MADISON READING PROJECT

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Madison Reading Project aims to deliver high-quality, literacy learning, reinforcement programs to underserved children, by engaging them in differentiated literacy activities designed to create not only a love of learning, but build and reinforce age-appropriate skills needed to develop the young reader. A winner of the 2020 Wisconsin People's Choice Award in Innovation, their work includes the following:

  • Big Red Reading Bus - packed full of free books for kids = makes scheduled stops at local organizations, libraries, events and schools to give away high quality books and other reading materials to kids ages birth to 18.

  • The Books For Educators Program provides teachers with up to 100 high quality books to build diverse classroom libraries. 

  • And additional literacy-related, community-based literacy programming....

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TRANSCRIPT

Molly Ness:

Founded in 2013, Madison Book Project grew from humble beginnings with the seed grant of $1,000 to become a significant force in the work to end book deserts. Today, I speak with founder Rowan Childs on the Wisconsin-based literacy program and their new move into a fabulous space.

Molly Ness:

Welcome to End Book Deserts, the podcast featuring the innovative people and programs who work to provide book access to our nations under-resourced areas or overlooked populations. I'm Dr. Molly Ness, lifelong reader book nerd teacher educator. I've created the End Book Deserts podcast so that all children have access to books and reading culture. The End Book Deserts podcast, a part of the education podcast network, just like the show you're listening to now shows on the network are individually owned and opinions expressed may not reflect others. Find other interesting education podcasts at edupodcastnetwork.com.

 

Molly Ness:

Madison Book Project delivers high quality literacy learning reinforcement programs to underserved children by engaging them in differentiated literacy activities to create not only a love of learning, but to reinforce age-appropriate skills that help develop young readers. Before we jump into today's episode, I am thrilled to announce the first ever End Book Deserts virtual event taking place on August 8th and 9th, 2021. This free event will bring together non-profit’s literacy researchers, educators, children's, book authors, and all sorts of advocates who are working to get books into the hands of kids and to build literacy culture across the country. Registration is free and now available. The live virtual delivery makes it so that you can drop in for a session or two or stay for the entire two-day event. For more information and registration visit www.endbookdeserts.com/event.

 

Molly Ness:

We are joined today by founder and executive director of Madison Reading Project, Rowan Childs. Thanks for joining us today.

 

Rowan Childs:

Thank you very much for having me.

Molly Ness:

So, talk to us about how this work got started and how it has evolved over the years?

 

Rowan Childs:

Yeah, absolutely. So, um, sort of the founding, um, moments in the year, um, really sort of revolved around, um, in my own home, um, my son was having problems in kindergarten and first grade, just sort of keeping up with what was happening with reading. Um, we thought we had done all the right things, having books in the home, reading to him, but he just really didn't like the books that he was being asked to read at school. Um, and so I sort of tried to figure out different ways and techniques to get him back into reading back up to speed, um, finding different things that he was interested in that may not necessarily have been what the school was asking him to read and just really trying to encourage a wide variety of, um, different techniques in order to get him back up. And while I was doing that, it really sort of dawned on me sort of, well, what about all other kids? You know, and, and what are the, what about other parents and caregivers? What are their opportunities, um, or not, you know, depending on what you could afford, do you have time to go to the library for extra programming events? Do you have time to, um, research different techniques? And it just really got me thinking about other children in our community, um, and what the effect is, you know, if you're always behind in reading or you just never have the materials, um, that you really wish you could provide for your child, it just really started to bug me and I started researching what was available or happening or not happening, um, and about, I guess, about a year of talking to a variety of people finally found a great partner to start with. Um, and so we decided to just do a test like a pilot program for three months, um, at Salvation Army afterschool program, they had about 30 children and they wanted to help kids with homework. I realized that a lot of the kids were behind in reading. And so, they were just looking for ways to encourage the kids to read first and foremost, before they can even get to the homework part. So, it was sort of a good sort of segue and what I was sort of interested in doing and wanting to do and what they were so needed. Um, and so that worked extremely well. Um, what we did do was provide, um, with some starter money that was given to me for the project. Um, we provided about a hundred brand new books of high interest, um, to them, and then also worked with their educators, um, and the kids to come up with a way to encourage them to read. Um, it's probably no surprise that the kids obviously wanted to read the brand-new books. Um, and then there was also book new books that were added at the end of the program that they got to keep themselves, um, versus the center keeping them and the kids were so excited that educators were thrilled, um, myself and the afterschool director, we're just really thrilled with what had transpired that they asked me to repeat that again, as much as possible and again. Um, so that was just something that really sort of sparked in my mind and seeing how the kids reacted and the educators, um, that this was possibly something, you know, there was possibly something there. Um, and that really just got the ball started and slowly it developed into our nonprofit Madison Reading Project. Um, so we did stay with the Salvation Army, um, for about a year and a half exclusively, just trying to really figure out what worked, what didn't work, what the kids wanted, what they didn't want. Um, so it was really good just to get a lot of input as we were coming up with sort of different techniques and programs, um, before we decided to scale up, um, and also help additional children in our area.

