relish learning, even in a formal setting. (I recently registered for an adult seminar on the Lincoln-Douglas debates at The Newberry.) I want to experience what my future would entail with the majors I’m considering: political science, sociology, and English. I also want to immerse myself in a different culture. In March, I will begin my ten-week stint as a full-time volunteer with a human rights NGO in Hanoi, Vietnam. I requested a gap year from Kenyon’s dean because I’m eighteen. Why not live?

Let’s rewind. My wonderful high school offers a creative writing class, which enabled me to play with protagonists I intend to pursue further, such as the daughter of the Cubs’ General Manager. Disclaimer: I am not a Cubs fan. I am a fan of Cubs fans. Go unwavering support!

During my tenure as Brebeuf’s student newspaper’s opinion editor, I defended Prii pride, urged both males and females not to measure their self-worth by the number of likes their Instagram posts accumulate, chronicled my week without a shower (and my consequent diagnosis of ringworm), and so on. Perhaps my willingness to practice poor hygiene explains why my classmates deemed me “Most Likely to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse”? I don’t know. Regardless, they were wrong.

My knack for writing derives from my enthusiasm for reading. The great folks I met yesterday on my first day at Open Books and I are on the same page: books are important. They’re tools for empathy. They assist people in creating their identity. Personally, I’ve adopted Chris McCandless’s (Into the Wild) frustration with society and Hazel Grace Lancaster’s (The Fault in Our Stars) gratitude. Books facilitate fulfillment, as ambitious characters inspire readers to be ambitious. Therefore, literacy means more to me than an increase in opportunities. Literacy means happier people in a fairer world.

What do I like apart from the power of books? Hozier, 30 Rock, Mental Floss, social documentaries, breakfast lovers tea (or English breakfast tea with lavender), and trance dances.

Oh, by the way, I’m Sierra.

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Meet Fall Intern Nikki Howard!

It’s September, which means Open Books has welcomed brand-new interns to our colorful offices! Read on to learn more about Nikki Howard, one of our amazing new fall interns!


Hello! My name is Nikki, and I’m a literacy intern at Open Books. I hail from the towering cliff dubbed Briar Cliff University (it’s more of a big hill than a cliff but we just roll with it), and I’m an English and Writing double major. I’m here in Chicago for the semester, ready to soak up all that I can, and I’m super excited for Open Books to be a large part of it!

First of all, I’m just going to get that book nerd, coffee loving stereotype out in the open; yes, I am one of them. I could even be a leader of the movement based on my book collection and two years working as a barista. Looking around the Open Books office though, I’m pretty sure I’m with my kind of people, so I’m very happy about that.

In other news, a large portion of my time outside of work is split into reading, writing, and interneting. Yeah, I’m just gonna make that a word. I’m a sucker for Young Adult lit, but I’ll read anything that catches my interest—whether it’s cover art or plot—which is really just more fuel for my book addiction.

I’m also a writer-hoping-to-be-turned-author-someday, which is why Open Books seemed like the place to be; the programs they provide are pretty similar to how I got started writing. Plus, the world of literature is such a broad spectrum of reading, writing, editing, publishing, analyzing, sharing, etc.; I’ve only recently figured out that I might want to do something with publishing. So, while I’m a bit lost on what I want to do for my career, I have a strong dedication towards getting out into the world to find it. Luckily, Open Books seemed like the perfect place to start. I’m confident that this internship will be the shining beacon leading me to a book filled, coffee scented future, and I’m excited to get started.

P.S. Yes, that is my adorable dog and her adorable face that I will never get over.