Book Buddy students more than doubled their mastery of pre-reading skills during the 2018-2019 school year, improving their test scores significantly more than preschoolers not in the program.  

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Hundreds of central Iowa four-year-olds are at risk of not gaining the skills they need to start kindergarten ready to learn. And research shows that children who start behind, stay behind. 

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Book Buddy reaches children in the critical year before kindergarten, helping them build the pre-reading skills they need for a strong start in school. For 40 minutes a week, volunteers read one-on-one with four-year-old students at early childhood centers in Des Moines.  

Using an engaging curriculum and library of 25 books developed in collaboration with Des Moines Public Schools, volunteers follow the book insert to teach a specific literacy skill. 

Book Buddy extends learning beyond the classroom to support family literacy. Children bring home their own copy of the featured book every Friday—the start of a budding library in homes where reading materials are often scarce.

Student assessment results are compelling—74% showed improvement last year—but the increasing confidence in students is the most convincing of all. Their bright smiles will be the highlight of your week!


Sign up for Book Buddy!

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New Volunteers

Returning Volunteers

Orientation Dates for New Volunteers:

  • Wednesday, September 25, noon - 1:00 p..m., United Way of Central Iowa, 1111 9th St., Des Moines
  • Tuesday, Oct. 1, 4:00 - 5:00 p.m., United Way of Central Iowa, 1111 9th St., Des Moines


New This Year: Book Buddy Plus

We will be piloting a new program—Book Buddy Plus—at Conmigo Early Education Center this year. In addition to the typical reading, volunteers will be asked to provide extra enrichment activities to support the learning that the reading activity introduced. This additional support may include using a whiteboard to practice writing or looking at a magazine to find pictures of things that rhyme. Volunteers will be paired with 1-2 students from 9:15 - 9:35, with arrival at 9:05 a.m.

If you're interested in Book Buddy Plus, please sign up for Conmigo on either Wednesday or Thursday.

Book Buddy Locations

You choose the location that works best for you! Some volunteers read every week; others alternate weeks with another volunteer to accommodate busy schedules.

Reading begins the week of October 14 and continue through April for a total of 24 weeks with breaks scheduled around holidays and spring break.

  • Bidwell Riverside Child Dev. Center
    1203 Hartford Ave.
    Tuesday and Friday
    9:10 - 9:50 a.m.
    Tuesdays are full

  • Capitol Park
    800 E 12th St.
    Wednesday or Friday
    9:20 - 10:00 a.m.
    Wednesdays are full

  • CFI Child Development Center
    801 Forest Ave.
    Tuesday or Thursday
    9:20 - 10:00 a.m.

    Both days are full

  • Conmigo (Book Buddy Plus)
    828 Scott Ave.
    Wednesday or Thursday
    9:05 - 9:40 a.m.

  • House of Mercy
    1409 Clark St.
    Tuesday or Friday
    9:20 - 10:00 a.m.
    Both days are full

  • Oak Academy
    979 Oakridge Drive
    Tuesday or Thursday
    9:20 - 10:00 a.m.
    Both days are full

  • Perry Child Development Center
    920 18th St. (not pictured on map)
    Perry, Iowa 50220
    Tuesday or Thursday
    9:20 - 10:00 a.m.

  • Wonder Years Academy
    3838 MLK Parkway
    Tuesday or Wednesday
    9:20 - 10:00 a.m.
    Tuesdays are full

What's It Like to Be a Book Buddy? 

Eh's Story

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This preschooler's life was changed by books.


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Gema Garcia of Ankeny volunteers to read with preschool students in both Spanish and English, teaching them essential literacy skills for kindergarten.



Deb's Story

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A first-year Book Buddy volunteer shares her experience, which didn't start out too well, but quickly transformed into a special time each week.


Children from low-income households hear an average of
fewer words by age 3. They are also
4x more likely
to be absent from school than their middle-class peers.

Source: Campaign for Grade-Level Reading