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Madison Reading Project fights illiteracy by the book

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Educators tell us that by the third grade, children must be able to make a very important transition — from learning to read, to reading to learn — or they will have some catching up to do academically. That’s why when it comes to literacy there is very little time to waste from the time a child is born until they reach the ripe, old age of eight or nine.

Unfortunately, children from economically disadvantaged families are much less likely to own books, which means they are at risk of falling behind. To ensure that fewer low-income children are academically up against the wall, volunteers for the Madison Reading Project have been busy collecting books that will be distributed to kids via area nonprofits and schools.

The Madison-based nonprofit organization already has exceeded its existing goal of collecting 5,000 new and gently used books, but even that won’t be enough to meet the need. “Most low-income kids simply don’t have books in their home,” says Founder Rowan Childs.

Quantify that

How much is most? About two-thirds, according to the MRP, which now is in its second year of working on behalf of vulnerable children in Dane County. Its goal is to get books and reading materials, including magazines, for children to keep.

Collected books are sorted and organized by volunteers and categorized so that MRP can distribute reading materials, at the right reading levels, that children will find interesting. Studies from the American Academy of Pediatrics show that when kids pick their own books, they are more likely to want to read them and go on to develop a love of reading.

That’s especially true of books on topics that already interest them, such as books about a favorite sports team or athlete. From there, their literary skills tend to expand and so do their reading interests and intellectual pursuits.

Noting that literacy is as much a workforce development issue as it is an education issue, Childs says local employers have contributed to MRP in two ways: book drives in the workplace and sponsorship of the project’s book-giving program. “Businesses have had book drives at their office,” she notes. “When they last a couple of weeks, they’ve had good results.”

The Madison Reading Project shares a donation center with another literacy nonprofit, Magazine Literacy. Volunteers have been helping to sort and organize the books just like a mini library, according to Carrie Castree, assistant director of MRP. It has given out books to groups such as Box of Balloons, Road Home, Salvation Army, Lutheran Social Services, and Early Head Start, and to schools such as Northside Elementary, Lowell Elementary, and Wright Middle School.


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