Madison Reading Project hits major milestone

The local literacy nonprofit will receive a donation of 1,000 new books from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators tonight, while also giving away its 100,000th book to a local underserved child.

Today is a big day for Madison Reading Project.

Founded in 2013 by Rowan Childs, the nonprofit’s mission is to deliver high-quality literacy learning reinforcement programs to underserved children, namely by providing free books to area children.  

Now, Madison Reading Project is expected to reach a gigantic milestone when it gives away its 100,000th free book to a child at a celebration authors and book illustrators from around the country have planned for the local nonprofit.

This evening, supporters of the national Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators will recognize Madison Reading Project as one of two recipients of its national award, and present MRP staff with a donation of 1,000 books gifted by its member authors and artists.

At the public event, to be held at 6 p.m., Madison Masonic Center, 301 Wisconsin Ave., children of all ages will share in a celebration of the award, partake in literacy-related enrichment activities, a light meal and, receive what Madison Reading Project is known for — a free, brand-new children’s book to take home, possibly the Project’s 100,000th free book.

“It’s a remarkable feat — giving away a mountain of books to underserved area children — in only six years of delivering upon our literacy mission throughout Dane County,” says Childs. “This year alone we’ve given away close to 33,000 books and we plan to give many, many more in the years to come.”

Childs can’t wait to watch a child pick out that 100,000th book, write their name on the bookplate, and give the book a big hug. “Giving children the choice of what they would like to read — and take home to fill their bookshelves with — is so important to their book pride and the opportunity for the book to be read and reread several times at home.”

Madison Reading Project delivers, at no charge, high-quality, multilingual literacy learning reinforcement programs with companion free books to underserved children in an ongoing commitment to reversing low literacy rates, closing opportunity gaps, building family libraries, and inspiring literacy delight.

Their programs engage children in differentiated literacy activities designed to create not only a love of learning, but also to build and reinforce age-appropriate skills needed to develop the young reader. Staff and volunteers bring story time, arts and crafts, story discussions, and free books to kids and caregivers at family shelters, neighborhood centers, libraries, after-school childcare programs, social-services organizations, and schools. MRP staff align those programs with local school districts to focus on improving reading skills — especially the skills of children of color — by making reading in the home an exciting, family-wide activity, by nurturing a love for books, and by designing literacy skills improvement programming specifically designed to reach these children and their families.

For her part, Childs never expected MRP to grow so big and so fast.

“I had a theory that children needed books, and people had books to give,” explains Childs. “I am often awestruck in what we have provided with our small group of passionate employees and volunteers. Kids, families, schools, and community centers appreciate the extra care, work, and thought we put into what we do. It makes my heart sing to see others get involved, collaborate, volunteer, or donate funds to help us inspire children with wonderful books and literacy programming.”

Childs notes the group’s fundraisers have also been a hit with the public. Events like Whiskey & Words and READ(y) to Wear each came from ideas where MRP staff just thought up a fun and different type of event with a literacy twist that could help get their name and cause out there, along with raising funds.

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As the program has grown, so have its goals. Each year, MRP has set out to donate more books to underserved area children, and this year it unveiled its Big Red Reading Bus, which allowed the Project to expand its reach. Childs says the group is finalizing its plans for 2020 now, which include more programming and providing 50,000 books to area kids.

“This past year we increased our events due to the high requests of bus visits with our fantastic staff,” says Childs. “Our professional staff has grown from one to five in the past year and they love working with kids and families, reading story-time books, enrichment activities, working with children’s book clubs, and providing our many partners with books. Our community needs our support and we see every day that kids, teachers, community centers, and food pantries love being able to collaborate and take advantage of our no-cost books and programming.”

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ gift of books to the Madison nonprofit is a literacy initiative that grew from the organization’s desire to create an opportunity for its members to make an important impact in the lives of readers, to increase book access to local communities nationwide, to expand its literacy advocacy, and to support the work of the many grassroots organizations working to improve literacy, says Lin Oliver, SCBWI executive director.

“We know that there are many book deserts in which underserved communities have as few as one book per 300 children,” adds Oliver. “Our hope is to change these numbers and make high quality books available to all children. Our talented members create books of hope, and they’re committed to bringing this hope to readers — especially to those in great need. Our literacy initiative continues to advance our organization’s mission as children’s book creators and literacy advocates to build hopes and dreams!”

“When I got the call, I couldn’t believe that SCBWI was recognizing our small organization in the middle of Wisconsin,” says Childs. “Everyone is thrilled and honored to be part of the recognition, staff, the board, the volunteers, and soon the kids! It’s a tribute to what we are doing and to the kids we serve. We are wowed that the authors and illustrators who created these books are supporting what we are doing and helping get their books into these kids’ hands. It’s also an intrinsic pat on the back — a belief in what we are doing to increase literacy rates — and will encourage all of us to do more!”

According to Childs, there are many ways for local individuals and businesses to get involved, including running a book drive at your business, school, church, or book club. “Be part of our upcoming paper fashion show, READ(y) to Wear, volunteer at the book center, or sponsor our Big Red Reading Bus programming. You can help whether you have one book to give or can write a check. It all helps us provide to underserved children in the greater Dane County area.”

Currently, Madison Reading Project is in high need of graphic novels for all ages and bilingual baby board books.

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