On a snowy January Sunday afternoon, Madison Reid, 9 years old, is exactly where she wants to be. She sits next to a warm fire in the Solon branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. She holds one book in her hands and has stacked a half dozen more on the table in front of her.
If there is such a thing as a national celebrity for childhood reading, Madison is it. In November 2014, she overflowed with the joy of reading during an interview with WKYC, Channel 3. The video went viral. Madison was never in it for the fame, though. She just loves books.
Mysteries, comedies, science books surround her. Picture books and chapter books. Books for all ages.
"Every book should get a chance to be read," says Madison.
She says this with power. Madison speaks dramatically. It comes in handy at her after-school theater program at the Rainey Institute in Cleveland. In the library? Not so much.
Her voice draws the attention of her mother, Tracy Reid, an elementary education teacher in the Cleveland schools. She is seated 100 feet away at a library computer, checking Madison's science paper on germs, "Uninvited Guests."
Mom turns toward her daughter and holds her index finger to her pursed lips." Madison knows that sign well. She shushes. Then she pops up and speed-walks through the aisles of the children's books section, plucking volumes like berries, pausing only occasionally, with a sideways tilt of her head, to consider whether a particular volume is ripe for a read.
Hands full again, she plops onto the nearest couch and begins to devour.
"Reading is my free time and Sundays are the day I have my leisure moments," she says. "I finally get a day to do what I want, so, I spend it at the library."
Madison became famous when WKYC covered an event celebrating the Little Free Library movement. It places "libraries" the size of dollhouses in neighborhoods where literacy isn't robust. Tracy Reid is among the volunteers who keep several of the libraries stocked with books, which kids can take and keep or return at their leisure.
Madison, with her electric personality and passion for reading, has become a powerful spokesperson for the Little Free Library and for the Literacy Cooperative in Cleveland.
She evangelizes her fellow students in her school, Wade Park Elementary, and beyond about reading. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District earned an "F" on a state report card for kindergarten to third grade literacy. She tells the children, "If I can do it, so can you."
She skipped fourth grade, and now is by far the youngest student in a combined class of fifth and sixth graders. Her influence, though, stretches all the way up to eighth grade.
"I came over to her school one day and I was looking for her, and Madison is in there talking with the eighth graders about something," said Tracy. "I come to find out the eighth-grade teacher had asked her to talk to her students about how to be a role model. She was giving a commencement speech for the eighth graders."
Madison's passion for reading did not grow by chance. Tracy is a pre-kindergarten teacher at Mary B. Martin school just a few blocks from Madison's school. Tracy and Madison live near Twinsburg. She brings Madison to a Cleveland school because she teaches in one and because she loves the instruction Madison gets at Wade Park, especially in the combined fifth and sixth-grade class. She's a single mom who says Madison's dad has never been part of her life.
From the beginning, she was quite intentional about developing a young reader.
"I started off before she was even born. I read some articles about reading to your child while they are in the womb," she said. After the awkwardness of reading to her pregnant belly, it was easy to continue reading to her daughter.
Madison was walking by 8 months. As she toddled, she encountered, all around the house, photographs of items with the word for that item printed beside it. Apple, door, light. There are steps to the second floor of her home. On each step there was a number.
"Being a primary teacher, I knew the research said children have to see things a 100 times before they master it. So I just started putting up little words across the house that had a picture with it," Tracy said. "By the time she was a good year, she didn't need my prompting any more. She'd walk up to it and say the name. And she was able to do the numbers by herself."
Explained Madison: "I catch on to things pretty quickly."
Soon, the pictures were gone and only the words remained. Madison would spell them out and say them. "She wasn't even 2 and I opened up a Level One reader," Tracy said. "And she read the entire book. I said, OK, let's go to Level Two, see what you do with this one. By the time I was done with her, she was at a Level Four. I said, 'OK, this kid can read.'"
Madison isn't just book smart. She's smart about people, too.
"Kids who are gifted in the education domain have a sense of worldliness and they are compelled to make the world right," her mother said. "She has such a love for other people and for people to be right with each other that it bothers her when things aren't right."
And it's not right, Madison said, that so many kids have never fallen in love with reading, or simply can't read.
"You have to talk to little kids so they start really early. Sometimes they say, 'No, why should we read?' I say, 'Reading takes you on an adventure of a lifetime. Besides, you should read because if you don't read, you wouldn't really get good reading scores and you won't get good grades [and] you won't really fulfill your dreams."
She's getting louder in the library again. Her mom is getting ready for another shush sign. The librarians are turning their heads her way.
Madison does not shush.
"All the kids," she says, her voice taking a preacher's tone.
"All the people!
"We can make it!"