Molly Ness:

Well, so as the title of your program suggests you're not a book bank, you are a reading project. So, what are some of the services that you offer as a part of this reading project?

 

Rowan Childs:

Um, definitely right now, um, with COVID obviously that's changed a lot from what we could do in person, um, versus what we were doing a year ago. Um, but overall, um, we offer a variety of services. So, we do offer, um, free quality books and. Also non-COVID, um, also worked, um, with a variety of partners doing, um, programming at their, or if it was during the summertime, we would often partner with a variety of other mobile services, um, whether it was out at a park or at a boys and girls club. Um, so bringing the services to where the children are, um, that was definitely something that we really enjoyed and about- I guess it was nearly about two years ago, we also added on our own book bus, and that really helped us bring not only books, but a lot of fun and sort of that instant recognition for children and for parents or caregivers, um, as to who we are, um, versus, um, as showing up with some books and sometimes people not knowing who we are yet. So that's, you know, it was a really great switch with just having something that was large and branded and an English and Spanish, um, on the side of our bus and that provided some really great advertising and, um, keys, um, to those who didn't know us.

 

Molly Ness:

So, like everybody, we, um, I was suspect you have shifted and evolved your work because of COVID. I think so often we focus on what we've lost because of COVID, but there are also some opportunities that have come out of it. So, I'm wondering how your work in the last year has changed?

 

Rowan Childs:

Yeah. Um, absolutely. There's been obviously things taken away or drastically changed and other things that we've had to innovate and come up with. Um, so definitely we were utilizing our bus a lot, um, to get out to children, letting children climb aboard the bus and select the books that they wanted. And obviously we weren't able to do that anymore. Um, so what we really thought with all of the variety of requests that we did get throughout COVID, um, was to really focus on helping educators, um, food pantries, schools, teachers, social workers, and get them the materials, um, as much as possible. Um, and then we actually also were able to utilize our bus to do home deliveries, to children and specific programs, um, where parents were really concerned about even leaving the home. Um, and so just having some of those different things, um, were really great to be able to sort of really push in that direction. Um, some of the other things that we have been able to really key on too, is just some of the educators, you know, things that they hadn't had before, such as, you know, if they were, or weren't in the classroom and kids are all at home, you know, like having a variety of books or all everybody wanting the same book, so they could read-aloud at the same time with their students. Um, versus normally most teachers would have wanted one, you know, a couple of the same book. Um, so there was just, you know, a variety of different things came up, um, that we were able to help with or learned how we could try to assist, um, teachers and obviously the kids that they were serving.

Molly Ness:

And what's down the road for Madison Reading Project? Hopefully, you know, we're at the beginning of the end of the pandemic, some of the things that you've done in, uh, um, in this crazy last year will stick with you. But, um, what is, what do you have your sights on?

 

Rowan Childs:

Yeah, so we, um, we've just moved to a larger location. It was something we were looking at, um, before COVID, but, um, even more so now the need for more room for books and for people or staff and volunteers just to be able to space out and socially distance, um, was really important. So, we literally just moved in and have a variety of things to do yet, but we're really thrilled at the location of the new center. It's close to so many of our partners. Um, and we really think that's going to be a great spot for us to grow in all of our services and just the convenience, um, and just becoming closer, tied with our partners.

Molly Ness:

And who are your volunteers? What is your, what is the makeup of who's coming in and who's helping and going to schools and all of that?

 

Rowan Childs:

Yeah. Um, so right now it's, it does look a little different. Um, like I said, we really didn't have a ton of room for volunteers at our old space with socially distancing measures. Um, but we're hoping to get everyone slowly back in. Um our volunteers really range from young children who'd like to come in with their parents, um, or youth groups who sometimes would come in and volunteer to parents or teachers or reading interventionists who like to help out. Um, and we also have a variety of adult groups, you know, whether that's Rotarians, um, different book clubs that love to come and help out as a group and corporate groups. So, we're really, really trying to get a wide variety of people, um, to let them know the different ways that they can help. And right now, with COVID, um, we have been able to utilize volunteers with some of our books sorting with getting books out to Little Free Libraries has been really great. Um, and even just doing online book drives, um, and a variety of other things that they can do to help us, um, so that we can continue to offer the services that we can right now.

Molly Ness:

And how are you measuring your impact and, um, sort of understanding the, the difference that you're making in the community, in both schools and the larger community?

