Dolly Parton is a pretty cool person. Having lived in East Tennessee for many years, I know a lot about her initiative, Imagination Library. In fact, when I moved to a new community, I ended up becoming a member on the board of my community’s Imagination Library affiliate.
Recently on a trip up north to see family, one of my oldest and dearest friends (who has young children) told me she had only recently heard about Imagination Library, was amazed it existed, and was signing her children up with her local affiliate to receive the free books. I thought I’d write this post to ensure even more families with young children know about it too, look for their affiliate, and hopefully, sign up. More books in more homes, that’s my goal! (And Dolly’s.)
In the 1950s, Dolly and her 11 siblings grew up in a 2-bedroom log cabin on a farm in Sevier County, Tennessee. Her father was unable to read and it made a big impact on his life and by extension, his family’s. Dolly’s fame and success in later years gave her the ability to give back to the community where she was born and raised. She decided to honor her father — and Imagination Library was born.
Imagination Library started in 1995 and its purpose was to put one book each month into the hands of preschool-aged children living in Sevier County. Literally, one children’s book per month was (and still is) mailed to children enrolled in the program. The books are of high literary and illustrative quality. They include titles you’ve heard of. The books have won awards and they are enjoyable. To me, this is an important aspect of the program. If the books weren’t that great, the program wouldn’t do well. Read about book selection for the program here. And whoa! I just noticed that I know two people on the Book Selection Committee, one of whom was my professor in graduate school! Hi, Dr. Watson and Ms. Venable! So cool!
Imagination Library became very successful and swiftly grew. Today, it has affiliate programs operating around the world. Affiliates have to fundraise in order to pay for the books and shipping themselves, but Imagination Library provides the core operating material needed. If you’re interested in starting an affiliate in your community, you can read about how to do so here.
Enroll Your Child
If you would like to enroll your child who is aged birth to 5, go here and check to see if there is an affiliate in your community. If you would like to enroll but wish to pay for the cost of your child’s enrollment, you can do that by providing a $30 donation to your affiliate per year. Once you’re enrolled and you receive books, read, read, read! And take a look at the parent resources section of Imagination Library’s website to find activity and coloring pages, as well as tip cards.
As of December 2017, the program has mailed out 98,559, 636 total books! That’s a huge number of books that were not in children’s hands before the program. A number of research initiatives conducted by the Dollywood Foundation show that the program has only been positive, from getting more children interested in reading to actual kindergarten readiness improving in those children enrolled in the program.
It is clear, Imagination Library is a program you should take advantage of and support. It fosters early literacy skills in the most substantial yet basic of ways—by bringing books into the home and connecting parent and child through the shared experience of reading picture books.
On a related note, Dolly just released a new album, “I Believe in You,” her first album for children, and all the proceeds go to Imagination Library. Love it!