Literacy nonprofit to expand reach

Building on its early success, the Madison Reading Project will roll out a reading bus this year aimed at serving even more children in Dane County.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Since the Madison Reading Project began five years ago to address the low literacy rates among underserved children, it has grown significantly, both in terms of the number of books given away each year and organizationally.

The brainchild of Rowan Childs, the nonprofit now has five part-time staffers, nearly 100 volunteers, and 72 school and agency partners. It also bested its 2018 goal of giving away 30,000 books to local children, with 30,121 books provided to kids last year. To put that into perspective, no other Madison-area volunteer nonprofit organization gives away more books to the underserved. 

As impressive as that feat was, Madison Reading Project’s ambitious 2019 goal of 40,000 books given away should be attainable, thanks to a $50,000 Community Impact Grant from Madison Community Foundation for securing a reading bus, bilingual books, and programming materials to serve children throughout Dane County and beyond.

Children complete an activity related to the book Thunder Boy Jr. at a recent Madison Reading Project program in conjunction with Reach Dane.

“We’re proud to bring thousands of smiles to some of the most needy children in neighborhoods throughout Dane County — just by the simple act of giving kids a book or two and watching as their imagination soars,” says Childs, Madison Reading Project executive director and founder.

MRP hopes to have the new reading bus on the road in May, just before school lets out. “Imagine how excited a child will be when we arrive with free, quality books and story time,” says Childs. “Children will be able to board the bus to select their books to keep. We will also be able to use the bus for our book deliveries and other community events.”

The bus will make stops at MRP’s programming partners, community events, and resource fairs, and also assist with book deliveries.

Madison Reading Project differs from a traditional library in that kids can keep the books. “We want our kids to own their books — write their names in them, read them to their siblings, and treasure them,” Childs notes. “Study after study shows that children who read more learn more, and do better in the classroom, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Local employers hold book drives, challenging their people to donate new or gently used books. Volunteers at MRP’s west side book center then sort them into categories such as subject, age level, and language. Local librarians, educators, and neighborhood center leaders are invited in to select books for the children they serve.

“We also hold programs at after-school sites, community centers, and family shelters where we bring books matched to needs and interests of children they serve,” Childs says. “Too many of these kids come from households having few, if any, books in their homes. We let them take several and encourage them to build their own personal libraries.

“It’s all about nurturing a love for books and reading,” Childs adds. “Success in school and in life will follow.”

MRP continues fundraising for the balance of its literacy bus programming. For more information, visit

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