 

Rowan Childs:

Yeah. That's a great question. Um, we're just finishing up, um, end of year survey and that's one of the things that's really nice to hear back from people that we're serving, you know, like what, what, what did you love, you know, like what are the ratings that you can give us testimonials? Those are really great indicators and getting those from a variety of teachers, um, social workers, community centers, you know, like what was, what would you like more of, you know, what was, what was great, what wasn't, um, just, you know, hearing some of those comments are really helpful to myself and the staff, whether it's, you know, we loved the increase in diverse books. You know, we also tried to really increase the social justice books where children are asking questions or thinking, you know, like in being able to have those types of books that were so relevant to this past, to any year, but specifically last year with all these different things happening, having brand new books, um, talking about that was really important. Um, diversifying classroom libraries was another thing that consistently came up and just having parents and kids just thrilled with the book selections. Um, because last year, children weren’t really able to really hand select as many books as normally. Um, so we were doing a lot of the curating and selecting, uh, um, the staff was ourselves. Um, so that was something that was really good to hear that feedback, um, as well. I mean, there's always, obviously, yes, we increased the amount of books we ended up giving out last year. Um, and we, this amount of children we served, um, increased as well. Um, but I think it's sort of those testimonials of when we do see some of the photos and videos of kids really just jazzed about the books that they're getting even more so in a time when everything else is virtual.

Molly Ness:

Well, I could talk, um, book selection with you forever. I am just by the quality and diversity and, um, potential of books that are constantly coming out and I applaud your efforts to make sure it, it, it's not just new books, but it's the relevant, engaging ones, um, that are reflective of where kids are today. Um, so important in, in the book work that we do. So, speaking about high-quality books, I wanted to ask the question that I ask of all of my guests, which is to tell me a book from your past or present that, um, really has had an impact on you. It's a little bit different than your favorite book, but a book that sort of changed your thinking or changed your path or one that just continues to resonate with you and I, um, our…our listeners won't see this, but you're sitting in front of a whole bookshelf of books. So, I assume you're a reader. It's hard to do bookwork if you're not a reader. So to narrow it down to one.

 

Rowan Childs:

Right. Yeah. That's really tricky. Um, I mean, I, I did hold onto a lot of my own childhood books, um, and love to read those to my kids when they were young. Um, and I love, it's really hard as probably a lot of your listeners. You see all these great books coming in and you just want to keep putting them all to the side to read yourself. Cause there's just so many, so many great books out there. Um, I'm trying to think if there's one in particular. I think even just some of the books that my parents even read to me still are just sort of stuck in my mind. And often when I'm talking with people and they ask when I asked them a similar question, like what's one of your favorite books, a lot of people answer to their childhood books, um, which is interesting to me. I never, you know, if you don't say what's your favorite adult book, but a lot of people go back to their childhood books. But some of the things books that were read to me were some of those, you know, Winnie the Pooh, a male, and my mom would recite with us the poems over and over again at that time. Um, and just some of those, like Winnie the Pooh stories with Pooh and Piglet and kindness. And, um, it's just those, you know, like we're read over hundreds of probably hundreds of times, um, to, to myself and my siblings. Um, and just some of the, uh, like the Roald Dahl stories that I read over and over again, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory James and the Giant Peach, etc. Those are books that I read constantly over and over again as a young child.

Molly Ness:

And the work that you guys are doing at Madison Reading Project is, um, passing that gift forward to readers in your community, enabling that, um, emotional bond between parents and caregivers around shared books, um, making it possible for kids to be one step further along in their, um, transition and their, their development as a lifelong reader. So, thank you for the work that you're doing. We will direct listeners to find out more about your work on the end book deserts website. And we will look forward to hearing how you guys are using this new space and bringing more programs and more work into your community. Thank you for your time today.

 

Rowan Childs:

Yeah. Thank you so much, Molly. I really appreciate it.

Molly Ness:

It's time for the portion of the podcast called related reading, where I talk about a book that I've come across in my personal and professional reading, and I'm just excited to book talk today's reading, which is an advanced copy of Ann Braden's newest book called Flight of the Puffin. First of all, I can't say enough good things about the author Ann, and her work to end book deserts. For those of you planning to attend the August 2021, the End Book Deserts event, you might be lucky enough to get a glimpse of Ann and her first middle grade book called The Benefits of Being an Octopus reminds readers of all ages, about the importance of kindness. In this book, the flight of the Puffin, we meet Libby who comes from a long line of bullies. She's an artist, and she uses her art to spread encouraging messages of understanding and empathy. And couldn't, we all use the messages of understanding and empathy in today's world. In this lovely middle grade book, we can't help, but cheer for Libby and her network of connected characters coming to bookstores in May, 2021. Ann Braden's the Flight of the Puffin is sure to be a hit.

 

Molly Ness:

That wraps it up for this episode of End Book Deserts. If you know of a person or program doing innovative work to get books into the hands of young readers, email me at molly@endbookdeserts.com. For more about my work and for more about the program featured on this episode, check out our webpage www.endbookdeserts.com. Follow me on social media at End Book Deserts and share out your stories and reactions with #EndBookDeserts. Thanks to Dwayne Wheatcroft for graphics and copy and to Benjamin Johnson for sound editing. Until the next episode, happy reading!