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Here’s some good news for the start of 2019 on a topic our newspaper cares deeply about: literacy.

The Madison Reading Project surpassed its goal for 2018 of providing 30,000 free books to children in the greater Dane County area.

Congratulations to this fine nonprofit on its success, and good luck toward its ambitious objective of giving away 40,000 books in the coming year. That will require even more donations from individuals and groups who want to help young children prepare for and get off to strong starts in school.

The Madison Reading Project targets disadvantaged children whose parents don’t or can’t afford to buy engaging texts for their children. It gave 30,121 books to 15,319 children at 110 public events as well as private settings last year.

The nonprofit began five years ago and has grown quickly, with five part-time staff, about 100 volunteers and 72 school and agency partners. The organization doesn’t just hand books to kids. It lets young people ages 0 to 10 select books they want to read from a wide range of contemporary titles, including many for bilingual learners.

“The kids always get to pick out their own books,” Rowan Childs, founder and executive director of Madison Reading Project, said last week. “The more buy-in they have with the book selection, the more likely they are to read it and share it with a sibling.”

Often students create art or write about stories they have read or listened to, which helps build interest. The Madison Reading Project has even brought in authors to read books they’ve written to children and discuss the art and business of publishing.

That’s been inspiring for many young people, Childs said.

According to the Madison School District’s latest state report card, nearly 40 percent of Madison students were proficient or advanced in English language skills. About 30 percent had basic skills, and 30 percent were below basic.

That’s a lot of struggling students. Moreover, fewer than 20 percent of black and Latino students, as well as those deemed “economically disadvantaged,” were proficient or advanced. And the statewide average for all students was similar to Madison’s.

Getting to the youngest students sooner than later can dramatically improve their confidence and ability, the United Way of Dane County and other strong community nonprofits have found. That’s why the United Way, Madison School District, Madison Public Library, and Madison School and Community Recreation program have expanded a similar program called Read Up, which distributes five free books to children who attend summer school in Madison.

The Madison Reading Project provided more than 1,000 books to Read Up last year and encouraged more parents to enroll their children in summer school if recommended by the district.

Learning to read is a fundamental skill all children must master to succeed. Please donate to the Madison Reading Project in the coming year if you can.

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